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.
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
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.