Monday, August 18, 2008

Sunday Walking Street, Chaing Mai

Every Sunday one of the greatest things you can attend in Thailand happens, and it's free ....if you have any will power.

Walking streets are the Thai term for a market that's laid out on or beside the road with the road closed off for walking.. the biggest of these happens in Chiang Mai. Starting life as a one street walking street it now forms a giant cross through the old city and spreading down many of the smaller side streets, but this is no ordinary Thai cheap souvenirs, DVDs and football shirt frenzy, here the stalls sell local handicrafts not really seen at the more touristed markets, budding designers and jewelery makers show their stuff and through all of this musicians and performance artists sing, play and dance.


Best of all the temples that line the route of the walking street fill with food vendors, some that only make an appearance once a week here. Stroll through the gate of the temple and you'll find your self in an impromptu food court, it's fantastic! Our favourite of these is located in Wat Muen Lan the closest temple to Tha phae it's here you'll find the best BBQ in Thailand (no exaggeration), some unusual omelets, a man hand making fish balls for soup and a great selection of tasty Thai sweets. It's where we always head first off, straight to the back of the temple looking for the BBQ lady, this time is no exception. She has a half steel drum converted into a BBQ, cooking over coals she grills chunks of marinated pork as well as the northern Thai sausage sai oua. You just pick up the pieces you want with tongs and place them in the front she'll then bag them up for travel. The pork is imbued with a smokey goodness covered with a simple chilli sauce it demands you keep eating and the sausage is one of the finer examples to be had around these parts, to compliment she also offers the traditional side of roasted green chilli relish (nahm prik num), bags of deep fried pork skin and sticky rice. We take our feast to the nearest table and enjoy while watching the crowd.

Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai

After this mandatory stop it's off to another, the banana leaf omelet stall where banana leaf boats are filled with an egg mix and goodies before being grilled, an order sees them flipped to set the top before being cut and handed to you straight in the leaf, next to the grill is a range of condiments chilli, soy, fish sauce and such. Our favourite omelet is mushroom, for a little more adventure we also love the bee larvae, a little nutty and squidgy but definitely worth a go.

Chiang Mai (209)
Chiang Mai (1)

Then it's off for a wander to see whats still here and whats new, listen to the music and enjoy and probably find a few more snacks.

Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai
These were chocolate covered bananas and grapes, beautiful to look at but the chocolate was of a dissapointing taste and texture.

There's such a great vibe with most of the crowd being Thai, like the town has turned out to see and support each other. Very cool!
As we wind up done for the evening we usually return to Wat Muen Lan to pick up some black sticky rice with fresh coconut and roast peanuts for the road, wrapped for travel in folded banana leaf it's beautiful, and environmentally friendly as well as delicious.

Chiang Mai (174)

The perfect end to an always great afternoon!

Sunday walking street
Every Sunday, Chiang Mai
all along Th Ratchadamnoen and surrounding streets and sois
Starts late afternoon until midnight
Allow some serious hours if you want to see it all

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Blue Diamond, Chiang Mai

I don't know if I pity those who have never had or wanted to expand their repertoire of food tried, or envy them. If you've never tried anything else you can't miss it, as is the case this morning. We woke up and both were craving a good Sydney style healthy breakfast, not an easy thing to achieve in the middle of northern Thailand

Rumors were that a place called Blue Diamond was not only serving a good breakie but an organic one at that, deciding to give it a shot it was "hi ho scooter away". One mind fraying ride and a few missed turns later we arrived, you'll have to excuse the lack of exterior photos but it was pissing down so we didn't hang around but just got straight to business.

One muesli with fresh fruit and yogurt, a carrot, beetroot, orange and ginger juice to start please. Juice was carrot creamy and zingy with ginger a good balance and we were off to a good start. The cereal was a generous serve of fresh tropical fruit, pineapple, papaya, dragon fruit (all beauty, no flavour but it's good for you right?) and watermelon topped with a tart yogurt and the muesli. Mmm good, and gone to fast!

Chiang Mai

Since these days our waking time tends to be a little on the late-ish side we then followed up with a salad off the lunch menu as well as a seven grain bagel. The salad was full with great raw veg (though the avo was a little speckled but still yum!), two types of tomato's, carrot, cucumber, lettuce and a hard boiled egg, served with a raw mayonnaise and a garlic dressing.

Chiang MaiChiang Mai

We finished off with a chai full of spice and surprisingly good since I'm not so much of a soy fan, and a chocolate brownie .. nicely chewy, all of this definitely putting our other worldly cravings on the back burner for a while.

