Jia Tong Heng

When I was growing up, a French family owned our neighborhood bakery. Alongside every purchase of delectable goodies that was placed into a gleaming white box and tied with string, Monsieur le Boulanger added a little bit of lagniappe, something extra, an unexpected gift. While our parents savored croissants or brioche with their coffee on Sunday mornings, we eagerly dug into the corners of the box and retrieved a warm brownie or little cornucopia filled with sweetened cream. So you will understand why I thought of lagniappe when I entered Jia Tong Heng a few days ago for an especially tasty Chinese meal. Jia Tong Heng is not one restaurant, but two, each with its own personality but with the same delicious menu, good service and reasonable prices.

We walked into the first restaurant, which opens directly onto the street. Large and spacious, booths line the walls. The tile floors are a well-worn path but clean. Smoking is allowed and there are fans but no air-conditioning. We walked through this restaurant, past the big tank swimming with fish and the display of fresh vegetables, and found ourselves in a lovely, air-conditioned restaurant decorated in a subtle Chinese style. Glass cabinets trimmed with dark wood hold celadon teapots and vases. Plates and chopsticks adorn the walls, and enormous Chinese vases form dividers between some of the tables. We later learned that much of the celadon is for sale. The owners understand that many tourists don’t have time to visit the celadon factories.

We were seated and given menus while we waited for the general manager, Kriangsak Jearasatit, to join us. Partially frozen, packaged cloth towels arrived, welcomed in the heat of the day. We were pleased to note that the cutlery came packaged in plastic bags, and that all of the dishes we were later served were accompanied by separate serving spoons. The menu is large and features attractive color photographs. It is written in Thai, Chinese and English. There is a small vegetarian-specific section, but many other vegetarian dishes are offered throughout the menu. Single serving dishes for the take out crowd such as fried rice with crab or noodles topped with rice or pork are priced at 30 baht each, but most of the offerings start at 60 to 80 baht for the small size. Fish dishes generally start at 120 baht. Most dishes are offered in multiple sizes.

We ordered fried spring rolls and began our conversation with Kriangsak. Jia Tong Heng is a family business that opened in a little stall in the Wororat Market area 48 years ago, the year its present general manager was born. All of the Jearasatit children grew up in the restaurant, and all were cross-trained as they assumed positions within the business. Kriangsak says he can double as manager, cook or busboy, depending on the needs of the day. He is an elegant host, frequently serving us himself.

Our spring rolls arrived and we were pleased that they were crisp and well drained, with no oily residue. A hot plate of oysters stir-fried with egg delighted us, and was followed by a tender stewed duck with Chinese herbs. Kriangsak then ordered black mushrooms with minced pork and egg, the restaurant’s signature dish created by his father many years ago. This was my personal favorite. Creamy Chinese spinach stir-fried in oyster sauce, fresh fish steamed with herbs in soy sauce (did this dish swim by as we arrived?), and the Chinese dessert created by his mother (delicious!) taro with cooked Chinese nuts on top of sticky rice followed. We were pleased when the staff removed our dishes and replaced them with clean ones for the delicate steamed fish dish. They replaced them again when we finished the fish. A nice gesture, and one not commonly encountered in casual restaurants. It was a lovely meal.

We encountered more lagniappe on departing. The restrooms were simply elegant, featuring raised cut stone basins, wicker dividers, and plenty of marble.

Jia Tong Heng Chinese Restaurant, 193/2-3 Sridonchai Road, Muang, Chiang Mai, telephone 053-273-593, 275-242, email driangsak @jia tong heng.com, website www.jiaton gheng.com. Open seven days a week from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. Parking is available behind the restaurant.