A blog about food in Thailand
and elsewhere.


Monthly Archives: May 2011



Kat Luang

Posted at 6pm on 5/2/11 | read on
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Kengtung has one of the more interesting markets in the region. Unfortunately I didn’t spend as much time here as I’d have liked because I was here during New Years and was terrified of getting my camera wet.

But it only took a brief visit to see that, despite being located in Myanmar, Kengtung’s Kat Luang is similar – if slightly more exotic – to its counterparts in rural northern Thailand.

From the basics:

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including dried turmeric, dried chilies and disks of dried soybeans – all essentials of Mae Hong Son-style Thai food – to the prepared:

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which included many similar nam phrik (chili-based dips) and aeb (grilled banana leaf packages of meat), there were many culinary similarities between the food of the various Tai groups in Kengtung and that of the residents of northern Thailand.

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A particularly fitting example of this was the general porkiness of the selections, as the pork rinds and bottles of lard above illustrate. The sausages, located in the middle, are known as sai ua in northern Thailand and sai long phik in Shan. But the bundles to the right, dork khae, a type of indigenous flower, stuffed with minced pork and herbs and deep fried, were something I’d never seen before.

There were lots of noodles:

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Including khao sen:

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thin rice noodles served with a tomato and pork broth – also big in Mae Hong Son.

But the most popular variety were flat, wide rice noodles served with meatballs:

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the latter tenderised by a vigorous and extremely unsanitary pounding with two sticks:

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The market is so utterly Tai, there wasn’t a bowl of mohinga to be seen.

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Worth eating in Chiang Rai

Posted at 8am on 5/5/11 | read on
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Initially, I wasn’t too impressed by the restaurant spread in the northern city of Chiang Rai. But after several visits and an equal amount of days spent there, I eventually dug up a handful of good places to eat. So in addition to previously-mentioned restaurants Paa Suk and Lung Eed Locol Food, and the excellent coffee and Swedish pastries at BaanChvitMai, if you find yourself hungry and in Chiang Rai, I encourage you to consider the following:

Nam Ngiaw Pa Nuan:

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which, in addition to a rich and delicious version of the eponymous northern Thai noodle dish, do an excellent som tam ponlamai (som tam made with mixed fruit) and a few tasty-looking Vietnamese dishes.

Nam Ngiaw Pa Nuan
Th Sanpanard, Chiang Rai
9am-5pm


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Pa Yai,

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a Muslim restaurant outside of the city centre, does what were possibly the tastiest roti I’ve encountered in a very long time: puffy, light and crispy, with virtually no oily sogginess. Pa Yai also does a deliciously rich and fragrant beef curry and a slightly watery kaeng karee kai, Muslim-style chicken curry. Definitely worth the trip.

Roti Pa Yai
Th Aladin, Chiang Rai
053 718 446
6-10am & 3-10pm


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Phu-Lae:

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is a longstanding restaurant that serves local-style food to Thai tourists. Not everything is great, and in general the restaurant serves a rather gentrified version of northern Thai food, but I like their kaeng hang lay (illustrated above), which is served with a generous amount of ginger and pickled garlic – both spicy, acidic foils to an otherwise rich and oily dish.

Phu-Lae
673/1 Th Thanalai, Chiang Rai
Lunch & dinner


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And finally, I really enjoyed Chiang Rai’s evening market:

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which had some really tasty-looking northern-style eats. Unfortunately it was to-go only and I had neither plates nor silverware…

Cnr Th Uttarakit & Th Suk Sathit
5-9pm


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Khao Soi Prince

Posted at 7am on 5/10/11 | read on
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Back in 2008, Andy Ricker, chef/owner of Portland, Oregon restaurant Pok Pok, was kind enough to share with me his favourite khao soi restaurants in Chiang Mai, which later became the basis of a magazine article I did. During our ‘research’, we made a couple attempts to visit Khao Soi Prince, one of his top places and a restaurant I’d heard about but had never eaten at. Unfortunately Prince was closed for Ramadan, and  on subsequent solo visits to Chiang Mai, the restaurant was always closed for one reason or another.

