Now to resume my culinary tales through Thailand…
After Bangkok, we headed north to Chiang Mail. Chiang Mai differs from Bangkok on many levels. First of all, the weather is considerable cooler and drier, dry in that the humidity is less, but it rained a whole lot more. Secondly, the hustle and bustle is toned down quite a bit. Chiang Mai seemed like a more controlled chaos. And lastly, food in the north is much more different than anything I’ve had on the rest of my Thailand trip.
Khao soi is a “Burmese-influenced…soup-like dish made with deep-fried crispy egg noodles, pickled cabbage, shallots, lime, ground chillies fried in oil, and meat in a curry-like sauce containing coconut milk.” I’ve had khao soi before not really knowing what it is and I thought it was weird and so I didn’t really appreciate the rich spicy flavors. This time around, I grew quite fond of all the differing textures from the fried noodles, soft egg noodles, bits of shallots and pickled mustard greens and the varying levels of intense flavor, the heat, the creaminess, the spice. The portion at Huen Phen was pretty paltry, but it was enough to judge quality. This was certainly better than the street food version I had.
Kanom Jeen Naam Ngeow
I never had this dish until I came to Chiang Mai, but it seems to be almost as popular and representative of Northen Thai cuisin as khao soi. It consists of hand made rice noodles served in a pork-tomato based curry soup. This version had plenty of blood cubes, which I did not enjoy, and ended up pushing to the side. While khao soi was dominated by a coconutty curry taste, this was marked by a deep tomato flavor which I liked a lot.
I apologize for the poor description, but the menu only had a picture of the dish and said there was eggplant in it. I tried to go off the beaten path with this one since usually I would have ordered a papaya salad. This used green eggplant shaved into thin slices and tossed with a whole host of things, none to which I can currently remember. I didn’t like this one too much, since it lacked the contrasting sweet, sour, salt, spice that I have come to expect when I see anything salad looking on a Thai menu.
Chiang Mai Sausage
The sausage really had a kick, with the taste of many Thai herbs such as lemongrass, chilies, maybe garlic? The texture was a little off for me, sort of sinewy. I still enjoyed it nonetheless, but probably would not order it again.
Sticky Rice with Red Curry
This was another blind selection, simply going off the English descriptors and low quality pictures on the menu. The sticky rice here was mixed with something, maybe beans? It had a grainy texture to it, which was different I suppose. It was served with a curry that tasted almost exactly like the kanom jeen naam ngeow. I had to fight against more blood cubes unfortunately.
I enjoyed my experience at Huen Phen, for being a somewhat less ordinary to my palate. I can’t say I would order all those dishes again, but it was fun to try something different. I think I would have enjoyed myself more if I didn’t know Dumpling Man was not digging the food. He initially looked at the menu and lamented how everything looked like it had “too much flavor.” The least flavorful thing was probably that sticky rice, but even that could not win over the Dumpling Man. When we returned home, the first thing we ate were dumplings.
112 Rachamankha Rd
Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand 05381-4548