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Romantic setting for something unusual

Marrakech newest addition to varied Chiang Mai menu

The scallops were tender and deliciously baked with garlic.

By Shana Kongmun

The Sheik Istana Hotel is a gorgeous hotel on the banks of the Ping River built in a Moroccan style complete with a huge tiled mirror mural, pastel colors, pools and beautiful gardens. The romantic outdoor restaurant overlooks the Ping River and a nighttime view of the brightly lit spires of Wiang Kum Kam across the river.

Chickpea soup was filled with vegetables including tasty spinach.

The restaurant offers a small menu of Thai and International food alongside Moroccan food, but the real reason to go, besides the lovely ambiance, is to have something rarely found in Chiang Mai.

Lunch with the genial owner, Dr. Skol joined me for lunch and we tried some fabulous scallops baked in the half shell with plenty of garlic. The scallops were tender and delicious, not over cooked and artfully arranged on the plate. This was followed by several dishes, including a chickpea soup, a tasty Moroccan version of couscous with chicken and a tasty spicy condiment. Finally, we had a clay pot or tajine, of tender white fish simmered over the fire with tomatoes, olives and citrus peel.

I confess to having never tried Moroccan food, a chance encounter with Lebanese food and some form of uncooked meatball as a child scared me off trying food from the area. Call it a childish fear since the food was delicious. The flavors of Moroccan food are subtle, and while some Thais might find it too subtle since they are used to the fiery flavors of Thai food, the Northerners might appreciate the delicate blend of flavors.

Dr. Skol is an avid visitor to Morocco, having first visited there as a young man, he found himself returning time and again, falling in love with the food, the architecture and the culture. He brought this love to Chiang Mai to open the Sheik Istana Hotel. The restaurant is up on the second floor and overlooks the lovely gardens, one of two pools and the river. Living in the middle of busy Chiang Mai, I appreciated the birdsong and calm surroundings.

After feasting on Moroccan food at Marrakech, we took a trip around the beautifully appointed hotel and naturally, I had to see the rooms. Wisely, every room has a bathtub (most women checks the bathroom first!) and the superior rooms and suites have small kitchenettes. The rooms are very quiet and every room has a balcony overlooking the river.

Dr. Skol informed me that they plan on offering a Valentine’s Day special, which given the romantic ambiance and delicious food, I would certainly attend if I had someone with whom to enjoy the evening!

The restaurant, as well as every room, verlooks both beautiful Moroccan styled gardens but the river and Wiang Kum Kam.


Fried oysters with bell peppers

A very easy and inexpensive dish.  Purchase the raw oysters by the bag in the local markets.  You can use sherry if you do not have dark soy sauce in the kitchen cupboards.  This makes a great appetizer.

Ingredients                 Serves 4
Red bell peppers            2
Green bell peppers         2
Shelled oysters             700 gm
Cooking oil                   3 tbspns
Onion, chopped            1 large
Garlic finely chopped     1 clove
Light soy sauce            3 tbspns
Dark soy sauce            3 tbspns
Corn flour                     2 tspns
Salt pinch
Chives, finely chopped as garnish 1 tbspn

Cooking Method

Remove seeds from bell peppers and cut into thin strips.  Drain the oysters.

Heat the oil in the wok and stir-fry onion until transparent then add the garlic and bell peppers and stir for one minute.

Now add the oysters and stir-fry on a low heat for two minutes.  Add the soy sauce and five tbspns boiling water.

Pre-mix the corn flour with water and slowly add to the wok stirring as the sauce thickens.  Continue stirring and cook for another three minutes, then serve immediately and sprinkle the chives on top as garnish.


Tod Mun Moo (Deep-fried pork balls)

This is a very simple and very tasty Thai style appetizer.  It will take less than ten minutes to prepare, especially if you buy the pork pre-minced.  It is important to mix the ingredients well, so that the formed pork balls do not fall apart during deep frying.

Ingredients             serves 4
Minced pork             200 gm
Red curry paste       1 tbspn
Bread crumbs          1 cup
Salt                        1 tspn
Sugar                     1 tspn
Fish sauce              1 tbspn
Pounded combined coriander root,
garlic and pepper     1 tspn
Egg                        1
Vegetable oil           3 cups

Cooking Method

In a bowl, combine the minced pork, the coriander, garlic, pepper and the egg.  Mix very well to get the egg right through all the pork meat.  Add the sugar to the fish sauce and stir well.  Now add half a cup of bread crumbs to the pork, along with the fish sauce/sugar mixture and salt.  Mix well again and form the meat into round balls.  Now roll the pork balls in the remainder of the bread crumbs, coating them thoroughly.

In a deep pan heat the oil and carefully place the pork balls into the hot oil and quickly deep fry until a light golden brown color.  Remove from the oil, drain and serve with pork dipping sauce (and tooth-picks).

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