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Homemade Japanese food in an intimate setting

By Heather Allen

I recently visited Hatena on Nimmanhaeminda Road, Soi 11 with a few friends and while the outside is a bit unprepossessing the interior is cozy and charming with the feel of an old Japanese inn. The staff are friendly and attentive and the food, delicious at fairly reasonable prices. My friends were hungry and ordered a wide variety of dishes, including kimchee, which was interesting to find at a Japanese restaurant.

I had the beef sashimi which was tender and quite good if simply presented and quite reasonable for the price (about 220 baht). My friends ordered gyoza, or Japanese dumplings which were quite delicious. Not overly cooked so as to be hard but nor were the undercooked and chewy. The filling was quite tasty. They also ordered a tasty pork dish with an unknown ‘special sauce’, which was quite tasty in fact. Both the beef and pork here are quite tender and not chewy in the least. A good find in Chiang Mai.

Outside is a little ramen stand, it didn’t appear to be part of the restaurant but they were happy to allow my hungry friend to bring in a bowl of ramen from the stand. The noodles were quite good and appeared to be homemade. The broth was delicious and the enormous bowl was brimming with meat, vegetables and noodles. Needless to say, my friend didn’t quite manage to finish it all.

The atmosphere is quite cozy and has either traditional chairs and tables or the larger seats with the hole in the floor for those who don’t feel quite so comfortable sitting on their feet for an entire meal. They had several beers on offer including Singha, but since we were eating Japanese food we felt a bottle of Asahi was in order. They only serve the large bottles so be aware of that when ordering or you will end up with two large bottles of beer like we did.

The restaurant has a small but pretty comprehensive menu with sashimi as well as other traditional Japanese fare. It is a popular place among many of the local Thais and Japanese expats and now, after my first visit, I can see why.

Hatena is found on Nimmanhaemin Road, Soi 11 just past the Why Not restaurant and is open in the evenings from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.

A Thai Vanilla without leaves

Leafless vanilla (Vanilla aphylla, Orchidaceae). To the left is a reduced leaf. To the right is an aerial root. The main stem is in the centre.

The mountain Chiang Dao as seen from the village Chiang Dao. It is a Permian calcareous rock reaching 2225 meters. In January in the year 2000, the temperature at 2100 meters was -8°C! The Dendrobium orchid species at that elevation still survived, which is an important observation to understand that temperature is not the reason why there are no epiphytic orchids in Europe.

By Eric Danell, Dokmai Garden

Dokmai Garden arranged for a tour to Chiang Dao to visit Kurt Keller and his orchid collection. He and his Thai wife Malee runs Malee’s Nature Lovers Bungalows. Kurt has an interesting background. He was born in Switzerland and in junior highs chool he became an exchange student and spent a year in California. One of his classmates was Steve Jobs. Kurt began working within photography and studied the physics of photo chemistry. Kurt’s orchid collection contains some 300 species, the majority acquired just in three years from various CITES certified specialty dealers. The collection helps Kurt identify species in the surrounding Wildlife Sanctuary Chiang Dao. Kurt has also volunteered to become an Orchid Scout, i.e. to share his field observations about natural habitats with the Orchid Ark.

It is always good to study many different orchid nurseries. Kurt’s nursery at 450 meters above the sea level is fairly lightly shaded (less than 50%) because he says he gets more blossoms if it is lighter. He keeps the orchids hanging well above one metre to reduce standing moisture which may cause rot. Orchids demanding more shade are hung under orchids which are more light demanding. As to watering, he, like me, prefers to do the watering himself by hand. This allows for frequent control of what is going on, i.e. control of pests, general health and of course when a flower is about to bloom. Kurt only waters once a day. The textbook recommendation is to water in the morning so that the orchids can dry out during the day, thereby avoiding rot. We both agreed though that at least in this climate following the monsoon must be successful too, i.e. to water in the early evening which is the normal time for the rains to commence.

Kurt’s garden is so well kept that indigenous orchid species like Acriopsis indica show up like weeds, even on the wooden panels of the bungalows.

Among Kurt’s many enchanting species is for example Dendrobium cruentum, a rare and endangered species from the south of Thailand. He said he had never seen any fruits, so we hand pollinated one flower and Kurt generously declared that he would donate the fruit to the Orchid Ark if successful.

Another curiosity is Vanilla aphylla. Although not in blossom, it was most interesting to see an almost leafless Vanilla. This indigenous orchid plant makes most of its carbohydrates via the chlorophyll of the stem, and possibly also derives some via the orchid mycorrhiza fungus. Kurt grows one in the ground which climbs up the bark of a palm, and he keeps two specimens in perforated plastic bags with sand stuffed into hanging baskets. Kurt generously shared this peculiar species with the Orchid Ark, for which we are most grateful.

A surprise treat was a show of 3D pictures of Kurt’s orchids. That was simply AMAZING! Here we could see the flower of the leafless vanilla, magnified to about a meter in three dimensions. It felt as if I hold the flower in my lap! For this you need a normal camera for taking macro pictures, you always take two pictures of the same object from different angles (move to the side about 3% of the distance to the object), you need a special program (Stereophotomaker), you need a special 3D TV and you need high resolution 3D glasses. We discussed this technique thoroughly and we decided to investigate if this could be used by the Orchid Ark as a pedagogic tool to create an interest in endangered but small orchids.