Well it’s unfortunate that it took me so long to get here, because even after my first and only visit last week, Khao Soi Prince is now one of my favourite places to get a bowl.

Named after the nearby Prince Royals College, Prince is a longstanding Muslim restaurant that also does biryani and some rich-looking curries. The khao soi kai, chicken khao soi, is a bit unusual  in that rather than the single chicken leg that most places use, Prince uses seemingly marinated chunks of breast meat, a bit of brown meat, and what appeared to be some very tender liver and/or blood. Despite its somewhat thin and watery appearance, the curry broth here is actually very rich and fragrant with the taste and smell of dried spices. And to top it off, they even use the good-quality pickled mustard greens topping.

And speaking of Andy, news just came in as I was about to post this that Ricker won Best Chef Northwest in the 2011 James Beard Foundation awards! Congrats, Andy – looking forward to celebrating over a bowl at Prince next week!

Khao Soi Prince
105-109 Th Kaew Nawarat, Chiang Mai
053 242 446
8am-3.30pm


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Phat Thai Mae Sot

Posted at 4pm on 5/12/11 | read on
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The northern Thai city of Mae Sot seems like an unlikely place to find a particular style of phat Thai – a dish I usually associate with central Thailand. But while in the city recently, I spotted three or so shops serving a somewhat unusual version of the dish.

The local twist here is the addition of pork (for those of you familiar with northern Thai food this won’t come as a surprise). The dish is served with a small pile of crispy deep-fried pork rinds and topped with a few slices of barbecued pork. Real Thai-style phat Thai isn’t generally served with any meat (other than dried or fresh, shrimp), so I appreciate the addition of protein in what is normally a pretty substantial carb blast. It’s also quite simply a good dish of phat Thai: the noodles themselves aren’t gloopy or heavy, although like every dish of phat Thai I’ve ever encountered, required additional seasoning with fish sauce and dried chili.

If you’ve never been, Mae Sot’s a pretty interesting food town. There’s a couple restaurants like this serving interesting mainstream-Thai-type fare, some northern Thai food, quite a few Muslim restaurants and lots of Burmese food, particularly at the town’s morning market and for breakfast.

Phat Thai Mae Sot
Th Prasat Withit, Mae Sot
noon-9pm


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Phitsanulok’s Evening Market

Posted at 6am on 5/18/11 | read on
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Some pics from the evening market in Phitsanulok, one of the more vibrant and photogenic in the region. Click the button in the corner for full-screen mode.

Phitsanulok’s Evening Market
Th Akatossaroth
4-10pm


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Kuaytiaw Sukhothai

Posted at 3am on 5/19/11 | read on
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The northern Thai city of Sukhothai has its own signature noodle dish, kuaytiaw Sukhothai. There’s nothing particularly northern about the dish, other than the copious use of pork, and it appears to be a slight a variation on Chinese-influenced central Thai noodle dishes. The dish is all about the pork, and is served with slices of roasted and/or boiled pork, pork rinds, slices of liver and often intestines. Other ingredients include thin slices of phak chee farang, sawtooth coriander, par-boiled and thinly-sliced green beans, a small mound of ground peanuts and a dollop of palm sugar. And unlike most noodle dishes in Thailand, you don’t specify which noodles you’d like – Sukhothai-stye noodles are almost exclusively served with sen lek, thin rice noodles.

Over the days I was in Sukhothai, I hit three of the town’s most famous places to get the dish.

Ta Pui, whose noodles are pictured at the top of this post, claims to be the original vendor of the dish. It’s easily the least flashy restaurant (it used to be little more than a brick floor and tin roof – it now has a cement floor), and correspondingly serves what is probably the most balanced bowl.

Ta Pui
Th Jarot Withithong, Sukhothai
7am-4pm


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Located across the street, Jayhae is easily the most popular vendor of the dish – just about Thai tourist who comes to Sukhothai stops at this place for lunch. Despite this, the noodles:

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were probably my least favourite of the lot, although admittedly the differences between all of these places are very subtle. In this case I found Jayhae’s bowl to be the sweetest and least porkiest. This restaurant also does phat Thai in the local style, which is similar to that served in Mae Sot.

