Madame Ian

A Vietnamese surprise, especially if you’re under 1.2 meters!

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 nicer.

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.