Chiang Mai

I have decided I don't feel either envy or pity, but lucky I have experienced so much and lucky there's places like Blue Diamond to remind me.

Blue Diamond, Moonmuang, Soi 9
(not too easy to find, check your Nancy Chandler)
Near the Sriphum Moat
Chiang Mai

Lamduon Fahrm Khao Soi, Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai

One of the greatest things about being in Northern Thailand has got to be Khao Soi ....... This Burmese influenced dish is a very popular Chiang Mai lunch dish, and can be found for around 25B. There is also the gourmet version of Khao Soi available at Just Khao Soi which is served on a beautiful wooden artist palette, each condiment like a pot of paint, allowing you to create your own masterpiece. These go for about 150B a bowl, and are good if you're just starting out on this Northern classic, because most of the one's you find on the street pack a fair punch!

Today we're off on the scooter again, Nancy Chandler map in hand ..... we're off to find Lamduon Fahrm Khao Soi. There's a little rundown on the map saying the chef here used to cook for the Royal Thai Family. Awesome! We drive up and down the street, actually driving past it a few times, it's quite easy to drive past, the sign out the front with roman script is tiny and easy to miss.

Chiang Mai

You walk in past all the cooking to a hustle and bustle so familiar in Thailand at lunch time. We see a lady, who is quite old, sitting on a tiny little stool, with a pot of simmering curry in front of her and everything else to make a beautiful bowl of khao soi within reaching distance. Although there are a few other vendor's within the building, one grilling meat on a stick and another doing ice-cream and drink we observe that everyone has bowls of piping hot khao soi in front of them.

Chiang Mai

We are seated and offered chicken or pork. We both opt for the not-so-traditional-pork today. Within seconds we are beaming in the company of 2 piping hot bowls of khao soi.

Chiang Mai

The curry is quite thick and intense with it's spice ... the squiggly egg noodles doing a good job of mopping up all that flavour. Then there's the pork, oh the pork! There is some sort of braised pork meat, as well as muu crop, deep-fried ultra crispy pork belly, that remains crisp even when bathed in the thick stock. Then there's the crispy noodles (so nice and crispy, fried only hours ago) and coriander on top. To the side are little bowls of pickled mustard greens, chunks of shallot and a lime wedge, to add to taste. Our taste, of course, being all of it!

Chiang Mai

Definitely one of the finest Khao Soi's we have had .... I have no doubt this chef once cooked for the Royal Thai Family.

Thanks again for another great find Nancy Chandler !

Lamduon Fahrm Khao Soi
352/22 Faharn Rd
Opposite the Resort
Chiang Mai

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Good View, Chiang Mai

There are few finer ways to pass a rainy afternoon than sitting back grazing on various snacks, drinking, talking and watching the hippo's swim in the grass beside the river. Well the last one only applies if your in Chiang Mai and at the Good View a restaurant situated on the banks of the Mae ping river and before you pack your safari suit and Hippopotamus amphibius spotting guide they're just a couple of terracotta hippo's set into the banks of the river along side the restaurant.. sorry.

Chiang Mai

The restaurant is one of a few set onto the bank this side of the river and really fills up at night with live music and lots of drink promotions and the like, the crowd though is mostly Thai so good food is to be found if you pick wisely, and like I said it's a great place to while a way an afternoon.
We like the afternoon as it fit's in with our snacking schedule nicely and also the place is usually deserted so you get your pick of seating.

Chiang Mai

We pick seats right next to the hippo's and start off with some fried nuts and a couple of cold drinks, the nuts are great a mixture of cashews, baby shrimp, kaffir lime leaf, galangal and chilli all fried together and seasoned. Great drinking food and a real this-is-Thailand set of flavors.

Chiang Mai

Following these we ordered three small plates .. one of fried chicken knuckle one of smoked chicken wing and one of smoked nam. The chicken knuckle is like the bit off the end of the drum stick deep fried till super crispy, not much flavor but that's what the chilli sauce is for, it's all crunch along side a small plate of pickled onion together they're unbelievably moreish and soon disappear.

Chiang Mai

The smoked wings were something else they had been smoked so long the fat had all rendered for the wing leaving a deep mahogany papery skin and a flesh still pink but cooked, kinda like a ham they were great served with a chilli sauce and a different kind of pickle they also went down a treat.

Chiang Mai

The nam is the stuff of dreams' ... it's a great nam to start with but then they wrap it in finely sliced bacon and smoke it. You can feel your arteries harden with every mouthful but it's worth it.

