Jen Pao

A Halal journey into Muslim China?

We spotted the Jen Pao Restaurant in the Al-Farooq Hotel when cruising up and down looking for the Kitamon Japanese Restaurant, reviewed a couple of weeks back, not knowing that we would receive an invitation to go there shortly afterwards.

It is a very interesting eight year old restaurant, for if nothing else, it is in a Muslim hotel and serves genuine Halal food, with the certification to that effect very proudly displayed. Since Halal restaurants are not too common in Chiang Mai, we went along for lunch to see what was on offer.

Inside it looks like a typical Chinese restaurant with its tiled floors and busy clattering atmosphere (a tour bus arrived at the same time as we did). Bamboo paintings are on the windows, and a giant ‘happy plant’ is in one corner, with eight large 10-seater circular tables with the ubiquitous carousel on top. One aspect that did stand out from the run of the mill Chinese eating houses is that the Jen Pao Restaurant used genuine china plates and not those awful melamine numbers that seem to be de rigeur these days.

The menu is a 99 item number, with many photographic illustrations, always a ‘plus’ in my mind with any ‘ethnic’ cuisine. If you know what to expect before your order arrives, you are more likely to be happy with your choices.

It begins with appetizers, with most offered as small, medium or large but this does not refer to government largesse! These included spring rolls (but in actual fact is closer to French toast) and assorted Yunnan hors d’oeuvres. Small serves were B. 120, medium b. 200 and large ranged between B. 300-400.

Beef items were next (B. 100 small, B. 150 medium and B. 250 large). These were mainly standard stir-fries. The next sections covered chicken, duck and fish, with similar pricing structures and the fish serves referred to whole fish, with most steamed.

After these comes dedicated shrimp dishes, with again the B. 200-300-400 pricing structure, though a couple of lobster items are included here and are at market price.

There are 10 vegetarian dishes, generally B. 80-120-200, then some seafood items with a large braised sea cucumber (Beche de Mer) being the most expensive dish at B. 600 for a large serving.

Finally there are several noodle and rice dishes, soups, bean curd and egg items and salads. Drinks are non-alcoholic (remember where you are), and there are several Thai desserts.

We had a variety of dishes, beginning with the “spring rolls” that are flat triangular slices, but irrespective, they were flavoursome and enjoyable. Next up we had their tom yum goong prawn soup that I did find much better than most I have been offered, having a much more creamy ‘mellow’ bite to it, rather than the usual fire-water!

A vegetarian sir-fried asparagus and mushrooms was also a good example of a delicately prepared dish, followed by a breaded shrimp salad with salad cream. Brilliantly presented, full of good sized prawns and crispy heart of lettuce.

When I referred to my notes later, I saw that I had written “A surprise culinary gem” and I have no need to change that opinion later. The food was excellent with very good presentation. The breaded shrimp with salad cream being a stand-out example of good Chinese cuisine. The Muslim style tom yum goong with shitake mushrooms was another very good dish and only moderately spicy, compared to some versions of this famous soup. In fact, there was nothing that the Dining Out team did not like as far as the food was concerned. It was good Yunnan style Chinese.

If you are looking for an alternative from the more usual Chinese restaurants, Jen Pao should definitely be on your list. Just try to time it so that you do not arrive at the same time as a tour bus!

Jen Pao Restaurant (ground floor of the Al-Farooq Hotel), 341 Charoen Prathet Road (near the Montfort College), Chiang Mai, telephone 053 274 342. Secure parking within the hotel car park. Open seven days, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.