Hong Tauw Inn

This week’s restaurant review is of one of Chiang Mai’s very well established restaurants. Opened 16 years ago, it had the same owner until his death two years ago. After this unfortunate event, the family all pulled together and this icon of Chiang Mai dining is still going strong today.

The Hong Tauw (literally ‘Shop-House’) Inn is on Nimmanhaemin Road, in a row of shop-houses almost opposite the Amari Rincome, on the left side heading towards the Nimmanhaemin - Huay Kaew Road traffic lights.

Having found our shop-house, we stepped into a veritable curio shop. Statues, art on the walls and a collection of pendulum clocks (35 we were told, the result of hobby collecting by the original owner) greet you, in a hushed or subdued atmosphere. As our eyes adjusted to the low light levels, we noticed that the restaurant stretches right through the shop-house to the street frontage at the rear, so it is actually quite large.

Wooden tables and chairs with rattan backs are neatly arranged, all with pink woven tablecloths and green napkins. Cutlery is fork and spoon only, as this is a Thai restaurant.

The menu (there’s one all in English) proclaims that it is the answer to the quest for Chiang Mai’s most quintessential Thai Cuisine and promises lunch or dinner at a very reasonable price. Before even looking at the price, it was obvious that the Hong Tauw Inn was offering us a huge array of choices - in fact 10 pages of Thai cuisine.

The first two pages cover rice and noodle choices (shaken and not stirred and everything in between), and are almost all around B. 60. A couple of pages of salads and soups are next, with salads mainly at B. 60 and soups B. 120.

Curries are next (B. 80-150), including some vegetarian items. There are two choices in set menus for four people, each with seven items and are B. 620 and B. 650. (For those who are unsure of themselves with Thai cuisine, this is a great option.)

A page of appetizers and deep-fried items has most at around B. 80, with many choices including crab, shrimps and chicken and fish. Stir-fries are next, again around B. 80 and then some ‘narm phrig’ (kapi based) items at B. 60, for those who really enjoy some very traditional Thai cuisine items.

Finally there are Thai desserts, beverages and even a wine list with several choices all under B. 1,000 (a 500 ml carafe of house wine is B. 210).

We had a range of dishes, both spicy and mild and began with a mee krob, a crispy fried rice vermicelli mixed with sweet and sour minced pork and shrimp sauce with vegetables, and it had that usual ‘melt in the mouth’ texture, but not sweet in taste as the more usual ‘dessert’ mee krob.

We also tried the naem thod, a deep-fried version of the famous Northern Thai sausage, which I enjoyed very much, but the dish of the day, for the team, was the plachonn Hong Tauw, a deep-fried freshwater fish that was tasty and not at all dried out.

The other dish that went very close to being the table’s favourite was a gaeng keowaan (green curry), which had the correct curry ‘bite’, but was still, as the name suggests, a ‘sweet’ curry.

The Hong Tauw Inn was notable for its wonderful ‘olde world’ ambience, its unhurried service, its excellent food and reasonable prices. If this restaurant were housed in a graceful old teak house in a garden surrounding it could command very high prices, but in its modest shop-house you, the diners, are the winners. We enjoyed our lunch at the Hong Tauw Inn and see no reason that you would not enjoy your meals there either. On the day we were there it was very well patronised, and we can see why. Recommended that you make up parties of four, so that you can have a wider choice of dishes -or choose one of the set menus if unsure.

Hong Tauw Inn, 95/17-18 Nantawan Arcade, Nimmanhaemin Road, Chiang Mai, telephone 053 218 333. Open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.