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Baan Suan - Is this the complete Lanna experience?

Chiang Mai “foodies” become health conscious

Baan Suan - Is this the complete Lanna experience?

Chiang Mai may have been the capital of the old Lanna Kingdom, but these days, a short ten minute drive from Chiang Mai is all that is needed to experience the ambience of that bygone era. Baan Suan (the house in the gardens) is a local restaurant that has been for many foreign residents and tourists, a well kept secret. That secret is no more!

Set in tropical gardens, the restaurant is a series of Thai salas and open air terraces surrounded by the d้cor of the North - wooden wall carvings abound, wooden statues, wooden flooring and even Northern Thai music, over the background hum of the crickets beside the Ping River. The waitresses too are dressed in Thai silk outfits.

Even the table settings are original, with little ‘hats’ made of banana leaves over the glasses, locally woven tablecloths and napkins, and original, hand painted ceramic plates. Even the cutlery is hand crafted stainless steel. It comes as no surprise that the owner of Baan Suan is a famous architect, known for his original designs.

Before going to our table, the Dining Out Team sat for a while in one of the open-air salas and had a contemplative drink, just to take in the atmosphere of the restaurant complex itself. While we sat, we nibbled on some of the celebrated Chiang Mai sausage.

The menu commences with appetizers, between 100-150 baht and then into a section simply called Northern Food (around B. 110) which includes some Chiang Mai sausage items.

From there it is into Thai food (B. 120-180) and then choices of pork, beef or chicken, again B. 120-180. These are followed by fish and shrimp items (B. 150-260), some rice and noodle based items (B. 90-150) and then a small but sophisticated European menu covering appetizers, soups, salads, breads and the mains which include items such as fondues. There is a separate wine list with a good selection of wines from throughout the old and new worlds with the whites and the reds all under B. 2,200.

We began with a yum guava salad which featured cashew nuts and the ‘farang’ fruit. This was flavoursome with a slight ‘bite’, but certainly not over the top. Our second appetizer was a nam meung, again another different dish with rice crackers and a sauce made from tea leaves.

As is the way with eating Thai food, we had a selection of items beginning with a wild mushroom dish. These are an annual crop only and a local delicacy, with the slightly ‘crunchy’ texture and taste quite different from the usual champignon. Accompanying this was another Northern dish with the ground sausage mixed with egg, spring onions and clear noodles. Once more this was a new taste for the palate unused to Northern cuisine.

The next item was a freshwater catfish in lemongrass. This was a most interesting dish with the sauce almost caramelised and giving a ‘sweet and sour’ flavour to it. For me, this was the dish of the night, but it was only a narrow winner. The standard of all the dishes was so high. Madame was taken with the green curry chicken which was very smooth and creamy, such a pleasant change from the thin, watery fire-water curries so often dished up as gaeng keowan.

Though Miss Terry Diner does not usually eat dessert I was tempted by the mango with red wine ‘snowflakes’. A sensational ending to what had been a voyage of exploration in the Northern style of Thai cuisine. I should also mention the very aromatic coffee which, I was reliably informed, was made from locally grown coffee beans and another taste sensation.

Baan Suan is an experience. It is a romantic setting for long relaxed dining out. The ambience is superb, the food excellent and the cuisine allows the diner to try dishes for which the North is famous. The Dining Out Team has no hesitation in awarding this restaurant a very highly recommended rating. If you have never been there, do go. You will not regret it.

Baan Suan, 25 M3, San-Phi-Sua, Muang Chiang Mai, telephone 053 854 169, 053 852 751.

Chiang Mai “foodies” become health conscious

by Miss Terry Diner

There is a growing trend in Chiang Mai towards a more healthy cuisine, with vegetarian food being top of the list. With the importance of a low cholesterol diet being well known these days, one easy way of accomplishing this is through a diet without animal fats - the basis of vegetarian cuisine.

Pull up a chair and dive into some inexpensive, healthy food at Vegetarian Thai Orchid.

One restaurant that is cresting the wave of the vegetarian boom is the Vegetarian Thai Orchid on Wichayanon Road, close to the Chiangmai President Hotel. Run by Yupa-Wanchai Mianmanus, an architect turned restaurateur, this lunchtime haven for the healthy eaters has made its ability to ‘copy’ the more usual meat menu items as a draw card for its diners.

Try ordering the khao mun gai (chicken) and you will swear that the ‘meat’, which looks like chicken, has the texture of chicken and tastes like chicken, IS chicken. But it isn’t! Like wise, the steamed ‘duck’ or the ‘fishballs’ or the sliced ‘sausage’ - none of which are derived from the animal, but are instead cleverly prepared vegetable proteins.

As it was during the Chinese religious vegetarian season (‘Tesagarn Kin Jay’) when we visited, the use of garlic was restricted as the Chinese believe it to be an aphrodisiac.

Open for lunch (it closes around 3 p.m.) it was packed when we arrived, but there are plenty of small areas that Yupa-Wanchai has managed to squeeze another table into. We had a broad selection, including the brown rice - a ‘must’ as far as I am concerned. The curries were a good serving size and at 20 baht a bowl, unbeatable value.

There is a Chinese tradition of eating vegetarian food each week on the day of the week of your birth. From a health point of view this is an excellent idea, and I can recommend the food at Vegetarian Thai Orchid. Good for your health and also good for your wallet or purse!

Vegetarian Thai Orchid, 419/24 Wichayanon Road, Chiang Mai, telephone 053 876 232.