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Last dinner in Chiang Mai – River Market Restauarnt

14 Jan

For my last night in Chiang Mai, I went to visit the River Market restaurant (http://therivermarket.com/blog/) .  Their menu can be found on the site.

I would rate this restaurant at 6 or 7 out of 10.  I would qualify this by saying that with some small tweaks, this could easily improve to 9 and perhaps if I had gone on a different day, I would, even now, have rated it as 9.

The Setting
Let’s start with the setting. The restaurant is along the Ping River and we apparently got the best table on the night we arrived. The chef spoke to us and said that he will only take reservations before 7 o’clock, which allows everyone a fair chance of getting a good (or in our case) a great table. We had amazing views of the bridge over the Ping river which was lit and we were far enough away not to be disturbed by traffic noises. The restaurant itself is brightly lit with large grass garden which leads down to the river.

The River Market Restaurant

The River Market Restaurant

The Ping River Bridge

The Ping River Bridge

The Service
The service was pretty slow, with starters being forgotten and brought with the mains – Now this is normal in Thailand – eating all the dishes when ready but the menu specifically requests that you say whether you would like the dishes to come in order or not. We requested that they do.

The Food
We had the Garlic Chicken Wings, Son-in-law Thai deviled eggs and Crispy Banana Flower salad to start. For the mains, we had crispy snapper and salt and pepper shrimp.

The crispy banana salad was excellent, with very crispy deep-fried banana flowers, which had a good taste of ripe banana without the sweetness. The dressing had a hint of molasses without the usually heavy taste that accompanies the black-strap variety. 9 out of 10.

Crispy Banana Salad

Crispy Banana Salad

The chicken wings were almost excellent. The skin was crispy, as it should be but often isn’t, without the heavy floured texture that you can sometimes get. The dressing that came with it was so delicious that we asked for more and then ate it with everything else. So why not perfect? To my mind, chicken wings should never be under-cooked. They shouldn’t even be ‘just’ cooked. That should be left for chicken breasts which will get tough and leathery with too much cooking. Wings, legs and thighs do most of the work keeping a chicken up and moving and therefore can be tougher. Like most tough meats, they improve when cooked a bit longer. The wings weren’t cooked long enough, which made them sort of sickening to eat. Cook them longer the dish would pretty much be close to a ten. An irritating 4 out of 10.

Son In Law Eggs, or ‘khai luuk kheuy’, refers to a salad made from deep-fried hard boiled eggs, which have been cut into halves or quarters, and topped with a sour & sweet tamarind sauce and fried shallots. I include what looks like a fairly decent recipe here:

http://www.realthairecipes.com/recipes/son-in-law-eggs/

I have seen these cooked so that the eggs are soft boiled and you get a creamy runny yoke. Since I am not a fan of eggs but Malcolm is, I recommended the son-in-law eggs to him. Now Malcolm found them tasty but couldn’t see how they were meant to be devilled as they were not at all hot, just slightly sweet. Devilled implies hot, which these definitely weren’t. What we had were straight-up seventies-style stuffed eggs with a sweetish tamarind sauce on top with stingy amounts of deep fried shallots. Malcolm liked them so I won’t complain about them too much. Let’s give them 7.5.

There was not too much to say about the mains – the snapper was very tasty and the dish had been twisted from the traditional version, in which the whole snapper is deep fried, including head and bones. I would have preferred the whole snapper but I could see why many wouldn’t. 8. The salt and pepper shrimp were decent but probably not peppery enough for our tastes. 7.

Now to the desserts. I had coconut and passion fruit ice-creams, which were both lovely and light – almost sorbet-y – 9. Despite my objections, Malcolm had the blueberry cheesecake. It was awful! The topping was brown in colour and hardly distinguishable from the base, which was soggy and of variable thickness. It was served with that nasty ready-whipped cream that comes out of a can. I had to stop myself from giggling and saying “I told you so!”. Disgusting – 0 (I’d really like to give them a negative rating but that would be wrong). This could easily be sorted by taking the cheesecake off of the dessert menu – better to stick to the ice-creams and have a simple but good dessert menu.
I know it may not sound like it but I liked this restaurant – there were a wide range of Thai dishes, not just the standard stuff and the dishes sounded really exciting – I wanted to try several. Let’s hope this was an off day.