Jayhae
Th Jarot Withithong, Sukhothai
7am-4pm


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My personal favourite bowl was probably at Kuaytiaw Thai Sukhothai:

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which was also the only place where I ordered the dish naam, with broth. The rich broth, generous pork rinds and seasoning made this the most full-flavoured bowl, and the one I’d most likely go back to next time I’m in town.

Kuaytiaw Thai Sukhothai
Th Jarot Withithong, Sukhothai
9am-8pm


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Jay Noy

Posted at 3pm on 5/20/11 | read on
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Jay Noy is the epitome of the northern-style food stall: informal, meat based and fully flavoured. The whole place is little more than a grill and one or two tables – most of its business is take-away – concealed in a parking lot/shed in the northern city of Lampang. Yet as is often the case in Thailand, a restaurant’s atmosphere has an inverse relationship with the quality of its food, and Jay Noy is no exception to this rule.

Starting at 12 o’clock and moving clockwise, there was a rich curry-like stir-fry of mushrooms and bamboo (it’s mushroom and bamboo season up here); kaeng som phak boong, a deliciously sour northern-style soup of pork bones and crunchy morning glory;  nam phrik taa daeng, a slightly watery but spicy version of the northern Thai dried chili dip staple; sticky rice; aeb moo, a grilled pork dish, and jin som, sour pork; and crunchy pickled veggies.

Everything I’ve eaten here is great, but the highlight is the meat, in particular the jin som (‘sour meat’ – the northern Thai name for naem) and the aeb:

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The former (on the left) is fermented pork, that in this case, has been grilled in its banana leaf package. The latter is ground pork blended with egg and a curry paste, all of which are also wrapped in a banana leaf and grilled:

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It’s the northern Thai equivalent of the central Thai hor mok, a type of steamed curry, and the result is smooth, rich and meaty, and only a tiny bit spicy.

Arrive later in the day after the aeb and jin som have run out and Jay Noy does grilled meat, from pork ribs to cow teats.

And since you’re in Lampang already, you may as well consider dessert at Khun Manee.

Jay Noy
Th Suandawg, Lampang
11am-7pm


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Worth eating in Pai

Posted at 12am on 5/23/11 | read on
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The tiny town of Pai is one of northern Thailand’s most popular destinations. And understandably so: it’s laid-back, cheap and beautiful:

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Unfortunately – at least if you travel to eat – there are very few places to get local food. There’s some tasty Chinese food, innocuous and backpackerish Thai, and a couple OK places selling Israeli standards, but if you’re interested in trying northern- or Mae Hong Son-style eats, you’re pretty much limited to a handful of restaurants. Luckily, two of them are exceptional.

Laap Khom Huay Pu specialises in mostly meaty northern-style dishes such as laap khua and kaeng om (both pictured at the top of this post). The laap khua, northern-style fried laap, is probably my favourite version of the dish in Thailand, and successfully balances meaty, spicy and aromatic. The laap gets its dark colour from the addition of blood, and comes accompanied with a variety of fresh herbs, some spicy, some bitter, which change with the seasons. The kaeng om, a meat-and-offal-heavy soup, is almost curry-like in its thickness here, and is correspondingly rich and spicy, with tender bits of tendon, intestine, heart and liver.

Laap Khom Huay Pu
9am-6pm
Rte 1095 (the restaurant is on the road to Mae Hong Son, about 1km north of town, on the first corner after the turn-off to Belle Villa and Baan Krating), Pai


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Khanom Jeen Nang Yong, an open-air place in ‘downtown’ Pai, sells khanom jeen, thin rice noodles served with various curry-like toppings:

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Particularly worth seeking out here is the khanom jeen nam ngiaw, a northern-style noodle soup with pork bones and tomatoes as its base. Again, quite possibly my favourite take on the dish, the broth here is dark, rich and spicy, and is even tastier when accompanied with the restaurant’s excellent pork rinds. There’s no English sign here – simply look for the clay pots that are set out in front of the shop every afternoon.