Chiang Mai

We finish up with the northern style tasting plate, these are in most places around Chiang Mai but we like this one as it has not only the sausages, pork skin and grilled green chilli relish but a good selection of veges (any thing to feel like we ate something nutritious) and a small bowl of nahm prik ong as well as some great little fried fish cakes, the only bummer is after the great smoked nahm they use a very so-so commercial brought one one the platter. Still as we sit, drink and watch the rain it's easy to forgive and forget.

Chiang Mai

When a break in the rain came we started to walk back to the guesthouse only for it to start up again we ducked for cover in a door way and waited till a tuktuk passed by hailing him down we told him where we were going in our best Thai, he started laughing and said OK, we asked how much, he said free. We nearly didn't get in like this has to be a con or something but he dropped us right to the door and when we tried to give him some money he refused, we don't know if it was our stunningly butchered Thai or just sympathy for people stuck in the rain but I think we got the only free tuktuk ride in history. We Love Chiang Mai!!

13 Charoen Raj Rd.,
Watgate, Muang
Chiang Mai 50000

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Libernard Cafe, Chiang Mai

Lonely Planet says that the best banana pancakes come from Apples in Kanchanaburi but we beg to differ... Been to Apples and it's ok, bit to many laurels being rested on frankly, now Libernard from the first time we supped, through the years till now has never wavered in the pancake department. First off there's the choice between regular and wholemeal, the wholemeal is a great day starter if you have a lot planned and doesn't sacrifice on flavor for being in the healthy region of food stuffs.

Chiang Mai

Usually we opt for the regular banana with a side of bacon. The order comes fluffy and light filled with banana, the bacon is always crispy and there's a choice of honey or syrup on the table. As well as being able to partake of the finest banana pancakes in Thailand there's the bonus of being able to drink some mighty fine coffee, brought down from the mountains by hill tribe people it is roasted on premise giving you a quality cup that is seldom tasted any where else.

Chiang Mai

And to top it all off the resident cat is oh so cute, affectionate, and able to melt hearts with a single glance of her big yellow eyes.

Chiang Mai

It's really just such a pleasant way to start your day, we try to do it often every time we're in Chiang Mai.

Libernard Cafe
41 Moonmuong Road
Chiang Mai, Thailand 50300
+66 53 251 395

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Aroon rai, Northern Thai, Chiang Mai

Photo by: Shostak

One our Favourite things from Thailand is Nancy Chandlers maps.. The first time we arrived in Thailand people had these great looking hand drawn maps, we picked one up and were amazed by how in depth they were not just with tourist things but great stuff to immerse yourself in some good local culture. Being gastrotourists we especially loved the food side of things, so much we would have never found, or at least it would have taken a while. Since then every time we have returned to Thailand we pick up a copy, and every time they seem to be a new edition, so there always seems to be something new for us. This time feeling like some really homegrown Northern (or maybe because it was just around the corner from the guest house) we went for Aroon rai. Like a lot of really good Thai places the decor and setting is a total after thought, the big Aroon rai sign is plastered to the wall inside so you have to walk in to see your here. They let the food do the talking though with a great selection of northern staples as well as a few southern strangers. A good whack of the menu is written in Thai and the English translation is the usual humorous literal word for word (but they write more English than I of Thai) so it helped that we knew the dishes to be able to visualise what they were.
We went for nahm prik ong, dtom yum het, scrambled egg with nam and not very northern but we felt like it, plain steamed rice. The Nahm prik ong is a northern relish of pork and tomato, usually the ones we have had have been almost like a Thai pork bolognaise but this was far more rustic and much better. Almost like a ragu the pork and tomato still in largish chunks surrounded with soft onion and garlic and swimming in a sour savoury stock, This came with a plate of fresh snake beans, cabbage and pork skin with which to scoop up the goodness. Defiantly the best we've ever had and most certainly worth a trip here if just for that.

Chiang Mai

The dtom yum was a generous portion full of floating mushrooms and aromats with a good hot sour balance.

Chiang Mai

The scrambled egg with nam was something we had never tried but we both love nam and we both like egg so give it a go we did. Nam is something that never seems to be able to translate very well, always ending up as sour or fermented pork which for some reason put the average farang off but it really deserves your attentions! every mouthful is an unctuous garlicky love affair with the gamble you may have ended up with one of the scud chilli's lurking within it's porky depths. Give it a go, at the least you'll be able to say you don't like it because you know.
The dish came out a great pile of nam and scrambled egg through which was tossed white & spring onion and a few slightly sour Thai tomatoes the did well to cut the richness of the dish which we both thought was a triumph making a note for future ordering at other places.

