Hang on to your hats, one way round no bumping…here we go. This is a whistle stop food tour for the serious food lover around the magical jungle city of Chiang Mai, Thailand. Not for the faint hearted.
Our day starts early with fresh brewed local coffee at my good friend Khun Sonthaya’s Coffee House. Now this might not sound too impressive, but good coffee is not that easy to find in a city strangely obsessed with instant Nescafe and condensed milk. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big “condensed milk with everything” fan but first thing in the morning it doesn’t really cut the mustard, does it. Not for the likes of you or I anyway.
Khun Sonthaya only buys top class local coffee beans from a small company called HillKoff who grow their coffee on the humid mountain sides just outside of Chiang Mai. You can, as a special treat, ask Khun Sonthaya for the special Civet Poo Coffee that is now being locally produced by a small organic organisation up in the mountains. Let me explain.
At night wild Civets (a notoriously shy and illusive cat like mammal) emerge from their day time hidy holes to creep through the jungle feeding on whatever they can find…notably the freshest and ripest coffee beans which they are most partial to (apparently). As the coffee bean passes through their gut, acids remove the outer layer of the bean which gives the coffee a strong but smooth taste (I did say not for the faint hearted). In the morning a small team of poo hunters comb the mountain side for Civet poo in order to process it into tiny amounts of rare tasting coffee. The price as you can imagine is horrendous. In America it sells for between $35 and $50 dollars per cup.
After coffee, Khun Sonthaya will join us for the rest of our food tour. We’re all off to Ching Choo Chai breakfast restaurant on the outskirts of Chiang Mai. Don’t try to find it by yourself…you won’t. It’s out of town and in an odd location off the ring road. It’s a real “locals only” place frequented by everyone from traffic cops to bank managers. There’s no menu, no hanging about and no disappointment; it serves the best breakfast you will find anywhere in the world (and God knows I’ve looked hard). You have a choice of 3 things; pork and rice, pork ball soup and rice porridge with (you guessed it) pork. I’m going to treat you to pork and rice (Cow Ca Moo). The pork is braised for hours and is so tender it does actually feel like it melts in your mouth. The rice is local jasmine rice that is served with the cooking juices of the pork. To off set the smoothness of the pork it is served with a spoonful of home made pickled cabbage and wonderfully hot spicy red chilli sauce.
Apart from serving the best breakfast in the world Ching Choo Chai’s prices are fairly competitive. To eat breakfast here with me and Sonthaya it will set you back less than the price of a Mars Bar in the 7 Eleven. So, breakfasts on me. I am the last of the big spenders!
Okay, ready for lunch? We’ll warm up by stopping off at the side of the road to buy a massive bunch of fresh Lychees. We’ll munch our way through as we speed off in my old diesel truck to a lunch restaurant called “that Northern Thai chicken place next to the moat”. Every lunch time they roast hundreds of chickens on big outdoor grills made from old oil drums. We’ll order a couple of plump golden good’uns and some hot and sweet red chilli dipping sauce. As a special treat…just because you’re with us today I’ll treat you to what is literally translated as a “Pork Shower”. Great name isn’t it. It is a type of ground pork salad mined with spicy chillies and freshened with chopped coriander and mint. It’s a great accompaniment to anything. We’ll wash all of this down with iced lemon tea and some of their home made coconut ice cream.
Now then, lets have a walk along the tree lined moat to work up a proper appetite…the leafyness and coolness of which always, and rather romantically, reminds me of Paris (sorry but it really does). To take our minds of Paris I’ll treat you to some mango and sticky rice as we walk along.
Finally, as the day is drawing to an end and the sun is slipping behind the ever present Suthep Mountain we’ll set off, back out of town to my favourite fish and sea food restaurant locally known as “That fish and sea food restaurant out of town”. It’s a big operation and incredibly popular with Thai families. It starts to fill up from 5pm onwards and is staffed by an incredibly efficient army of waiting staff. We’ll get a table over the big central pond near the fountain so the afternoon air is cool and fresh. Our smiling waitress won’t leave until we have ordered everything we want, so nobody gets left behind. We’ll let Khun Sonthaya order as it’ll be quicker. I’ll put in a request for both of us, what about; a whole Pomfret fish steamed with ginger, shallots and lime, stir fried spinney crab, a few oyster omelettes (just because they are so good), some rice and a spicy papaya salad, all washed down with a big iced jug of beer.
We’ll sit out late under the stars in the moonlit shadow of the mountains listening to the distant and strange whirring noise of the Nightjars watching the owls swoop down from the forests and the bats flitting about the street lights. We’ll relax and talk about food, maybe order a couple of Thai whiskies and think about where we should eat tomorrow. Or shall we just do it all the same again.?