We enjoyed a delicious lunch with home baked bread, and we noticed that in spite of the rainy season (today was a gorgeous day) Kurt and Malee had many guests. We believe the warm and welcoming atmosphere is the explanation. Kurt said that the bird watchers dominate the guests, but I hope in the future the garden world will discover the botanical treasures in the Chiang Mai province. We hope to be back soon and to visit the mountain in late October or early November, just at the beginning of the dry season.

Spice up your tomato soup

Tomato soup has a wonderful history.  Originally thought to be poisonous, the French called them “pommes d’amour”, or love apples, as they thought them to have aphrodisiacal properties.

In 1897, soup mogul Joseph Campbell came out with condensed tomato soup, which set the company on the road to wealth as well as further endearing the tomato to the general public.

Campbell may have made tomato soup popular, but the first recipe is credited to Maria Parloa whose 1872 book “The Appledore Cook Book” describes her tomato chowder.

Ingredients                         Serves 6
Vegetable oil                      1 tbspn
Onion, chopped                  1 cup
Garlic, minced                     2 cloves
Carrot, chopped                 ½ cup
Celery, chopped                 ¼ cup
Tomatoes, crushed             2 cans
Vegetable broth                  3 cups
Worcestershire sauce       1 tbspn
Salt                                      1 tspn
Thyme dried                        ½ tspn
Ground black pepper         ½ tspn
Chili sauce                           ½ tspn

Cooking method

Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat.  Sauté onion and garlic until onion is tender.

Add carrot and celery; cook 7 to 9 minutes until tender, stirring frequently.  Stir in tomatoes, broth, Worcestershire sauce, salt, thyme, pepper and Chili sauce.  Reduce heat to low.  Cover and simmer 20 minutes, stirring frequently.  Serve piping hot with crusty French bread.

Spice up your tomato soup

One of the most popular breakfast items is surely scrambled eggs. Unfortunately, there are many breakfast cooks who simply whisk the eggs, drop in the frying pan, toss a couple of times and serve. Such a shame, as the morning scrambled egg does not need much embellishment to make it into an interesting, as well as wholesome, dish.

Ingredients         Serves  4
Large                              eggs 8
Milk                                 ¼ cup
Salt                                ½ tspn
Ground black pepper      1/8 tspn
Butter                          2 tbspns
Large tomato, chopped             1
Finely chopped shallots   1 tbspn

Cooking method

In a mixing bowl, beat eggs, milk, salt, and ground black pepper together until well blended. Melt butter in frying pan over medium-low heat until hot (or if being very health-conscious, use polyunsaturated margarine); pour in egg mixture. Reduce heat. As mixture begins to set on bottom and sides of skillet, lift and fold over with spatula.

Cook until eggs are almost set; fold in tomato and shallots. Heat scrambled eggs through; serve immediately.

(If you wish to give this recipe even more flavor, add chopped green and red capsicum with the tomato and shallots and one teaspoon of chopped coriander leaf as garnish.)

Garlic Mushroom Soup

Soups are all year favorites, but there is a limit to how many cream of chicken soups you can eat in one lifetime. This soup is a simple recipe, but provides a different tasting and nourishing soup for the family. All the ingredients can be found at the local fresh market, and although the original recipe calls for button mushrooms, any fleshy mushroom will do.

Ingredients         Serves  4
Vegetable oil                   1 tbspn
Onion, peeled and chopped       1
Lemon zest                    1 lemon
Vegetable stock               500 ml
White button mushrooms 250 gm
Garlic crushed             2-3 cloves
Salt and pepper
Parsley freshly chopped 2 tbspns

Cooking method

Heat the oil in a saucepan and gently cook the onion until soft but not colored.
Trim, clean and slice the mushrooms and add to the pan, along with half the parsley, the lemon zest and season well.

Cook for 3-4 minutes until the mushrooms start to soften.
Now add the stock and bring to the boil. Simmer for five minutes until tender.
Take off the heat.

Add the crushed garlic and the rest of the parsley.
Stir and then liquidize with a soup blender.
Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary, and serve in four individual soup plates.

Chinese garlic chicken with bean sprouts

This week’s recipe is an original Chinese dish from Peking, but over the years has been progressively refined, to make it more of a western item these days. However, it is very flavorsome - just don’t overdo the tomato ketchup! You can also substitute prawn for chicken.

Ingredients     Serves  4
Sliced chicken breast    125 gm
Sunflower oil                4 tbspns
Garlic, crushed              1 clove
Red chilli seeded, sliced 1 small
Salt                                1 tspn
White vinegar               2 tbspns
Icing sugar                   ½ tbspn
Tomato ketchup             1 tbspn
Ginger root, grated fresh ½ tspn
Chicken stock              4 tbspns

Cooking method

Wash the bean sprouts under cold water, then line a colander with paper towel and shake until dried.

Remove skin and slice the chicken breast into bite-sized pieces.
In the wok heat the oil and add the crushed garlic and stir-fry until golden brown, then scoop out the garlic and discard. Add the chicken breast, finely sliced chilli, then the bean sprouts and stir-fry quickly for 30 seconds.

Now add the salt, vinegar, sugar, tomato ketchup, ginger root and chicken stock. Bring quickly to the boil and leave for one minute.
Serve in a warmed dish with steamed jasmine rice.

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