Khun Churn: by Mark Whitman

Spacious vegetarian restaurant off Nimmanhaeminda Road

My first visit to this attractive restaurant with its large garden was with a fellow farang and two Thais. Like all shared experiences (a movie for example) we had different reactions to various aspects of it. A salutary lesson for anyone expressing a published opinion! There was general agreement about the high quality of the food and most of the cooking. All of us thought the prices very reasonable and the drinks quite exceptional.
A minor division came early on with the rapidity of the service of the actual meal. The food arrived so promptly after we had placed the order that the drinks which we had asked for earlier had not arrived. Dishes were placed in front of us as though a race were in progress. My fellow westerner was greatly enamoured of this and I suspect that this was because he is American and as we know one of the invaluable aspects of their culture they have bestowed on the rest of the world is ‘fast food’.
With the meal in place and covering the entire table we were then given our drinks and super they were too. The juices, crushes and so on are served chilled (i.e. the fruit is chilled first) and not made cold with ice. There is no extra sugar. The watermelon punch was the best I have tasted, pure unadulterated fruit and my citrus crush was subtle and perfectly blended. An orange drink was considered a little ‘sharp’ but I tasted that too and thought it was just right. We had brought a bottle of chilled wine with us and an ice bucket was promptly brought: full marks.
The drinks menu is large and offers most of their home made fruit drinks at around 45 to 55 baht. They also serve beers, including some from Germany, Laos and even Burma, plus of course Thailand. House wine from Italy is 95 baht a glass and there are coffees, teas and so on. I suspect it is a nice place to call in on for just one of these freshly prepared drinks.
My American friend enjoyed the food as much as the quick-fire service and maintains that this is more or less the only reason he goes to a restaurant. Whilst I agree that there would be no point in eating somewhere if the food was bad, it seems to be only part of the reason for ‘dining out’.
Apart from the inevitable attraction of not having to prepare such a complicated meal (we tried about seven dishes between us) and clearing up after it, there should be that sense of occasion, however modest. Khun Churn (does that translate as ‘You Welcome’ or is Churn the name of the owner?) has pleasant background music, a large garden area with the tables surrounding the lawn plus an indoor air conditioned section which looks rather unused. The tables are decently spaced and there are many of them. It seems unlikely that you would need to book, as there must be room for a hundred plus customers. An unlikely prospect in Chiang Mai at present with a 40 per cent drop in tourism (not the 20 per cent claimed). For all this, Khun Churn does not offer much sense of occasion. Likewise the staff is pleasant though not especially friendly.
The food is good though. We asked for the salty and spicy cashew nuts, thinking they would make the perfect accompaniment to the Sauvignon Blanc, which had been designated as an aperitif. Since the dishes arrived so quickly this plan was thwarted. But they and the trio of mushrooms (65 baht) were especially good. All of the main dishes are priced around 50 baht and portions are generous. Non-vegetarians need not be afraid of a visit, since many of the dishes are designed to appeal to them in terms of texture and taste. There is mock duck, tofu masquerading successfully as chicken and innumerable mushroom dishes which offer complex flavours, as well as superb vegetable dishes including morning glory and wing bean.
After this visit, I returned alone to get a better feel for the place and to look more carefully at the huge menu. I also managed to ‘pace’ the service by ordering a beer and the cashew nuts while I looked through the menu for a second dish. Now this is not a modest undertaking. It comprises 28 pages of food. All dishes are illustrated and given their Thai names with a good description of the ingredients given in English. There are five or six choices given on each page. In addition there are several pages for the drinks menu. Plus a few ‘sets’.
I settled for the ‘battered vegetables’ and found them crunchy and lightly coated. Very good: with about six different choices, including onion rings, green peppers and zucchini. I avoided the rice this time since I find brown rice – like whole meal pasta – an anachronism. Dark breads yes: rye, wholemeal, full corn, pumpernickel since they need not obliterate the rest of the food. Brown rice (except for Basmati properly cooked) or those heavy pastas add nothing to the other dishes or sauces, except a contradiction.
My bill for this more leisurely meal came to under 250 baht, including service and two small beers. Our meal previously had come out a little more expensive (though not much) because we had more food. The only dish not especially like on that occasion had been the egg plant, which lacked taste. Most of the food is tasty rather than spicy, though I guess that could easily be adjusted.
Khun Churn has a deserved reputation as one of the best vegetarian restaurants in the City. There are plenty of them around and plenty more which adapt a little to carnivore tastes. This one makes no concessions and that is probably a good thing since it does not confuse people nor worry the more strict vegetarians who may worry about contamination of the foods. It certainly offers good value when one considers the portions. And with the large covered area, being in the open is not a concern whatever the weather. Parking is easy in that part of the Soi off the main road. You will find Khun Churn about halfway down Soi 17, from Nimmanhaeminda. It is more or less opposite the large NES language school and is open every day of the week.


Avocado and Crabmeat Soup

Avocados are in season right now, and very inexpensive. To check the ripeness of an avocado, gently squeeze it, and you should feel a slight “mushiness”. If the avocado feels hard when giving the gentle squeeze, it is not ready for eating. To remove the avocado from its outer shell, slice the avocado in the long axis, running the knife around. Take the avocado in two hands and gently twist and the two halves will separate. Remove the stone, and then with a spoon gently run around the inside of the shell and the green avocado will separate from it. The crabmeat can be tinned or fresh.

Ingredients                      serves 4
Crabmeat                               250 gm
Avocados, peeled and seeded  4
Onion, finely chopped              1 medium
Chicken stock                        1 liter
Heavy cream                          500 ml
Butter                                    4 tbspns
Flour                                      1 tbspn
Garlic powder                          ˝ tspn
Salt and pepper to taste

Cooking Method
Mash together the avocados and crabmeat.
Sauté the chopped onion in the butter.
Add the flour, garlic powder and chicken stock, then whip until smooth.
Add the avocado/crab mixture to the liquid and simmer for twenty minutes.
Add the cream and salt and pepper, stir gently and serve.