You know those ‘laws’ of probability. At any given
moment, somewhere in the world, ten Beetles’ tunes are being broadcast and
every 30 seconds a bottle of Chanel No.5 is sold.
Meanwhile those poor monkeys are still frantic at their
keyboards hoping to come up with the complete works of Shakespeare because
someone decided that given infinite time that would happen.
Well, I have another notion. At any one moment half of
the indigenous population of Thailand is eating, while the rest are
preparing, cooking, serving and clearing up until it is their turn to be fed
and watered. Eating is the national sport, followed by sleep, sex, aerobics
and work. No wonder so many elderly farangs settle here, comfortable in a
reversal of their normal drudgery.
Not for nothing is the informal Thai greeting an enquiry
as to whether the person greeted has eaten. We can ‘sawasdee’ all we
wish. To his peers the Thai says, ‘Have you had breakfast?’
The question is akin to the English, ‘How do you do?’
No answer is expected or even possible except to echo the phrase. Comment is
redundant, even bad form.
Food we know is crucial to us all and for the two thirds
of the world lucky enough to eat on a regular basis the staples such as
rice, potatoes, bread and pulses are vital. The Thai adapt this and the
comment, ‘Gin kao’ refers not to just rice but crudely put ‘go eat’.
Despite the corrupting influence of American fast foods and fizzy drinks the
rule remains little and often with the accent on freshly prepared dishes.
So far as I can judge, the Thai palate is sophisticated
and attuned to the region the food emanates from, subtleties of texture,
spicing, heat and the quality and freshness of the ingredients. The happy
result is that eating in house or out in a city such as Chiang Mai is as
varied as it is pleasurable. At a rough guess I would say there are more
good Italian restaurants here than any other foreign cuisine but there are
good Japanese, French, Chinese and others, plus that catch all ‘fusion
food’ to give the Thai places modest if not strong competition. As a
novice I enjoy most Thai food, as spicy as it comes and as a non- meat eater
the variety is especially welcome.
As in all things, we farangs eat differently to our
hosts. The Thai seems possessed with a casual, yet often urgent, need for
food. The may be morning rice soup, som tum in the afternoon, the evening
meal or late night noodles at Talad, on north side of town that don’t keep
We tend to snack rather than graze and make one meal
important in the day, often by pre-arrangement. "O.K., let’s meet on
Friday... 8.30 at Arcobalenos’. Odd when you consider it. In three days
time I may fancy Thai food not Italian and be hungry at 7.30. We remain
attuned to separate course, a starter, main and possibly a pudding.
This remains alien to the Thai and even to restaurants
which cater for visitors with menus clearly offering appetizers, main course
and desserts. The newly opened and well designed The Maz does just that but
still contrives a chaotic regime that suggests Mr. Bean is in charge of
service while M. Hulot is head chef.
Such difference obviously does not matter with a Thai
meal, best served together and shared. Even so we tend to eat whilst it is
hot rather than leave dishes to be picked over as the whisky coke-soda is
demolished. The answer is not to let it worry one.
For myself I find the more pressing problem the high
price of wine when eating out thanks to excessive government taxes and the
ludicrous mark up put on by most eateries that also seem reluctant to sell
by the glass. By being so greedy for profit they lose potential sales.
Still, one of the undoubted pleasures of Chiang Mai is
eating out and here are a handful of personal recommendations. My expert
colleague offers more each week but here is one for every day eating, a
couple that are middle price range and two for more special occasions. Even
the last two will pleasantly surprise visitors if their eyes are sidetracked
from the cocktails and wine list.
For value, cheerful and attractive service and an
excellent singer the busy Nee-Nee near the Grand View Hotel on Super Highway
takes some equaling. Not the fanciest location but far enough off the road
to be bearable and the food and draught beer are as fresh as only a large
turn over can ensure. Mainly Thai clientele but the menu is also in English
and it is my choice when entertaining large group. Dinner for 12 comes in at
far less than for two ‘back home’.
A few months ago before it relocated I would have chosen
the Heun Soon Tri, but now that it has become too large so I opt for The
Gallery, also on the River. It has attractive Thai music and an adjacent
Jazz bar. The food is northern Thai and as classic as the music. Reasonable
prices with an ambience and service to back them up.
Slightly more expensive and an altogether different
dining experience can be had at Mo’C Mo’L at the upper end of Huay Kaew
Road past CMU. I avoid the noisy air-conditioned bar but either the main
section or terrace near the water are fine. The customers are mainly
youngish and trendy Thais and the food is Thai, backed up by some European
and Japanese alternatives. Service can be a little erratic but is friendly.
In a higher price bracket, few places can compete with
Moxies at the D2 hotel for elegance and welcoming service. The wines can be
pricey and ‘extras’ such as water, the breads and dips and taxes soon
mount up but the food itself is an excellent value. There are wonderful
salads from the King’s Royal Project, a wide range of main courses
including innovative pastas and fish dishes and tempting desserts.
Pleasurable at any time and memorable for such events as Valentines night or
the recent promotion of Japanese food, as good as any I have eaten on home
Finally, the courtyard restaurant at the wonderful boutique hotel The
Rachamankha, near Wat Phra Singh offers a fine wine list and less steep than
in similar places. The magnificent building, the discreet music and
impeccable service create a tranquil atmosphere. The food might best be
described as fusion, with a Thai base with Burmese influences and western
elements. I have never known it fail and for special visitors or a romantic
evening this is always my top choice.