A blog about food in Thailand
and elsewhere.

Monthly Archives: September 2010

Sai Ua Kao Ba Kham

Posted at 7am on 9/3/10 | read on


I studied Thai at Chiang Mai University back in 1998, but moved to Bangkok almost immediately after finishing my studies there. Since then, I’ve spent relatively little time in Chiang Mai, and most of my subsequent visits have been little more than passing through on my way elsewhere. And although I know enough grab a bowl of khao soi at Lam Duan or Shan-style breakfast at Wat Pa Pao, I’m woefully uninformed about the city’s food scene.

Finding myself with some free time, I decided to remedy this and headed up north for a few days. Another reason for the trip was that my buddy, Andy Ricker, also happened to be in Chiang Mai. Andy’s been coming to Chiang Mai since the 1980s, and is intimately familiar with much of the city’s food, much of it having served as inspiration for his Portland, Oregon restaurant, Pok Pok. We spent three days eating together, and the next few blogs will cover a few of the places he took me to in Chiang Mai. Because some of these places were somewhat hard to reach and are pretty local, I include them here more as illustrations and descriptions of authentic northern Thai food, rather than specific restaurant recommendations.

On the day I arrived, Andy took me a few kilometres outside Chiang Mai to Mae Hia Market. He wanted to take me to his favourite vendor of sai ua, northern-style grilled sausage:


All sai ua contains ground herbs, but this vendor’s version is known colloquially as sai ua samunphrai, ‘herbal’ sai ua, due to copious amounts of lemongrass, kaffir lime leaf, garlic and galangal he employs. As with other vendors, the sausages here are grilled over coals:


but the final result is slightly drier and leaner than your average sai ua, with not surprisingly, a complex and rich herbal flavour.

Sai Ua Kao Ba Kham
Mae Hia Market, Chiang Mai

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Jin Tup

Posted at 2am on 9/9/10 | read on
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On my first night in Chiang Mai Andy took me to Jin Tup, a rustic roadside restaurant a few kilometres outside of the city. Jin Tup turned out to be quite tasty and fun, and is very emblematic of the kind of food northerners (specifically, northern Thai men) like to eat with their booze. But it was obvious upon arriving that this isn’t a restaurant for everybody; although cheery and welcoming, the place is shockingly messy and is also rather hard to locate.

The emphasis here is on grilled meat:


which ranges from pork collar to grilled teats, and just about everything in between. The house specialty, which also functions as the name of the restaurant, is jin tup (literally ‘pounded meat’ in the northern dialect), grainy pieces of beef (Andy suspects flank) that are seasoned, semi-dried and grilled before being pounded into thick strips with a metal mallet (illustrated at the top of this post). The smokey strips of meat are then served with two types of nam phrik khaa, a galangal-based dipping sauce. I first encountered a similar dish at Nang Khambang in Vientiane, Laos, but this version is meatier and fattier, and less leather-like.

We also had tom yam kop:


the northern version of the famous spicy/sour (and in this case, very salty) Thai soup, served here with frog and a generous amount dried northern spices.

But our favourite dish was naem, fermented pork combined with egg, wrapped in a banana leaf and grilled:


An amazing amalgam of two disparate proteins — bland egg and tart pork — that works amazingly well.

Jin Tup
Ban San Sai Noy Moo 9, Hwy 1001, San Sai, Chiang Mai

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Laap Dee Khom

Posted at 2am on 9/10/10 | read on
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Acting on a tip from Amorn of the lovely Riverside Guest House, me and Andy were pointed in the direction of Laap Dee Khom, a longstanding restaurant located within Chiang Mai’s old city walls. We arrived at lunchtime, apparently too late to sample the various northern Thai dishes that are prepared here on a daily basis, but not too late to try the restaurant’s various namesake laap, spicy meat-based ‘salads.’

If you like Thai food, you’ve most likely encountered laap previously, but the northern version is an entirely different beast altogether. The most popular version, known as laap khom (‘bitter laap’) is made from finely-minced raw meat, to which is added a spicy curry paste, a mixture of dried spices, raw bile and blood (to see how the dish is made, go here). A slightly safer — and arguably more delicious — version is laap khua, “fried laap,” in which sliced offal is added to the meat before it’s all fried up in a wok. The predominate flavour in either of these dishes is spicy — not necessarily a ‘hot’ spicy, but rather a slightly numbing, Sichuan pepper-like burn stemming from the addition of dee plee and makhwaen, two northern Thai spices — trailed by bitter, a result of the addition of bile.

We were able to sample virtually the entire spectrum of northern-style laap at Laap Dee Khom, and they didn’t disappoint. Starting at 6 o’clock and moving clockwise, there was saa khua, a slightly sweet and soupy laap relative consisting of hearty chunks of beef that had been simmered with a chili paste, a pinch of northern Thai spices and plenty of chopped herbs, in particular, lemongrass; next was a raw northern-style beef laap khom, studded with crunchy Szechuan pepper-like dried spices and pleasantly bitter from the addition of bile; at noon is laap plaa duk, a deceptively unattractive salad of grilled catfish that was simultaneously smokey and spicy; and lastly at 3 o’clock, the classic northern Thai soup of pork ribs simmered with jor phak kaat, a peppery green used in many northern Thai dishes.

