the hinata diaries

Friday, May 05, 2006

Chiang Mai - we came, we saw, we ate

Went up to Chiang Mai with Philippe last week for the May 1 long weekend. Given that it was a first break in a while, the original plan was to take it easy - no planning, no stress, take each day as it comes. However, the recent Luxe Guide on Chiang Mai alluded to tons of great eats, ranging from casual street food to posh 5-star hotels, and our spare moments were soon filled with endless deliberation over where and what to eat.

Chiang Mai is Thailand's second largest city and the largest in Northern Thailand. In days of yore, it was the capital of the Lannathai kingdom and an offshoot of the southern leg of the Silk Road. Given its cultural and historical richness, we hoped to discover a unique cuisine not represented in your typical Thai menus of pad thai, green curry and tom yam.

Our success was mixed. Although the Northern Thai staple of kaow soi (yellow noodles in a curry soup, served with beef and pickled vegetables) was fairly easy to find, the only other dish that showed up with any regularity was the suspicious sounding (and equally dodgy looking) Northern Thai Spicy Sausage. More exotic dishes alluded to in the odd magazine, such as Khantoke - sticky rice with a variety of accompaniments - and Kaow Chae - sticky rice in scented cold water with accompaniments - proved elusive.

That said, Chiang Mai offered a plentitude of good food, ranging from traditional Thai to modern Asian to international, in equally diverse settings. In line with our attempt to take the weekend easy, we chose to spend most of our dining time in air conditioned comfort, checking out the gorgeous new hotels and elegant courtyards that dot the city. No doubt there were tons of delicious and exotic foods waiting to be discovered at market stalls and roadside eateries, but that shall be another trip for another day.

Of the restaurants that we tried, I'd recommend most in a heartbeat.

  • The elegant Rachamanka is a beautiful setting for lunch in the old city, with its lush courtyard, beautiful lamps and boutique gallery. The food is primarily modern Asian, paired with an extensive range of seductive martinis. We had our first kaow soi (main picture) here, deceptively termed 'Egg Noodles Osso Bucco in Spicy Coconut Broth', as well as lovely Coconut Flake-crusted Prawns in a Lime Tamarind Dipping Sauce.

  • Moxie at the D2 Hotel where we stayed, is swatched in electric orange and lush fabrics and testimony to Chiang Mai's cutting edge Asian style sensibilities. While most of the menu is international, we had a gorgeous Kaow Soi and a delightfully smoky Braised Beef with Rice (apparently the signature dish of the Dusit Group). Starters were a Royal Project Salad with D2 dressing - Royal Project indicating organic greens grown in the local mountainside - and Chilled Tomato and Saffron Gazpacho.

  • Compared to Rachamanka and Moxie, The Gallery is certainly down a few notches on the style meter. What this casual, almost rustic riverside establishment offers though is simple, unpretentious Thai food. The Burmese style Kao Tung Nai Tung ("crispy rice crackers with dipping minced pork and thick coconut cream") was a highly addictive, fun-with-fingers appetizer, while the Kang Hung Lay (Northern pork curry with ginger) and Hor Noung Gai (spicy steamed chicken in banana leaves) were a delicate balance of spices and herbs - the Kang Hung Lay had an intoxiating aroma reminiscent of Chinese medical shops, while the Hor Noung Gai combined sharp lemongrass with musky steamed lotus leaves.

  • Dalaabaa, opposite the British Council on the east side of town, likewise offered unpretentious Thai food, but in the sexy and intimate setting of a restored bungalow. While most of the menu items are fairly common, our appetizer of Sliced Beef with Lemongrass was very enjoyable, as was the Fried Tilapia Fillet with Sweet Chili Sauce.

  • Finally, Saen Khan Terrace in the Hang Dong District about 15 mins out of the city, is located in the country club of a gated residence. It offers romantic views of distant fields, and evenings resonate with the chirp of crickets and croaking of bullfrogs. This was our first (and last) encounter with the dubious Northern Style Spicy Sausages, served with deep fried pork rinds to constitute the aumsingly mispelled Northern Au-Derf selection. The Sweet Crispy Noodles, on the other hand, was absolutely gorgeous, each strand coated with (as I can best guess) a sort of caramelized fish sauce and topped with sliced peppers, diced tofu cubes and nuts.


  • wow! those pictures look good..*yummy*..ok i need to go on foodie tour soon...

    glad you had a great trip!

    By Blogger inspirethereal, At 11:51 PM  

  • thanks! wouldn't have been so relaxing if it wasn't for you guys though - thanks for housesitting!!!

    By Blogger hinata, At 3:54 PM  

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