Friday 18 December 2009

Suan Paak Restaurant

Famous for their salads and noodle dishes, especially Yen-ta-fos, Suan Paak (literally "Vegetable Garden"), is a complex of three restaurants. The original Suan Paak Restaurant serves salads, organically grown in their hydroponic garden, various Western dishes, and Thai dishes. There is also a Thai Restaurant, and the newer Noodle Restaurant on the premises. Whatever restaurant you end up going to, you won't miss out on the food from the other places, because you can order from all three!

My favourite is the Yen-ta-fo, a rice noodle dish (choose from thin or thick noodles), seafood (or fishballs, whatever you like), morning glory, white fungus, etc., in a tasty pink-red soup. Don't worry, the red colour isn't from blood (although blood cubes are often in the soup - can you spot them?), but from fermented red tofu. The soup is rich in flavour and of course, very delicious! Most noodle shops will sell Yen-ta-fo, but Suan Paak's Seafood Yen-ta-fo possibly costs the highest (and spiciest??), at 130 baht per dish - but you do get a lot of seafood - large prawns, and very big mussels and calamari. The serving is very large, possibly 3 times what you'd get at 30 baht places. The soup is also a lot tastier than your average noodle shop & served with crispy salmon skin that you can soak in the soup...a bit like croutons! Mmm.

Suan Pak's signature dish, though, is Khao Ping (literally, Grilled Rice). It's basically rice stir-fried with Thai shrimp paste, chilli and mince pork, wrapped in banana leaves and grilled. Served with fresh vegies (including lotus stem) and a very delicious clear mushroom soup. The shrimp paste gives the rice a very rich, earthy flavour, which I found very nice on the first few bites, but became too strong if the rice was eaten by itself, but was great with the salad. Not sure if I would have it again though, but it was very interesting and worth a try, and I'd recommend you try it, especially if you have someone to share with! 90 baht.

Here's the Chef's Salad. We ordered it because it was the most expensive - at 290 baht (most of the others were around 100-150 baht). No, I don't usually go around ordering the most expensive dishes on the menu, but I was curious - What's so special about it? Well, it has EVERYTHING - a combination of all the other salads on the menu, and it was humungous! They also had a selection of dressings to choose from. We went for the creamy dressing, which was served on the side, and very good as well.

The previous time I had the Thai dressing, which was very tasty, but it overpowered the western-style salad somewhat - much, much too strong. However, the salad with the Thai dressing went really well with the Khao Ping. The tartness and spiciness of the dressing complimented the salty, earthy flavour of the Khao Ping really well.

In the end, it was an enjoyable meal, especially the Yen-ta-fo! Suan Paak also has a lot of other interesting sounding dishes, so we'll definitely be back!

Suan Paak
61 Moo 3, Airport Rd,
T. Suthep, A. Muang, Chiang Mai 50200
(Next to Airport Plaza)
Tel: 053 202222, 053 904201

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Monday 7 December 2009

Yangzi Jiang

We were rather excited to finally check out the 1.5 year old Yangzi Jiang ("Yangzi River") Cantonese Restaurant. Having previously been to and really enjoyed its' older-sister restaurant, Mei Jiang ("Beautiful River") on Changklan Rd several times, we thought Yangzi Jiang would be a sure bet for Thailand's Father's Day dinner.

Yangzi Jiang is situated in an elegant home in the trendy Nimanhaemin Area. It's quite famous for dim sum/yum cha, and authentic Cantonese dishes. Having grown up with Cantonese cuisine in Sydney, it was exactly what I have been craving! We were even more excited when we overheard someone on the next table say, "Everything here is good!", exactly our sentiments about Mei Jiang.

So there we were, pouring over the rather large menu and interesting sounding dishes. Finally, we settled for:

Salmon Spring Rolls - what a great start! This turned out to be my favourite dish. The rolls were filled with salmon fillet, celery stick, and something white and creamy - perhaps mayonnaise. The Salmon Spring Rolls were served with more salty/sweet tasting creamy mayonnaise which complemented so wonderfully with the salmon. The celery gave each bite a crunch. Scrumptious!

Stir-fried Squids with Morning Glory and Chilli Shrimp Paste - this was also a rather interesting dish. I think the "Chilli Shrimp Paste" used here is Belachan paste, or at least tasted very similar to it. The squid was very nicely cooked - firm but not tough to chew, and the morning glory was delicious with the salty, rich and aromatic flavour of the shrimp paste, garlic and a hint of ginger.

