Strictly vegetarian:
By Heather Allen

While I confess I do like the occasional steak and burger, I am not averse to eating vegetarian from time to time. I recently ate at that Chiang Mai vegetarian staple; Khun Churn on Nimmanhaemin Soi 17. Set in a peaceful garden setting, they have misting fans blowing during the day to keep things cool. Night time seemed cool enough without the mist, but we still liked to sit near the fan in this heat.

The large trees and natural garden setting make it a peaceful and relaxing place to eat. Together with the generally quite good service and tasty food, it’s worth a try even for non-vegetarians.

Khun Churn does a mean crispy fried mushroom dish as a starter. With different kinds of mushrooms battered and deep fried and accompanied by a creamy sauce, it was quite delicious and made a good starter to share before our food (rather quickly) arrived.

Khun Churn does the meat substitute stuff but my vegetarian friend says she doesn’t eat meat for a reason, why would she want to go for the meat substitute? So she ordered something I had never heard of before, Yue Pai Nam Daeng, lettuce and bamboo tissue in clear, not too thick gravy. I quizzed her on the bamboo tissue as, being a keen gardener, have never seen a bamboo with tissue, much less one that looked even remotely edible. She was unsure, so Google became necessary. I suspect it’s the edible bamboo Dendrocalamus asper. But it could be anyone’s guess! Whatever it was, it was pretty good, although the slightly gelatinous texture of the bamboo was less appealing to me. She proclaimed it as one of her favorites. The fairly large dish was only 70 baht.

I had a slightly spicy (for me, anyway, I like my food spicy) Tom Kha with mushrooms, it was nice but wasn’t sour enough for my tastes and could have used more mushrooms and less onions. But then, I am not a big onion fan, so perhaps others may like the abundance of onions. I also had something interestingly called Kao Rad Mun Goong Pa Ma. It was some kind of minced mushroom stir fried in a spicy paste. It came with brown rice (shouldn’t’ it be “rad kao”?) and was super filling along with the soup. The soup was 65 baht and the rice dish 55.

My friend went to town and also ordered tofu with cashews, which was quite a large plate and tastily done. Many places go light on the cashews, much to my usual dismay, but not Khun Churn. The number of cashews per other vegetables was quite reasonable and the stir fried vegetables were crisp and not overcooked.

One of the best things about Khun Churn, I have to say, is their abundance of smoothies, juices and herbal teas. I love the lemongrass iced tea and the fact that they give me brown sugar syrup to sweeten to my own taste is a huge plus for me. I don’t like sweet drinks and most places seem to over sugar. For only 20 baht for a large glass, I could quench my thirst in these hot and dry times without worrying about driving the bill up on expensive drinks.

The service at Khun Churn is rather quick without that obtrusive hovering that so many places do. They make a pretty good effort at bringing diners’ food out together, and the portions are large and generally quite tasty. Khun Churn is well known among the vegetarian crowd, both Thai and foreign, for their daily lunch buffet. With many dishes to choose from and unlimited herbal tea drinks, it’s a bargain at 98 baht.

So, even if you are a devoted carnivore, Khun Churn is worth visiting, even if it’s just to say you gave vegetarian food a try. You will find yourself pleasantly surprised and might even surprise yourself by going back for a second try.

Khun Churn is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner from 10 AM to 9 PM. The buffet lunch is from 11 AM to 2:30 PM. Located at Nimmanhaemin Soi 17.


Drunken Stir-fried Chicken (Pad Khee Mao Kai)

This is the spicy side of Thai cooking. It calls for five hot chillis, but you can downgrade the thermo-nuclear side by using lesser quantities. If you decide to do this, I would also recommend that you decrease the quantity of garlic cloves as well. This is a strongly flavored dish, but is very easy and quick to cook. You can purchase the minced chicken from the supermarket if you do not have a mincer in the home kitchen.

Ingredients             Serves 4
Minced Chicken                  2 cups
Garlic                             15 cloves
Chillis (small green)                     5
Cooking Oil                      2 tbspns
Oyster Sauce                    1 tbspn
Fish Sauce (Tiparos)        2 tbspns
Sugar                                1 tbspn
Chicken Stock                   1/4 cup
Holy Basil Leaves (Kaprow) 1/2 cup
Coriander powder                 1 tspn

Cooking Method

In a mortar or food blender, mash the garlic and chillis. In the wok, heat the oil and add the pounded garlic and chilli and stir fry. When the garlic takes on a golden colour, add the chicken meat and continue stir frying, turning rapidly. When the chicken is cooked, add the oyster sauce, fish sauce, sugar, and chicken stock and stir again. Now add the basil leaves and coriander and continue stirring for one minute.
Serve with steamed rice.