Aroon Rai and the Mandarin Oriental

10 Jan

Yesterday evening we went to Aroon Rai (review: http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g293917-d1129357-Reviews-Aroon_Rai_Restaurant-Chiang_Mai.html)
The building was set up like a workers’ canteen, with plain tables and chairs and plastic tablecloths. This was good simple Northern Thai food. We ordered spring rolls, salt and garlic squid and deep fried, battered prawns to start. This was followed by (or at least in our heads it was “followed”) Khao Soi (crispy fried and curried egg noodles), pork and ginger curry and red curried pork.
The dishes arrived in a fairly random order, as always in Thailand. The noodles and ginger pork were nice but not amazing. The red curry was very good and pretty hot – not Thai hot but not the bland Phareng hot either. (More on that word later!)
Afterwards, we went to the Horn Bar at Chiang Mai’s Mandarin Oriental (also known as the Dhara Dhevi) for drinks.
http://www.mandarinoriental.com/chiangmai/
The hotel itself was difficult to find and looked eerily like a temple or a Thai tomb, which seemed almost appropriate as it was as dead as a tomb. We had Singapore Slings, which I belatedly remembered that I don’t like because I cannot stand the taste of cherry brandy, and a big, fat G&T. The bar was lovely and the best of the snacks on offer were the spicy cashews with deep fried lime leaves and chilli.
We left the Mandarin nursing a bill which, for three drinks, was 50% larger than the three meals at Aroon Rai.
I feel no real need to rush back, although I will go to the equivalent in Bangkok to see whether they are all this dull.

The Elephant Camp – Monday, 7 January

10 Jan

Malcolm dragged me to the Elephant Camp, where his neighbour Carol volunteers.  We had to get there in time for the 11:00 am Elephant show, which meant that I had to get my lazy (tired, I’d like to think!) tail out of bed in time to leave at 9:30.  Somehow, I managed to do this and despite my friend Malcolm’s driving, managed to get to the MaeTaeng Elephant Camp alive.

Maetaeng Elephant Camp

Maetaeng Elephant Camp

After downing a couple of Thai-style iced coffees, (not G&Ts, alas!), I attended the Elephant show.

The Elephant Show

The Elephant Show

I did not expect to enjoy the elephants – big heavy creatures that could crush me with a single footstep – but encouraged by a colleague and Malcolm’s insistence, I went. At the end of the trip, I rode on one, sponsored and bought a painting of another – I was hooked!

Elephant trunks, I discovered, have over 100,000 muscles, which is why they can paint pictures and sign their names.

Nimble elephant trunk

Nimble elephant trunk

Furthermore, an elephant’s age can be accurately calculated by multiplying the measurement of their teeth across, in both directions and multiplying by a factor. Not a chance of me putting my hand in their mouths to measure though!

Elephant Teeth

Elephant Teeth

Pregnancy (or gestation for an elephant) lasts almost two years (22 months to be precise) and they nurse their young for almost three years.
Elephants eat fruit, skin and all.
Oh, and just so you know, riding on them is not at all smooth and iced coffee before a trip threatens to return from whence it came!

Not a smooth ride

Not a smooth ride

Thai cooking master class – Sunday 6 December 2013

10 Jan

When I arrived back at the house, I found Noom ready with all the ingredients laid out, to make 5 dishes: Red prawn curry, green chicken curry, Tom Kha Gai (chicken and coconut soup), Tom Yum (hot and sour soup) and Som Tam (green papaya salad.

Ingredients

We first started with the red curry paste for the prawn curry.
Although we had a lot of fun pounding the ingredients together and cooking, I would definitely recommend a relatively large mortar and pestle as the best way of keeping preparation time to a minimum and the ingredients inside the bowl! And by the way – it is quite possible to do this without the cleavage.

Making the red curry paste

Making the red curry paste

It is possible to do this without the cleavage - Malcolm, you are never getting my camera again!

It is possible to do this without the cleavage – Malcolm, you are never getting my camera again!

Below, I include the recipe for the red curry prawns:
Noom’s Red Curry Prawns
Ingredients:
Curry paste:
Dried long chillies – soaked, with the stems taken off – about 10 but use more or less, depending on how hot you like your curry
Garlic cloves – 3
Lemongrass – 1 stalk, with the hard outer stalk removed and cut up
Galangal – 2-3 slices about 2 mm thick and 2.5cm across
Onion – 1 small
Shrimp paste – 1 heaped teaspoon (almost a quenelle)

Curry:
Cooking oil – 2-3 tablespoons
Thick Thai coconut milk – 1 to 1.5 cups
Palm sugar – 1 good teaspoon
Fish sauce – a couple good dashes, according to your taste
Salt
Lime juice – of between 2 to 3 limes
Thai basil (a small handful) and lime leaves (3-4) to garnish
Method:
Curry Paste
Crush the onion, galangal, garlic and lemongrass in a mortar and pestle.
(OK – you can cheat and use a blender, but the effect is not quite the same)
When these are crushed to a fair extent, add the soaked dried chillies.
Keep pounding, using the weight of the pestle, until this is almost a paste.
Add the shrimp paste (I was surprised at how much we used) and continue crushing until you have a smooth paste.

