EATING OUT & RECIPES BY NOI
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
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!