Ray cooks with fire: Recipes from Chiang Mai
Last October my partner and I decided we needed a holiday. We chose Thailand, where I hadn’t been for 25 years and I was eager to reacquaint myself with it. Luckily my clever partner had been there a few years before and stayed in Chiang Mai at the small luxury Rachamankha Hotel which does a great deal at that time of year.
We weren’t interested in touring around or too much exertion so we wanted a hotel that had everything we needed. Her choice of the Rachamankha was perfect. I have been lucky enough to have stayed in many great hotels but I have to say this is one of the best.
It is designed and owned by renowned architect Ong-ard Satrabhandhu and is in the style of the courtyard houses found in China and Nepal. It also contains the architect’s own private house and library (the latter can also be used by the guests) as well as a large blue tiled swimming pool and beautiful Asian antiques throughout the public areas. There is also a small art gallery and shop and an exquisite two-storeyed pavilion near the pool for traditional massage.
As you can imagine I am a tough judge but I couldn’t fault this place, beautiful architecture and gardens, great food (there are only 20-something rooms so there is no industrial catering and I stuck my head inside the kitchen and it was immaculate).
The hotel is in the old city and there are at least two great restaurants, many markets and what I thought was the best temple, Wat Pra Singh, within walking distance. This is my kind of place.
If I was to assign one word to it, it would be “exquisite” and we will be going back there. Chiang Mai is the unofficial Northern capital and is an old walled city. It has many temples or Wats and the food markets are excellent. If you are feeling energetic there are also many outdoor activities.
It is close to Laos and Myanmar so excursions there are also possible. The food is great (this is the home of somtam, the popular spicy green papaya salad) with sticky rice being a staple. A big variety of vegetables and fruit (the jackfruit curry is sensational) are incorporated into the cuisine as the cooler climate means produce growing is easy. The markets featured some of the best strawberries I have ever tasted and the flower market is legendary.
Everything is very cheap by our standards. It was rare to pay more than about NZ$15 for a slap-up meal in a restaurant or you could eat for next to nothing in one of the markets. I learnt a lot and armed with my trusty notebook, I had many conversations about food and recipes. The following are my versions of the type of food we enjoyed there.
I stayed and ate at
SP Chicken, 9/1 Sam Larn Soi 1, Phra Singh, Muang, Chiang Mai. Round the corner from the hotel, lunch of a great barbecued chicken, 3 vegetable dishes, sticky rice, soda water and 2 large beers was NZ$15.
Heung Phen restaurant in Rachamankha Road. Everything was excellent and cheap. Ate there twice.
At our first lunch at the hotel we ordered prawn and lemongrass salad, containing lots of very tender lemongrass. I re-fell in love with this fragrant herb. Here is my version. It is hard to get fresh young lemongrass here, so use the tender inside of the lower stalks. Get the recipe
This is my simplified version of the knockout spicy “Sai ua” or northern Thai pork sausages. Traditionally the minced pork mix is put into sausage casings and they are cooked and smoked.
Here I have made them without skins so they are more achievable for the home cook. You can smoke them if you like, but they are delicious either way. I became quite addicted to these while in Chiang Mai, and I think I ordered them at almost every meal.
They were always served with Thai sweet chilli sauce which has become a little overused in New Zealand. I was interested to see this sauce’s traditional role in Thai cookery. Get the recipe
Every morning I walked from the hotel to the amazing food market by the Chiang Mai gate of the old city. Breakfast time, I passed many small vendors selling food. One of them was a couple with a half oil-drum barbecue where they sold barbecued pork with the following marinade. I have used it here for chicken. It is very good. Get the recipe