DSC_0072

Making the curry:
Put some oil (2 – 3 tablespoons) into a frying pan, and heat at a fairly high heat.
When the oil has started heating (NOT SMOKING), add the paste and “cook out” – be careful not to burn. When the paste has started to change colour a bit to a deeper red, add some coconut milk, continue to cook. Add the rest of the coconut milk and bring to the boil.
Add the raw prawns and lime leaves at this stage. When these have begun to change colour, add the fish sauce and salt, palm sugar. Add these one at a time so that you can see the effect of each one and the rounded “mouth-full” effect of having them all. Finish with a little lime juice.
You should have all the sensations nicely rounded: hot, salt, sour and sweet.
Finish with Thai basil (also called holy basil or sweet basil).

Cooking hte red curry

Cooking the red curry

The finished dish

The finished dish

Notes:
1.) You could pre-season the prawns with a little soy, turmeric and ginger, and partially cook by flash frying them. This is a slightly fussy step but will add additional flavour.
2.) David Thompson in his amazing book, Thai Food, (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Thai-Food-David-Thompson/dp/1862055149) suggests the following spices as well: white peppercorns, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, star anise and a little grated nutmeg. You would need to toast and crush these. I have made and enjoyed the curry both ways – perhaps start off using the simple method and add additional ingredients as you become comfortable with the process.
3.) This could be made with chicken. In this case, I would definitely either season and flash fry before adding; or add the chicken in the middle of cooking out the paste. As this will need to cook for a longer time, you may wish to add stock, so the curry does not become too thick.
4.) If making with duck, it would make sense to either season and roast or boil the duck in a master stock (more on this later) beforehand; de-bone and shred the meat before adding to the red curry.

And here is the recipe for the Tom Kha Gai

Dtom Kha Ghai

Ingredients:

Chicken Breasts (cut up or shredded): 2-3

Shallots – 2 small

Lemongrass – 1 stalk, with the hard outer layer removed – cut up

Lime leaves – 2 to 3

Gallangal – 2 slices about 2 mm thick and 2.5cm across

Mushrooms – 6 to 8, depending on size; quartered

Fish Sauce (Nahm Pla) – to taste

Shrimp paste

Palm sugar – 1 teaspoon

Red chilli, sliced on the diagonal – 1 to 2

Garnish

Thai basil (a small handful)

Red chilli oil (Oil of Nham Prik Phao)

Method:

Simmer Onion, lemongrass, lime leaves and galangal in boiling water or stock.

Add chicken and shrimp paste and continue simmering until the chicken is partially cooked.

Add coconut milk to mixture and continue to simmer until chicken almost completely cooked.

If using shrimps, add them to the simmering stock now.

Add fish sauce, palm sugar and salt to taste.

Finish with Thai / Holy Basil and the oil of Nham Prik Phao.

Nahm Prik Pow

Nahm Prik Pow

 

The final meal

The final meal

After the meal, we went outside and sent a few paper lanterns to the moon.

The lantern

The lantern

Setting it off

Setting it off

On the way to the moon....

On the way to the moon….

The Walking Street – Sunday 6 January

9 Jan

On Sunday, I visited the walking street – a street market which sells a variety of items –street food snacks, t-shirts, handbags, souvenirs… basically any touristy rubbish you might wish to buy, or food you may wish to eat.

Anything you may want to eat

Anything you may want to eat

Oddly, there are a couple of Buddhist temples dotted around the street – should you get tired, you can pray for escape from the evil gods of capitalism.

Some of the items that I found interesting were:

the recycled coke and beer cans which had been made into tuk tuks or motorcycles:

Recycle like you really mean it! Can made tuk-tuks

Recycle like you really mean it! Can made tuk-tuks

the eggs being cooked on a slow barbecue in banana boats:

Slow cooked eggs

Slow cooked eggs

the roast corn / sweet potatoes being lathered in a weirdly orange coloured butter and coated (sprinkled is just not the right word!) in salt:

Yuh salt!

Yuh salt!

and the fruit set out for immediate smoothies:

Fruit!

Fruit!

Following the trip to the street, I rushed home to meet Noom, the chef from the Spirit House, ready and waiting to cook

Chiang Mai – Saturday 5 January 2013

9 Jan

Having finally propped my eyes open at 2pm, I was introduced to the terrible twosome, Bit and Bot. These are the sons of Khun Jar, who manages the house that I am staying at.
The twins Bit and Bot played as kids used to – their favourite game being to swirl straw hats on broom sticks. They either love each other or hate each other in the way that twins do.

Bit and Bot

Bit and Bot

Later that evening, I went for dinner to the “Spirit House”.
http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g293917-d1494643-Reviews-The_Spirit_House_Restaurant_Bar-Chiang_Mai.html
Steve the owner is a great guy and a cool host who explains and describes each dish in great detail to his guests.
While I enjoyed the food there and have no doubt that Steve and his chefs are very good, I felt that the dishes that I had were made for foreign palates and therefore not as spicy as I would have liked. Therefore, I arranged with the Thai chef, Noom, to have a cooking class the next day, Sunday.