Andy and I loved the catfish laap, it being the first time I’ve had this dish prepared in the northern style. We also really enjoyed the flavours of the raw beef laap, but were intimidated by its constituent ingredients, and in the end asked them to fry it up for us. The ‘dining room’ at Laap Dee Khom is a scruffy, unlit nightmare (do you sense a theme here?), but the woman who runs it is very friendly, and assuming you arrive early enough to try a greater variety of dishes, the restaurant is a great place to sample the flavours of authentic northern-style Thai cooking.

Laap Dee Khom
Soi 5, Thanon Arak, Chiang Mai
086 656 9534

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Him Tang

Posted at 2am on 9/12/10 | read on
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Him Tang is the northern Thai dialect word for roadside, and as a name it accurately sums up the atmosphere of this rustic grilled meat shack in Mae On, about 30km outside of Chiang Mai.

Like Jin Tup, this is a place that revolves around grilled meats:


and local booze:


in this case yaa dong, rice alcohol supplemented with herbs and typically served with tart drinking snacks.

But back to the meat… We ordered aeb ong muu:


pig brains and an herbal curry paste mixture that have been combined and grilled in a banana leaf package. The texture was smooth and the taste meaty and slightly spicy.

They do an excellent sai ua, northern-style grilled sausage:


light on the herbs and heavy on the fat, just like I like it.

Perhaps the most unusual dish was grilled pig’s tail:


This was my first time eating this dish, and I must say that pig tail may be one of the most perfect grilled foods. As it grills, the exterior becomes crispy — not unlike pork rinds — while the meat on the inside is essentially basted in the fat and remains tender and moist. Amazing stuff.

But the best dish of the night was a laap of raw buffalo:


This is an unusual dish — most Thais generally avoid eating buffalo — and was something of a special, with ‘mee laap khwaay‘ (we have buffalo laap) having been scrawled on a piece of cardboard. I’m not a huge fan of the texture of raw meat, but the dish contained a complex and delicious spice mixture with hints of cinnamon and star anise, not to mention the normal northern Thai spices of makhwaen and deeplee, that made up for this. The result was meaty, spicy and also slightly sweet, and was probably one of the more interesting Thai dishes I’ve encountered in a long time.

Him Tang
Th 1229, Mae On, Chiang Mai
053 859 633

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Cuisine on every corner

Posted at 8pm on 9/13/10 | read on
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Proceed here for Hal Lipper’s excellent review of David Thompon’s most recent book, Thai Street Food.

And speaking of Thompson, the Bangkok branch of his Thai restaurant nahm is now officially open for business. I ate there for the third time last night and yet again, was thoroughly blown away. Standout dishes included the deliciously tart and spicy cured ‘hiromasa’ kingfish salad with chillies, lime and mint; the rich and very spicy smoked fish curry with prawns, chicken liver, cockles and black pepper; a slightly bitter and rather spicy red curry of grilled salted beef with chili leaves; and a deliciously decadent and rich durian and sticky rice. If you’re in Bangkok and are interested in Thai food, it’s a must visit.

Akha Ama Coffee

Posted at 6pm on 9/14/10 | read on


Acting on a tip from another friend of Andy’s, we hit Akha Ama Coffee. The tiny outfit has its office in Chiang Mai, but the beans — as is the case with most domestic Thai coffees — come from rural Chiang Rai province. The company uses 100% Arabica beans, claims to promote sustainability and fair trade among the Akha people who maintain the crops, and Lee, the young man we spoke with at the office/cafe, really seemed to know his stuff.

Having consumed their ‘Strong Roast’ at breakfast this morning, I quite liked it, finding it a good balance of bitter and sour, with a decent body. It’s also very inexpensive, at only about 100B (about US$3) for a 250g bag. If it was available in Bangkok I’d probably consider it as an alternative to the more expensive Doi Kham or Doi Tung beans.

Akha Ama Coffee
Mata Apartment, 9/1 Soi 3, Th Hussadhisewee, Chiang Mai
086 915 8600

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Posted at 10pm on 9/16/10 | read on
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The last place Andy took me to was Phornchai, a longstanding noodle soup restaurant near Chiang Mai’s city centre. This shophouse restaurant serves what is probably the most basic of Thai noodles, kuaytiaw. Pictured above, the bowls consist of a thin, largely bland broth, noodles (rice- or wheat-based), sliced cabbage, a bit of crispy pork fat with garlic, and continuing our meat theme, your choice of beef or pork. The beef balls were pretty tasty, although I found the other cuts slightly tough.


They also do a decent khao soi:


which appears deceptively bland and thin, but was actually quite hearty and meaty, with subtle hints of dried spice.