Khanom Jeen Nang Yong
Th Chaisongkhram (in the same building as Pai Adventure), Pai
Lunch & dinner


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If you have access to silverware and plates, you could always pick up to-go local eats at the town’s evening market – but at your own risk:

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Pai’s evening market – a short, eminently walkable strip of road just outside of the centre of town – is the most annoying example I’ve encountered of people showing an extreme reluctance to disembark from their motorcycles to buy things, even if this meant blocking entire stalls, cutting off pedestrians (namely, me) and emitting exhaust and noise.

At least some folks still choose to walk:

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although they appear to be limited to a particular demographic.

MasterChefs Chiang Mai

Posted at 12am on 5/30/11 | read on
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I recently spent a few days up in Chiang Mai eating and cooking with some pretty knowledgeable and and talented folks. There was Andy Ricker, chef/owner of Pok Pok, in Portland Oregon; JJ Goode, a writer based in New York City, with whom Andy and I will be embarking on an exciting and soon-to-be-announced project; and Sunny:

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Sunny, a longtime friend of Andy’s, is a native of Chiang Mai who grew up in a household that was always cooking, both professionally and domestically. Like many Thai cooks, he cooks without referring to recipes, and appears to have an encyclopedic knowledge of northern Thai cooking. I suspect that much of what is served at Pok Pok has most likely, directly or indirectly, been influenced by Sunny, and understandably so: while in Chiang Mai, I got to sample several examples of his handiwork, including a very refined salad of green mangoes, a northern-style stir-fry of longbeans and eggplant, and a yummy kaeng som, all of which were delicious.

But the most delicious and interesting dish – at least for me – was Sunny’s northern-style pork laap:

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I suspect that I risk overplaying northern-style laap on this blog, but I really do find it one of the most satisfying of Thai dishes. And despite its deceptively simple appearance, it’s also one of the more nuanced and complicated Thai dishes I’ve encountered. And observing firsthand the fluency and confidence with which Sunny prepared it reminded me that, despite more than a decade in this country, I still know very little about Thai food.

A good laap starts with a good spice mixture, which Sunny’s sister makes (in fact, it’s the very one used at Pok Pok). But this time Sunny decided to made it himself, from scratch. Starting with a specific mixture of dried spices that included makhwaen, peppercorns and deeplee, he dry-fried them until fragrant, then, with JJ’s help, pounded them paste along with galangal, dried chilies, shallots and garlic:

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After this was finished, shallots and garlic were fried until crispy, and pork offal (specifically skin, heart and lower intestine) was boiled along with some lemongrass, shrimp paste and turmeric, until tender:

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The next step involved mincing raw pork, blood and fresh herbs with a machete-like knife (illustrated at the top of this post). This was done for a long time – at least 20 minutes – despite the fact that we were already starting with ground pork. Obviously we needed a big strong man to do this, and since I was busy taking pics, we settled for Andy. Andy’s both a talented cook and a modest guy, which is why I find it a bit strange that he insists on wearing his James Beard medal whenever he cooks:

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After being fried in oil until fragrant:

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the curry paste mixture was then blended with a bit of the broth left over from boiling the offal, seasoned with salt and stirred into the raw meat along with the sliced offal and the deep-fried crispy shallots and garlic. At this point – at least if you’re making a real northern-style raw meat laap – the dish is done:

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I ate some (actually, quite a bit) of the raw laap, and it was delicious, with a smooth texture (undoubtedly the result of all that chopping) and a rich flavour. Sunny then took the remaining meat, and working it in a saucepan with a bit more broth and some oil, made the more approachable laap suk or laap khua, ‘cooked laap':

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We then took both laaps, a cooler of sticky rice, a bucket of greens and some grilled chicken to some of the most appreciative diners I’ve ever encountered:

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Eating at, photographing and writing about restaurants and stalls in Thailand has given me something of a warped perception of the country’s food – one that in some ways contrasts with the food that Thai people cook and eat at home. It’s always an eye-opening and rewarding opportunity to be able to eat the food of and learn from talented home cooks, and I wish I could do it more often.