Vietnamese cuisine is not one of the majors in Chiang Mai,
even though Vietnam is not far removed from us. It has items that are not
related to the Burmese/Chinese/Indian derivations of much of the local fare, so
represents a welcome taste change for many.
One of the Chiang Mai favourites is Madame Ian, a small
Vietnamese restaurant opposite the President Hotel (not far from the US
Embassy). You will have to look for this one, as there is no English signage,
other than a very small ‘Madame Ian’ beside the window; however, the
President Hotel location is enough to get you there.
Inside the tables are arranged around a central buffet area,
with yet another buffet along one wall towards the rear. The tables have granite
tops and were spotless, the chairs padded and comfy and the service staff
plentiful. I have to say that I found the ‘tartan’ tunics somewhat of a
cultural conundrum, the Vietnamese Ao Dai (pant-suit) would have been so much
The buffet is different from others in more ways than one.
Certainly the majority of the food is Vietnamese, being the first very obvious
difference, but the pricing method is also unique to my experience. The price is
B. 80 and includes the all you can eat buffet, coffee and dessert plus one item
from the menu. However, if you leave anything on the plate at the end, the price
is B. 180! And as a further incentive to bring the family (or the seven dwarfs),
anyone under 1.2 meters pays only B. 40.
The menu is quite extensive, with the most expensive items
being B. 70, but the majority are around B. 40-50. It also has photographs of
each item, something that all restaurants should consider, especially the more
‘ethnic’ cuisines, where diners may not be totally familiar with the
names/styles/presentations. Items offered at Madame Ian’s include deep-fried
sugar cane shrimps (one of the expensive ones), and Madame Ian’s salad which
comes with chicken and sausage, served with fresh vegetables.
We chose our three menu items and sat back. It was not long
before our three selected menu dishes arrived, so we made for the buffet tables.
The central buffet has the food in spotlessly clean heated containers and had a
selection of Vietnamese spring rolls (the ones with the soft wrapping) as well
as prawn crackers, fried rice and other deep-fried items. The buffet station
along the far wall was more dedicated to noodle dishes, including the Thai
‘kwiteo nam’ (noodle soup) and the Burmese derived kao soy, complete with
the two styles of noodles, plus pickled cabbage and chopped onion. At the far
end of this one was the serve yourself coffee and a Vietnamese banana spring
roll, which our Madame (as opposed to Madame Ian) found very flavoursome!
We had enough choices to try different dishes, and I was more
than happy with my menu item Vietnamese fresh pork/shrimp rolls, which came with
some different sauce dips, and the kao soy I had made for myself from the
buffet, with plenty of onion and pickles.
The others in our lunch-time party also enjoyed their
choices, one being a very strange ‘shrimp flute’ which had the chopped
shrimp and herbs wrapped in a spring roll pastry, rolled into a long flute (like
bread sticks) and deep-fried.
Did I enjoy the food? Yes, I did. Did I leave any on my
plate? No I did not! As a concept to stop the usual ‘eyes bigger than belly’
buffet wastage problems, Madame Ian’s method is elegantly simple. More should
copy it! The lack of wastage also keeps the buffet prices down, as can be seen
here with B. 80 meals, all you can eat, in very clean air-conditioned comfort.
Plus coffee and desserts. Unbeatable!
Definitely worth a visit, just don’t overload your plates!
And if you have any small friends, they will be delighted!
Madame Ian, 425-7 Wittayanon Street, Chiang Mai (opposite the President
Hotel), telephone 053 876 122. Open 11 a.m. till 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. till 9 p.m.
Street parking, or in the President Hotel secure car park.