Yangzi Jiang's roast duck was also quite good - in the sense that we could tell that the duck was of good quality - great texture and nice crispy skin, and not much fat. Unfortunately though, it tasted rather bland. The best thing about it was the bed of chewy peanuts and the tasty sauce under the duck! We soaked up the sauce with a very lovely mantou (Chinese bun), right out of the steamer.

As an aside, I would put Yangzi Jiang's roast duck at number 3 so far in Chiang Mai. The best was at Mandarin Oriental's fabulous Chinese Restaurant, Fujian, and my second favourite, a little local eatery owned by the chef at Shangri-la Hotel.

Fried Eggplant Stuffed with Mashed Shrimp with Chilli and Salt. The golden coloured stuffed eggplants looked pretty good, but oily. The first few bites were quite nice, especially if eaten with the very lightly fried garlic (which still had the raw taste), chilli and salt mixture. The spiciness of raw-ish garlic and chilli helped to breakdown the oiliness a little, but unfortunately not enough. We couldn't finish off the dish and I felt like needing a good cup of tea afterwards!

Finally, the last dish, Fried Yin Yang Vermicelli with Roasted Duck and Sichuan Pickle. It was an interesting dish, and tasted rather good too, but a shame that it was also too oily.

All in all a bit of a mixed-bag experience. Some of the dishes were great, others not so. The service was quite good in the beginning, but became a bit more inattentive as they got busier. That's understandable though, because they pretty much had a full house - being Father's Day and also having long weekend tourists coming up from Bangkok.

I will go back again - I think they deserve another try!

The price worked out to be about 300 baht per person without alcohol.

Yangzi Jiang (Cantonese Cuisine)
10 Nimmanhaemin Soi 5
Suthep, Muang, Chiang Mai 50200
Tel: 053 225 313
Open: 11:30am-2:30pm and 6pm-11pm.
Booking recommended.

Or, if you'd like to try Mei Jiang (Hong Kong Style Rice, Noodles & Congee)
191/17-18 Changkhlan Plaza (near Shangri-la Hotel)
Changklan Rd
Changklan, Muang, Chiang Mai 50100
Open: 11:30am-2:30pm, 5:50pm-9:00pm
Tel: 053 821 112
Does not take booking.

*Update: 13th March 2011

Yesterday we went back to Yangzi Jiang for dinner. It was still a mixed-bag experience! The restaurant was full again. The service was pretty slow and mostly inattentive again.

This time we ordered:

Peking Duck (800 baht + 7% VAT) - I must say the Peking Duck here is excellent! Possibly my favourite in Chiang Mai. The skin was light and crispy, and all the fat has pretty much been scraped off. The pancake was very well done too - the texture just right, soft and supple enough not to break. The pancakes didn't stick to each other either. I noticed almost every other table also ordered the Peking Duck.

We also had a choice of what to do with the meat and chose the noodles - stir-fried. It came a long time later. The waitress explained to us that so many people ordered Peking Duck it was taking a while to carve. When the noodles finally arrived, we were quite excited. However, this turned out to be nothing special and flavourless. The duck meat was quite tough and chewy. The noodles turned out to be 100 baht extra - this wasn't mentioned in the menu.

The stir-fried vegetables was also excellent - very fresh crispy vegies, but very expensive at 120 baht as the serving was very, very small.

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Tuesday 1 December 2009

Talad Nut - Part 1

Having reviewed so many nice restaurants lately, I think it's time to visit something a bit more basic - the local market, well, more precisely, the "Talad Nut". "Talad Nut" are local markets that are held in the evenings and sell everything from clothing, shoes, accessories, and plenty! "Talad Nuts" are usually held once or twice a week in an area. Vendors typically move to different "Talad Nuts" each day of the week. For example, the Somtum (papaya salad) vendor might be at Meechok Plaza (a local shopping centre) on Mondays and Tuesdays, the rest of the week might be spent at other "Talad Nuts", and on Sundays, the Sunday Walking Street (the ultimate "Talad Nut"!).

Here are a few samplings of what you might find to eat at Talad Nuts:

My favourite - Moo Kham Wan - Spicy grilled pork (nice and tender) served with fresh vegies and this super amazing chilli and lime dip. We often keep the dip for use during the week on other dishes like grilled fish.

"Talad Nut" is also the place to buy your dinner! This lady sells various dishes that you can take home in plastic bags.

Here is something that looks rather nicely presented - sausage wrap in bread. Good size for eating on the go while you look around the market.

You can even get sushi! The weather has been pretty cool, but may not be so good in the heat in summer! It's pretty popular though and turn over is pretty quick.

Delicious grilled pork sticks!

Hope you're not too hungry yet! More coming up soon in Part 2!

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