80/4-5 Th Wua Lay, Chiang Mai
053 200 715

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Pa Kay

Posted at 2am on 9/18/10 | read on
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There are heaps of places in Bangkok that claim to serve Vietnamese food, but what most are serving is actually a Thai take on Vietnamese cooking. In theory at least, this isn’t entirely a bad situation; I’ve encountered many interesting Thai/Vietnamese dishes in places such as Nakhon Phanom, Nong Khai and Mukdahan. Where things go wrong is the fact that the vast majority of these restaurants serve virtually the same repertoire of dishes, with very little variation in terms of flavour or preparation. This is a pity, as I really love this type of food: it’s fresh, tasty and healthy. I also find it strange that, given the similarity between Thai and Vietnamese cooking styles and ingredients, it shouldn’t be too difficult to recreate relatively authentic Vietnamese dishes here in Bangkok. But apparently there’s not the demand nor the desire, and what we’re left with is a mediocre facsimile of Vietnamese cooking.

This having been said, Pa Kay, a longstanding restaurant in a former Vietnamese enclave near the Chao Phraya River, is one of the better places I’ve encountered for Thai/Vietnamese food. The menu is largely predictable, but the preparation and flavours were generally above par.

The standout was probably naem nuang (nem nướng in Vietnamese), skewered and grilled pork served with rice paper and a variety of toppings and fillings (seen at 12 o’clock in the image above). The pork here was flavourful and pleasantly charred, and the dipping sauce, which tends to be overly sweet, had a tasty savoury/spicy element, allegedly the result of the addition of minced liver.

The loser was kung phan oy (located at about 7 o’clock in the pic), minced shrimp (and pork?) wrapped around a stalk of peeled sugarcane and grilled. The meat, which appeared to have been grilled several hours previously, was practically unseasoned and the side of pickled vegetables also lacked flavour.

The rest of the dishes were a half-step above their Bangkok counterparts. The khai kata (10 o’clock), eggs served in a tiny wok with Vietnamese- and Chinese-style sausage, was tasty, and came served with tiny French-bread like rolls. And although the khanom pak mor (bánh cuốn; 4 o’clock) weren’t made to order and were somewhat thick-skinned, were decent and came with good quality muu yo (Vietnamese-style sausage).

Pa Kay
123/205 Th Ratchawithi, Bangkok
02 243 4788

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Mister Jo

Posted at 2am on 9/22/10 | read on


Over the last few months, I’ve done several articles for CNNGo’s Bangkok pages on Thai dishes that resident foreigners (and sometime even resident natives) may not familiar with, and a few recommended places to sample them. So far I’ve covered kaeng karii, khao khluk kapi, khanom jeen nam ngiaw, kuytiaw luy suan and kuaytiaw khua kai. At the moment I’m at work on one about kuay jap nam sai, the Chinese/Thai dish that combines pork offal and a peppery broth. Of the six or so restaurants and stalls I’ve investigated for the piece, my favourite was probably Mister Jo.


Kuay jap is based around pork offal (heart, tongue, intestines, liver, spleen), but the crispy pork belly is what can make or break a restaurant. Mister Jo’s pork belly is so good that it’s also available separately, served on plates with a soy sauce dipping sauce. The broth is peppery — as a good kuay jap broth should be — but not assertively so, and was probably the most balanced of the various places I visited. Unusually, it includes squares of tender pork skin. And unlike most places serving kuay jap, Mister Jo is open during the day. As a result, it’s crazy popular, and you’ll almost certainly have to navigate a lengthy queue of to-go orders simply to step foot inside the restaurant.

Stay tuned to CNNGo Bangkok’s Eat page to see the entire list of kuay jap nam sai stalls and restaurants I found.

Mister Jo
313/7 Th Chan, Bangkok

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Lert Ros Alacarte

Posted at 8pm on 9/23/10 | read on
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Inspired by a piece in the recent Food issue of Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia, I recently had lunch at a nearby, but previously un-visited restaurant, Lert Ros Alacarte.

I ordered one of their set lunches, which included kaeng karii neua, a Chinese-style curry, a bowl of mild beef soup, and a glass of Coke (all for 125B, less than US$5). The beef in the curry was super tender and almost corned beef-like in texture and appearance, and the curry included a wedge of potato and was served with a spicy/sour dipping sauce. The soup, which turned out — not surprisingly — to be beef overload, was nonetheless good, and held a slightly sweet flavour, Chinese-style herbs and spices and tender tongue.

The food was solid, but I must admit that was almost more charmed by the old-school, diner-like atmosphere; think padded booths and lots of old furniture. The menu was equally old school and included dishes such as stewed beef tongue and fried rice with tamarind and shrimp. Am definitely looking forward to more meals at Lert Ros Alacarte.

As an aside, I’ll be doing some travelling in some remote, predominately Internet-free areas for the next month and don’t expect to be blogging. See you again in late October!

Lert Ros Alacarte
74-74/1 Soi 4, Th Silom, Bangkok
02 234 3754
10am-9pm Mon-Sat

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