Value, Service, atmosphere and good food? :  By Brian Baxter

No Contest…eat Thai

During the 29 years since I first visited Thailand and came to love the country, the people and their food, I have learned one inescapable fact. If you want all of the above qualities in a restaurant you have very few alternatives than to eat Thai food. And you can do that in Chiang Mai better than most places in the Kingdom. Personally, I can think of only one city - Berlin - where so many people eat out so much of the time rather than at home. No doubt there are many others...?
Of course, you’ll get super service (somewhat mechanical perhaps, but faultless) in many de luxe hotels and grander restaurants. Equally, you will be able to eat in elegant surroundings with a restrained atmosphere suited to business or other formal occasions. You will find - usually at a price - fine food, of an international standard in many tourist destinations. You might - although I have never discovered it - happen on a place that offers ‘foreign’ food of quality at a price comparable to its Thai equivalent. Finding even three out of the above four essentials for happy eating out will be little short of a miracle. Visitors, I notice, find even the more expensive venues quite ‘inexpensive’ since they all too readily compare prices with those at home. And if home is London, Oslo or Venice they will use the word cheap. Those of us who live here think rather differently.
I don’t know whether these generalizations are shared by my predecessors in the hot seat, although I suspect that Neil Robinson in his campaign for local, inexpensive eateries might agree. I further suspect that all of them would agree with me if they had shared some of the dining out experiences I’ve endured over the past year. I say shared because of a reluctance by some holiday makers to venture into even the most benign aspects of Thai food. One guy has been here for weeks at a time (and travels extensively elsewhere including Japan, home of superb cuisine) and has never tried any native dishes. Not even Pad Thai! Not even Tempura! Those most conventional of dishes.
He breaks a cardinal rule too in choosing to eat farang food at what is a good Thai restaurant. Thus he will be cajoled into going to the excellent Mo’C Mo’L in Chiang Mai or the pleasant Sphinx in Bangkok and immediately head for the back pages of their extensive menus to discover a small selection of dishes of the blandest ‘international’ style. It is truly pitiful to watch someone struggle through a boil in a bag version of chicken chasseur, preceded by so-called home made soup and followed by ice cream whilst a half dozen people tuck into a Thai feast at half the price. Want farang food? Then try one of the excellent Italian places, if Japanese or Chinese seems too exotic. Just avoid anywhere that hints at Germany on the menu. Like their jokes, their food is no laughing matter.
And if Thai food seems too spicy or strange then head for one of the many restaurants which happily cater for the gentler palate. No shame in that. How about Dalaabaa, which is stylish, uses excellent ingredients and can be relied upon - if asked - to cook according to your wishes? The great thing about Thai food is that it is cooked to order in most cases. There is a lot of pre-preparation but the coming together is spontaneous. There are also some fusion restaurants (usually more pricey) that will please most people most of the time, my favourites D2 and The Green Mill among them.
Certainly, whatever place you choose to eat, be wary of those around Thapae Gate and the Night Bazaar. Even if edible, the food will always have a tourist premium built in to the price, and will often be scruffy and living off a long forgotten reputation and a five year old (or more ) sticker from a Lonely Planet book.
There are a few that are so bad that they deserve no new customers and owe an apology to existing ones. Another tip is to avoid those within a short stone’s throw of fancy hotels. They have long spotted the fact that a few tourists will ‘venture’ across the road to a brightly lit and not too threatening eatery and hike their prices accordingly.
I don’t even include in these observations the ‘chain’ restaurants. Why anyone would want - in Thailand or anywhere else - to go into somewhere providing burgers which are the same the world over or those offering bread crumbed chicken or second rate salad bars is beyond comprehension. They contribute to the appalling treatment suffered by animals in a vast, unyielding food chain and do not even offer decent nutrition at the consumer end of that chain.
For rather less money and infinitely greater taste you can get excellent Pad Thai at the stalls before Chuang Pak (opposite the moat) making a perfect late evening meal. Early on in the day for around 50 baht including a drink try the lower ground floor at Kad Suan Kaew or Airport Plaza. This too is instant food, but not junk food. My favourite place remains Ney Ney (sorry, I know you have heard this before), which combines all four of the headline requirements. I am sure that readers out there know of its equivalent in other parts of the city. And if that is too loud or ‘local’ there are plenty more places of interest and value along the Nimmenhaemenda Road. Just be careful of... No I won’t name names. There are restaurants (including one quite new arrival) that will send themselves out of business soon enough without any harsh words from me.


Musaman Neua (Southern Thai beef curry)

This dish from southern Thailand uses coconut milk to produce a thick creamy curry. Musaman takes around two hours to cook correctly. There are many curry pastes on the market but Maesri is a consistent tasting brand. Like “stews”, it is cooked when the potatoes are soft when prodded with a fork. The quantities in this recipe are for four people and you can keep it gently simmering for quite some time till all the guests arrive. Serve in a large bowl in the center of the table and eat with steamed jasmine rice.

Cooking Method
Cut chuck into 3 cm cubes and stew gently for one hour. In a big pot fry the curry paste with the oil for two minutes over medium flame. Add onion, stewed meat, coconut milk, potatoes, peanuts, water and peanut paste. Stir, bring to the boil then cook slowly over a medium heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to stop burning. Now add the fish sauce, tamarind water and sugar and simmer gently over a low heat. Serve with rice.

Ingredients          Serves 4
Diced chuck                   500 gm
Musaman curry paste       60 gm
Coconut milk       600 ml (tinned)
Potato (quartered)           250 gm
Onion (roughly chopped) 200 gm
Roasted peanut             100 gm
Fish sauce                      50 ml
Sugar                          4 dspns
Tamarind water                50 ml
Oil                                 50 ml
Water                           200 ml
Peanut paste                1 dspn