Pulcinella da Stefano: by Brian Baxter

Well established restaurant in the heart of the City

I am not sure how long this traditional trattoria has been going in Chiang Mai (or whether it was ever on another site) but it must be well into double figures and was probably the first to be run by the amiable singing owner, Stefano. He went on to other ventures, notably La Gondola on the river which was many peoples’ favorite Italian restaurant but Pulcinella has always been with us and long may it remain so.

It is popular with many residents, although the central location (just across the square from Thapae Gate) naturally makes it equally a homing ground for tourists, many of whom pass it on the way to those other great Chiang Mai landmarks, Gecko Books and the incomparable Back Street Books. Pulcinella does not boast much of a fa็ade and these days it might be criticised for being slightly old fashioned in d้cor, even a little tired. But that is also half its charm, since it is unpretentious and inexpensive and I know that many people, especially if eating alone, prefer it to trendier venues.

If you fancy something a little fancier and with a garden go down ‘walking street’ – the other direction from Thapae Gate and on the left, sandwiched between Wa Wee coffee and the excellent Hot Chilli Thai restaurant you will find Stefano’s Il Girasole, which features much the same classic Italian menu, boasts a pizza oven so if anything the pizzas have the edge on the excellent ones at Pulcinella and also features a range of vegetarian options. But the original place has a cosier atmosphere and importantly has special offers for set meals and inexpensive main courses.

The bruschetta are especially attractive, with fresh tasting tomato and more than a hint of garlic. The wide range of pizza start at around 140 baht and they, like the pastas, are home made. One of the best of these is the gnocchi, with ricotta cheese and asparagus, if you don’t find that dish too heavy. Portions are generous here too and they serve delicious home made bread and good crepes, filled with spinach and covered with a rich tomato sauce and topped with cheese gratin.

Make sure you save room for one of the puddings. The ice cream, also said to be home made is some of the best in town and good value at 40 baht a scoop. It may not be as good as that at Gianni di Burchio but comes in at around half the price. The service here is efficient but do remember that Sundays means lots of strolling visitors to the market and walking street and they head to both here and Il Girasole, so another day will give you quicker service. They also open for lunch.

There are plenty of wines on offer and the house wine is perfectly acceptable. The drinks menu is extensive and the whole range of Italian food, soups, seafood salad (240 baht), pastas – including good cannelloni and ravioli – is available, along with a selection of ‘fancier’ dishes such as red snapper in various sauces and some meat dishes, including veal, which is not something many people would choose to eat. Expect to pay around 300 baht a head, but this is purely a guide. You can easily eat more cheaply and certainly more expensively, depending on the range of choices and drinks. But this was always and remains a strictly middle of the road, very honest eating place. There are no airs and graces on show here but freshly prepared food at sensible prices, with experienced staff and a comfortable and quite colourful setting. If you are in the area this is certainly worth checking out and I am sure it will be a restaurant you will return to. Open daily from 11.30 until 22.30, you will find Pulcinella at 2/1-2 Chang Moi, Kao Road. Tel: 053 874 189.


Tod Mun Pla

Tod Mun Pla (fish cake) is a Thai classic and is in every Thai restaurant menu in the world. It can be tricky to cook, to make sure it is firm but not oily or rubbery in texture. An important step is to make sure the mixture is thoroughly mixed, otherwise it will tend to break up during cooking.

Ingredients                 Serves 6
Vegetable oil                     1 cup
Sugar                              2 tbspn
Salt                                 1 tbspn
Kaffir lime leaves                   6
Green beans                  200 gms
Fish paste                     600 gms
Egg                                         2

Red curry paste                2 tbspn

Cooking Methodd
Stack all the kaffir lime leaves and roll them tightly. Slice the roll of leaves into very thin strips. Slice green beans into cross-sectional pieces, 1/4 cm thick.

Mix all the ingredients, except for the oil, kaffir lime leaves and green beans, in a bowl. Stir (around three minutes) until the mixture becomes a paste with smooth and shiny consistency again. Now add the kaffir lime leaves and green beans and stir again thoroughly.

In a flat bottom pan, heat the oil on medium. When the oil is ready, the mixture should puff around the edge. Drop a tablespoonful in the pan. When the underside has cooked, use a spatula to loosen the fish cake, then turn over and push it down with the spatula to make it flat like a pancake. Do not overcook the fish cakes. Drain or pat with paper towels to remove the oil and serve.