Before I lull you back to sleep with my blatherings on how I spent the past weekend, I wanted to show you what Northern food really should look like, thanks to @SpecialKRB’s great pics.
Whenever I go up north, I always make sure that I have both khao soy and kanom jeen nam ngiew — they are like the bookends to Northern Thai food: one fatty and rich, the other dense and pungent. To my mind, Chiang Mai has the best khao soy (the stalls in Chiang Rai are far too bland), but the only place to have nam ngiew is Pa Suk in Chiang Rai, where it’s made properly, with few tomatoes and with plenty of chili.
A trip home also isn’t the same without a gigantic breakfast of deep-fried pork, young crushed green chilies (nam prik num) with accompanying boiled veggies, saa pak made of a young fern available only during the rainy season, Northern Thai sausage (the famous sai oua), and macerated roasted eggplant, a Northern Thai version of baba ghanoush (the thum kanoon, or pounded young jackfruit, wasn’t available for some reason. And we had to actually steal the pork larb from the elders’ table). I love these dishes and actively seek them out whenever I am anywhere that claims to serve Northern Thai food.
What we did not actively seek out, but what managed to find us, courtesy of a highway-side minimart: an appalling line of new-flavored Pringles chips that will set your hair on end. Tasting like a mix between bubble gum and room deodorizer, these chips (which are, no doubt, only available in Thailand) riff on the Thai fondness for the borderline between salty-sweet: lemon-sesame, blueberry-hazelnut, and most horrifying of all, softshell crab. It was the first, second, and third times, respectively, I was unable to finish a single potato chip.
A blow to the tastebuds to be sure, but we rebounded in Tak with a riverside trip to Kieng Thai, a lovely open-air restaurant popular with whisky-swilling local officials and famed for its clear — and authentic — spicy lemongrass soup, or thom yum (I’m no fan of coconut milk in the broth). Also devoured: tiny deep-fried Thai sardines, lightly poached fish with a lime-chili dipping sauce, a spicy-tart yum (salad) of mushrooms and raw fermented pork (naem), a whole river catfish and stir-fried morning glory with chilies.