Much like Mexican, authentic northern-style Thai food can be very, very hard to find in Bangkok. A few mediocre dishes are sold at my neighborhood's Tuesday market, and good khao soi is available if you're willing to make the trek out to Viphavadee in northern Bangkok, but in general you're hard pressed to find a tasty kaeng hangle or a pleasant kaeng ho. This is a pity, as when done well, northern Thai food can be among the best in the country. It is markedly more seasonal than other Thai cuisines, featuring the odd mushroom, green or fruit that is only available at certain times of the year, makes great use of a wide variety of indigenous veggies, and is porky, porky and porky. Which, I am told, is a good thing.
So thanks to the keen nose of my food friend Aong, I was recently directed towards Maan Mueng, a restaurant in Bangkok specializing in the dishes of the north. Maan Mueng features a huge array of authenticly prepared dishes:
so even those who can't speak Thai or aren't familiar with northern Thai food can simply point to whatever looks good. And damn, does it look good. Witness:
Nam phrik khaa:
A nam phrik or "dip" of chilies and galangal that is typically served with steamed mushrooms (now is mushroom season up north) and beef that is boiled before being steamed over fresh herbs. Thanks to the copious galangal, known in Thai as khaa, this nam phrik has a truly unique flavour, and the beef was, unlike most Thai beef, tender and very edible.
This is a thick "mash" of young jackfruit and a chili paste topped with crispy fried garlic. Simple but delicious.
The famous northern-style sausage that is loaded with heaps of fresh herbs (lime leaf, lemongrass, garlic, etc.) and grilled. Spot on.
Nam phrik num:
Another "dip", this time of grilled chilies mashed up with grilled garlic, shallots and fish sauce, and served with pork rinds and fresh and par-boiled veggies for dipping.
This is laap that has been fried with a chili paste mixture that includes the herb makhwaen, which provides the dish a distinct bitter/hot flavour. The meat includes lots of offal (the heart fans out there will love laap khua), and includes the ubiquitous but delicious crispy garlic topping.
Raw pork that has been buried for three days until sour. Much better than it sounds.
Here's the spread:
Note the pile of greens on the left-hand side; Maan Mueng features an entire table stacked with fresh herbs and greens for its customers. And dishes are accompanied by perfectly-steamed red sticky rice.
Our meal ended with coconut ice cream:
a dish available just about anywhere in Thailand, but I'm sure this is among the best I've ever had the pleasure to enjoy. The ice cream was incredibly creamy and light in texture, and was suggestive of the soft meat of young coconuts rather than the cloying coconut milk that is typically used.
Maan Mueng is located quite far from the center of Bangkok, but is in all regards considerably easier than going to Chiang Mai or Mae Hong Son.
Located between Ramkhamhaeng 152-154
8am-5pm (closed Tuesday)
02 728 0945