Chiang Mai

We had such a great meal we returned later that week, but I am ashamed to say we totally neglected our blogging duties, such was our preoccupation with the food that no photos resulted from that visit. But we can also recommend the gaeng hung lae: a mild spicy braised pork curry from the Burmese border area, the gaeng gari: an ancient yellow curry of braised chicken and potato, and the larp muu: a spicy minced pork and fresh herb salad. mmmmm aroy maak!

They also do a range of pre-packaged spice mixes for various curry's and soups if you're allowed to take them home.

Aroon rai has definitely become one of our Chiang Mai top spots.. thanks Nancy!

Aroon rai
45 Kotchasarn Rd, on the Thapae Gate side
Chiang Mai
Ph: 05327-6947
Open daily, 9am - 10pm

Saturday, August 9, 2008

20 baht Pad Thai, Chiang Mai

On our previous visits to Chiang Mai we often walked past a neon sign, on both Thapae Rd and Chang Moi Rd's advertising 5 baht Pad Thai ..... This was usually on our way home with a full belly and we never really ventured down the Soi to satisfy our curiosity.

Chiang Mai

After a pretty long day, flying from Hanoi to Bangkok and then waiting for our connecting flight to Chiang Mai topped off with a rather long wait for a taxi at the airport, we dropped our bags in our room and were on a mission to find some food. We were staying up on Th Thapae Soi 4, and walking out of our Soi going to head somewhere towards to night bazaar... and there it was, all this time later, the same neon yellow sign now advertising 20 baht Pad Thai. Hey, we're up for that, it's still stupidly cheap!
So we wander down the little soi, and it's a pretty busy little place, one girl just working the woks, another packing up banana leaf parcels by the dozen for people on their scooters picking up dinner for entire families. There are still quite a few people sitting inside, so we take a seat. The walls are covered with framed segments of bright yellow that are all scribbled with various names, greetings, well wishes etc. Very high school, very cute!

Chiang Mai

Within moments there's a plate piled with beansprouts, garlic chives, lime and a few wedges of banana flower... and only a few more moments pass and we have to plates piled with steaming hot pad Thai nestled on a little round of banana leaf.

Chiang Mai

The noodles are slightly smoky from the woks, with a nice tang from the tamarind sauce. We were both pleasantly surprised with the substance of these noodles .. plenty of egg, dried shrimp, chicken mince and tofu considering the 20 baht price tag. Delicious!

Very pleased we satisfied our curiosity venturing down this little soi, as in turn it satisfied our hunger several times on this trip...

Thapae Soi 3
Chiang Mai
Open in the 'noon through 'til the evening

Bun Cha, Hanoi


Back to the street that houses the infamous kem caramel today, I can feel it's gravitational pull as we walk down the street, it's quite hard not to just break into a run, crossing the street and feeding the sugar monster again but we have a purpose .. we're here for bun cha, a Northern lunch time specialty of grilled pork in a fish sauce served with rice noodles and the usual (but unusual) plate of fresh vegetation.

The place is a recommendation brought to us by the friendly folk at Cafe Hue. We tried bun cha recently and when we told them where we had gone the response was something like 'well that's ok if your into average food, but where you really want to go is....' so here we are. The place is full which is always a good start, as soon as we show interest a table and stools are produced on the side walk, it always seem to be of great amusement to the locals to see a 194cm guy trying to sit at these tiny street places and many double takes are done by passers by.


Two bun cha is soon arranged as well as a side of nem (Saigon spring rolls) which is the traditional accompaniment.


The bowl came generously full of two types of grilled pork, one marinated slices the other minced and wrapped in a leaf before being grilled, and all swimming in the garlicky, sweet sour fish sauce, (which also double as a dip for the nem). The pork is charred well, so little flakes wash off into the sauce adding an exquisite smokiness. Next to the pork is a huge pile of fresh noodles, a bowl of fresh cut chill and the herbs, oh the herbs, there is morning glory, Thai basil, lettuce, bean sprout, mint and half a dozen others we have no idea what they are.


You take some of the noodles and herbs and dip them into the sauce before eating with some of the pork. It's delicious! Our friends recommendation was right on the money this was a far superior bun cha than previously experienced. The nem are super crispy and full of pork, crab and noodles. All washed down with a cold beer this is one of the best lunch's we've ever had, every day Vietnam is fast climbing the list towards favorite county, now about that caramel......

