Chiang Mai Food (2016)

On our first evening in Chiang Mai, we wanted to sample dishes that are indigenous to Northern Thailand or what is known as “Lanna Cuisine.” In our research we had seen multiple mentions of the restaurant Huen Phen and according to Google Maps, it was an easy 10-minute walk from our Old City hotel so off we went with a not so detailed city map and a flash light. Well, we got a lesson in “don’t believe everything you read in Google Maps” as about 20 minutes later we found the place.

We had read that there are 2 sections to the restaurant. As we entered the restaurant from Thanon Ratchamanka (Street), we passed through the empty rather Spartan “lunch” section with a food counter on the right and tables on the left and into the much cozier and more attractive area where the evening meal is served.

We had wanted to try Khao Soi but we learned the restaurant only serves it for breakfast and lunch so as is our pattern, we set about ordering too much of everything else on the menu that sounded good. Our favorites were the grilled chicken and the Northern Thai Sausage.

The menu comes with pictures to help with ordering. Service was OK; not great but not completely horrible. As a gross generalization, we felt similarly about the food. It was good but we came away thinking that while it might have been at some point in its history, this place is probably not the best Lanna restaurant in the city today.

The next morning we set off in search of Chan’s Chiangmai House, which is located across the street from the Elliebum Cafe and Guesthouse to meet our guide Gade for the Guided Walk Food Tour by Elliebum. When we arrived, we realized it was very close to the restaurant Huen Phen where we had eaten the night before.

The tour commenced at about 9:00 AM and Gade had been kind enough to bring along plastic ponchos for everyone on the tour (5 of us) in case the light mist we started with turned into a harder rain. The first part of the walk was through several temples and neighborhoods and Gade took time to explain a good deal more than we expected about the history of Chiang Mai and Northern Thailand.

Our first food stop was Talat Pratu, a very local food market. We spent time examining and discussing produce and then stopped at 3-4 stalls sampling a number of the sweet treats the Thai people seem to love. From there we waded through the extensive wet area of the market full of tubs and buckets of live seafood and then through the meat section with a little too much blood and too many varieties of offal for the more squeamish members of our band of 5.

After we exited the market, we stopped on an adjacent street at a Thai breakfast place that was serving food that Westerners would associate more with lunch or dinner than breakfast. Gade offerred to go across the street to get Vietnamese coffee and Phở for anyone who preferred that.  To be honest, most of the foods served were dishes we were unfamiliar with and while we enjoyed the meal, I couldn’t tell you what to order if you wanted the same meal.

After our breakfast break, we continued our walk and visited the courtyards and gardens of a couple smaller temples and walked by street vendors selling all sorts of treats including our favorite, Kanom Krok, a sweet little coconut and corn custard.

Eventually our walk led us to the prep booth and tables for “Manna Best Mango Sticky Rice.” I am always suspicious of places proclaimed THE BEST IN THE WORLD of anything but I can tell you we’ve never had Mango Sticky Rice anywhere (including Bangkok) that was any better than Manna. It is located in the Old City at 77/1 Ratvithi Road (in front of the At Chiang Mai Hotel).

At this point, we were all pretty damn full but one of the highlights we had been looking forward to on our walk was a visit to a Lanna style restaurant for a chance to eat authentic Chiang Mai Khoa Soi. We walked a little further through some smaller side streets and entered from the side into a noisy bustling restaurant with a food service buffet on the right and tables and a small air conditioned room on the left.

Given the heat of the midday, we chose a large table in the room with A/C and sampled a wide range of dishes including eggplant, stir fried morning glory greens, Lanna sausages and of course Khao Soi. Everything was good although the stir fried dishes were a bit oily.

After we paid our bill we walked outside and got directions for our return to our hotel. On our walk back we realized that hadn’t gotten the name of the restaurant so that night I sent Gade a note to get that to include it in my report and was amazed to learn that our tour had actually been one large circle and we had just eaten in the lunch area of Huen Phen, the same restaurant we had eaten in the night before!

We did manage to eat at a few places other than Huen Phen. The famous SP (grilled) Chicken hole-in-the wall restaurant is located literally on the edge of the Bed Phrasing property so we got take out to eat at the hotel. It was really good and really inexpensive. If we had spent more nights in Chiang Mai, we would have eaten there again.

There was a huge thunder storm on our last night in the city and rather than go out into that, we decided to have food delivered to the hotel from The Duke’s Chiang Mai. We took full advantage of the Western menu and ordered pizza, Greek Salad, bar-b-que ribs, French Fries and other American foods. We way over-ordered but that gave us a chance to make friends and share food with two young couples from Poland sitting in the table area of the hotel.