YaYa’s Restaurant

Gina Hahn

They say that good things come in small packages and that’s certainly true for YaYa’s, a little restaurant that serves some of the best Chinese dumplings I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting.

When Montha Sae Chang, known to most of us as Silfern, opened her restaurant almost three years ago in Chiang Mai Land we were delighted to be some of her first taste-testers. One bite of dumpling, one shrimp wonton and I was sold. Her menu has expanded since those early days but one thing has not changed. Silfern is totally and completely dedicated to preparing only the freshest and healthiest of foods. And what she prepares is delicious.

The food is carefully selected every day at the market. She doesn’t buy vegetables that have been treated with pesticides; she knows her vendors. Here’s a tip: if that cabbage looks too good to be true, it’s probably been well doused with pesticides. Exterior leaves that have a few holes here and there can be removed to reveal a healthy interior. You’ll be far better off avoiding the bad chemicals. And Silfern never buys meat or seafood on a Buddha day because it won’t be fresh. Each bunch of green onions, every shrimp is chosen by hand. You know you’re talking to a real cook, someone who loves what she’s doing, when she tells you that her recipes change according to the taste of the vegetables. The amazing shrimp wontons may have more cilantro in them today than yesterday because today’s cilantro may not be as strongly flavored as yesterday’s. She works on taste, not standard measurements.

Silfern is a self-taught cook, and she loves to talk about food and its preparation. She has taken the best of Chinese food, and adapted it, not specializing in any one region. And although certain favorites like spring rolls, dumplings and shrimp wontons remain consistently delicious, her menu and her food are a work in progress.

The dumplings and shrimp wontons are priced at 35 and 40 baht, and are served with a remarkable sauce. A blend of finely minced vegetables with vinegar and other sauces, it is simply so delicious that I dipped my chopsticks into it to taste it alone. The dumplings, the shrimp wontons and the sauce are perfect together. The wonton soup was quite tasty with a rich chicken base. It’s priced at 40 baht for a large bowl. A dish of noodles served with chicken curry is only 25 baht, and there are a variety of vegetables starting at 25 baht. The spring rolls are filled with tender mushrooms and are meatless. The consistency of the filling is almost creamy.

Cold Oolong tea, imported from Taiwan, was a good compliment, and we enjoyed ours. It was priced at 70 baht a pot. Silfern is experimenting with fruit and vegetable combinations and blended up a special tomato and papaya drink for us. A little lime, a little honey, tomato juice and papaya and we had a surprising taste treat. I’m not generally fond of papaya, so I was surprised that I enjoyed this drink so much.

Silfern tells us that she is studying Japanese language. She’s a professional linguist, already fluent in Chinese, Thai and English, so we’re confident that she will succeed. Many of her customers are Japanese tourists and residents, and don’t speak Thai. But they recognize good food. Today her other customers are Thai, and they want her recipes. She laughs and says that she’s happy to give them a list of ingredients, but she really doesn’t know what measurements to provide until she sees, smells and tastes the vegetables. They understand.

Come to YaYa’s and bring a few friends. Order a good selection of food and share it. Be prepared to order seconds. Just be sure everybody gets a bowl of that wonderful sauce. You won’t want to share that with anybody!

YaYa’s, Chiang Mai Land across from Kitamond. Look for the big red Chinese lanterns. Telephone 09-835-7591, 01-288-7170. Open Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. for lunch, and from 5 p.m. until 9 p.m. for dinner. Reservations for groups only. Ample parking on the street.