Conviniently located opposite Kem Caramel
34 Hang Than

Friday, August 8, 2008

The 2nd Sin, Hanoi


We're in Hanoi right? Right. They have a great tradition of French cuisine right? Right. They are the true originators of fusion cuisine right? Right. Which is why we have turned to the web in search of some guidance from above to help find a fabled dish... The Vietnamese creme caramel, we've yet to see one in our daily fossicking. A quick search and thanks to stickyrice's photos we're sure this is what we want .. the picture looks glorious. Easy enough then, just take the address and walk to the place, it's in the old city so shouldn't be to far, or so we thought...... you see Hang Than isn't on any of the maps we have, we looked and looked at the maps, researched the web again and again only to find more tantalising blurbs of the greatness of this caramel and more vague directions, so once again it's back to Cafe Hue for some more local wisdom. As soon as we said where we wanted to go they knew the place and as fast as you could say 'two iced weasels to go please' we were off.

What follows next is a tale of savage gluttony, be warned.....

We follow the directions that lead us to Hang Than (it is there, just not named on our maps) then we see it, a small doorway with a cake stand out side, (don't be put off buy the cakes we weren't that impressed with the look of them either but that's not what your here for). We take a sit on one of the many microstools that litter this section of the side walk and ask for the kem caramel. It takes about fifteen seconds to arrive and really is a thing of beauty ... you could just sit and stare into it's glossy surface for hours, it's the kinda dessert you take home to meet your parents.


We gently probe our spoons into it's surface and a small creme glacier sheers off from the side to drop in to the caramel sea pooled around it...


Lifted into our mouths we have one of those moments where angels sing and the world evaporates away from you. Our whole world became the silky creme, the perfectly balanced bitter sweet caramel for a second time stopped and we were in heaven. And then all snapped back into sharp focus and spoons were dueled sword like and with quite some savagery to get at the remains of the custard. No really, it was that good! So what else have you got hidden away ?? we managed to get across. Next in quick succession we had a set yogurt laced with a jellied mango pudding..


a drinking yogurt with sticky black rice..


and a pannacotta...


All fantastic but we couldn't stop our mind from straying back to the caramel in the end we had to round off our binge with another. We then had to face the walk home heads swimming with endorphins and dairy overload, it's an interesting mix. As we walked past Cafe Hue the enquiries came did we find it? Yes. Did we think it was good? Yup. Did we go to the bun cha place opposite? Bun Cha? Fantastic, an excuse to be back on the same street tomorrow. Now if you'll please excuse us we have some serious lying down to do.

Duong Hoa Kem Caramen
29 Hang Than St

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Toys and Treats, Hanoi

We have our friends at Cafe Hue to thank for directions to this little gem. Down on toy street in the old city in between all the piled up stuffed animals and lego mountains (sounds like the beginning to a fairy tale) ..


there are several women attending large steamers, not so large that you would notice them if your attention was directed at the plethora of toys and games, you might just wander past as we did the first time.


It wasn't until we were looking for them that they became apparent (hiding in plain sight as they were), so over we go and old hands at the 'point and smile' technique we are soon the proud owners of two large fluffy steamed buns.


Usually seen filled with BBQ pork when we go yum cha-ing, these were a little larger and filled with a deliciously savoury mix of pork mince and mushroom, then tucked away in the center a quails egg. Such a great combination and so good that you burn your mouth several times unable to wait the crucial seconds for the hot center to cool to a reasonable temperature.

A very frustrating theme is beginning to emerge since we've be here in Hanoi, in that all the food we have eaten is so good it makes going somewhere else to try new thing increasingly difficult.

It's a hard life really.

Steamed Pork Buns
Hang Dao, Old City
Hanoi, Vietnam

Wandering Rice Ball ..., Hanoi


Tired of walking and looking for any excuse to stop we pulled in at this amazing curb side eatery. This woman had the traditional carrying yoke with two baskets .. one full with the goodies, the other her kitchen but (and this is where it gets really cool) insted of simple banana leaf, newspaper or bamboo skewers for her fare she had little porcelin plates and polished silver cutlery. She had small steamed sticky rice flour dumplings filled with caramel pork and roast peanut topped with a smattering of sesame seeds, which were delicious, but to then have them placed on a small plate and have some cutlery appear.....well we were astounded.


As soon as we were done the plate and forks went into the dirty dishes container under the kitchen and she was back on the move. As we watched she got about fifty meters before some one esle had flagged her down. My only gripe is since she's so mobile how the hell are we going to find her again????


Rice ball lady
Some where in Hanoi
Open ???