Value, Service, atmosphere and good food?
: By Brian Baxter
No Contest…eat Thai
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
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
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
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
Musaman curry paste 60 gm
Coconut milk 600 ml (tinned)
Onion (roughly chopped) 200 gm