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Vegetarian that isn’t basic vegetarian

Magical Garden Cafe

By Heather Allen
The latest newcomer to the vegetarian scene in Chiang Mai is tucked away behind Wat Suan Dok and set into a charming and quiet outdoor garden. The aptly named Magic Garden Café is actually not that difficult to find, take the road next to Wat Suan Dok and then turn immediately behind it. It is almost exactly opposite the back gate of Wat Suan Dok. There is limited car parking on the soi so if you want you can drive through Wat Suan Dok and park in the very back of the temple. Be sure and leave before 10 when the gate is locked. (An important tip given to me by Ben, the founder of the organization that is receiving the benefits of this business).
Magical Garden Café is the funds raising section of the Magical Light Foundation, a non-profit and non-religious organization that is providing free computer education and other classes to disadvantaged kids including the children of Burmese construction workers living in a slum just outside Chiang Mai.
So, yes it is great to do good but it also good to eat well. The food here is mainly Western; vegetable gratin that is cheesy goodness, macaroni and cheese that is most properly baked. The mushrooms add a unique flavor. The hummus is wonderful and one feels very self-righteously healthy dipping a cucumber slice into it. One of my new favorites is their eggplant bruschetta. I do love cheese and this is certainly a great alternative to bread; a thick large slice of an eggplant topped with mozzarella cheese which is then baked. Fresh tomato chunks marinated and with basil and olive oil is then piled on top. I think this was my favorite although I do like to feel self-righteous in my healthy eating so the hummus would be second favorite.
This is a new place, it just opened a few weeks ago so expect growing pains. They are not yet open for lunch but hope to be able to do so soonish. Open 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. every day but Wednesday. There is room for a motorbike and limited street car parking. Just don’t drive by too quickly or you may miss it!


RECIPES BY NOI: Gai – fresh water seaweed

Gai is green algae, also known as fresh water seaweed and is easily found in the Nan River in Nan province and the Mekong River in Chiang Khong district of Chiang Rao. It grows on underwater rocks in clear and clean water. During the rainy season it can’t grow because the level of the river is too high and dirty. After March is the harvest season, the river gets low and clear enough for gai to photosynthesize. It easily found up to 2 meters long!
We can cook it when it’s fresh and also can sun dry to keep for a few months.
It’s a must (for my family) when we went to Chiang Khong city to buy sundried gai to take back home. There are 2 sellers at Chiang Khong bus station. They’ve been selling gai and fruit such as bananas and oranges next to each other for a very very long time. I think at least 15 years. They have all kinds of sundried gai; the original kind, original one with dried galangal and the latest version that they make it like seaweed sheets but I don’t like that one so we don’t buy it.
My dad cooks it best, by putting a bit of pork oil on the gai before grilling it on low heat on a charcoal stove. Then crush it into small pieces and sprinkle with salt. It is very good with sticky rice.
There’s another kind of gai in my village we call it tao which can be found in rivers or rice fields. I am hoping to find it in Chiang Mai so I can share the story with you!

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