You may find it difficult to believe that we don't actually post on ALL the places we visit. Usually, if the Missus and I have an upscale dinner in San Diego, I usually don't take photos, unless it's happy hour or has some other interesting tie in. There usually are too many people around and I'm a pretty low-key person.....I don't like attention. And then there are those that just "don't make the cut"...it doesn't mean the place was terrible or anything, it could be that I just never got around to doing a post....of course, if it was a stellar meal, you know I'd have done a post.
So anyway, with a minimum of my blabbing, here's a trio that just never made it until I COMC'd (Cleared Out the Memory Card).
Inka Heritage - Madison Wisconsin:
To my disappointment, I got to Mad-town during restaurant week and Inka Heritage had what amounted to a prix fix menu, so I had to go with what they had.
Ceviche 3 Ajies (3 peppers):
Pescado Inka Heritage:
Sooo much cheese...but heck, this is Wisconsin, right? What should I have expected.
Inka Heritage 602 S Park St Madison, WI 53774
The Wok Restaurant - Chiang Mai, Thailand:
The dishes looked so lovely, but just didn't deliver.....very bland, somewhat dumbed down. These folks run a cooking school I was thinking of joining....kind of glad I didn't.
The Wok Restaurant 44 Rajmankha Rd, Chiang Mai 50200 Thailand
Ucyildiz - Antalya, Turkey:
So if MickeyD's, or say ChowKing came to Turkey, I'm thinking this is what the food would look like. Sorta artificial....funny, the photos in the menu looked so lovely.
We still chuckle when we see the photos....you can't win 'em all.
Anyway, thanks for dropping by and reading....or staring, or whatever it is that you do when it;s mostly just photos!
Because of my recent (and hopefully short-lived) busy schedule, I've been lamenting not having the time to do posts which take a bit more time. When I mentioned this to the Missus, She told me, "you know, you never even finished your posts on Thailand", which we visited along with Laos at the end of 2008. I didn't believe Her, but when I checked my posts, I found that She was right. I need to correct this.....so here's one.
Did you know that Chiang Mai has a Chinatown?
If I recall, the main drag is Chang Klan Road.......
Once you almost hit the River Ping, you'll come across a very busy building.....not much to look at from the outside.
But it's quite packed on the interior........
Unlike the pretty touristy Sunday Market, this is where real food shopping takes place.
As you can tell..... I was fixated on the "aquatic" section. And it's really hard to resist stuff like this:
Though the fragrance dancing through the air in the market was from this:
The Kaep Moo (Deep fried pork rinds) really smelled like heaven to me..... so we ended up buying two bags, which we ate a bit later on.....
On our third day in Chiang Mai, the Missus decided that She wanted to visit Doi Suthep, located about 15 kilometeres from Chiang Mai. So how to get there???? Well, you just flag down a "sawngthaew" one of the innumerable red trucks plying the streets. Bargain, and get on your way.....
We arrived at the 309 steps up to Wat Doi Suthep..... and it seemed like everyone else in Chiang Mai decided to visit as well.
There's quite a bit to see, more than I could possibly cover in a post.
Lest you think just tourists come to Wat Doi Suthep, you'd be mistaken, as there seemed to be many who came to worship.
We spent a nice morning wandering the grounds.
We could only imagine how beautiful the view would be on a clear day.
Walking around sure stirred up my appetite..... so we had the sawngthaew drop us off across the Three Kings Monument, and went lookng for something to eat. I noticed a Khao Soi shop on the corner. I'd already tried Khao Soi twice, and was relatively unimpressed. This place looks busy, so I decided to give it another try. The Missus had already decided that Khao Soi wasn't Her thing, and stuck with just a soda.
I don't know if it's the fried noodles that is rather powdery and could have come from a can. Or if it is the watered down curry flavor that can't be rescued by lime, shallots, or even the only item I enjoy, the pickled vegetable. It could be that I didn't have a good version of this dish. But I really didn't care for the three versions Khao Soi I tried..... maybe next time....
As we walked down the street, we noticed another shop full of people. It looked like satay was the specialty here.
A woman walked down the aisles taking orders. As she took orders she'd bark them out, and the orders would hit the table.
Then things stopped...... the woman announced something, and half the people got up and left! The woman told us that they had run out of chicken, and only had pork left. I guess this place made a mean satay chicken. We decided to stay......
And indeed the pork was fine, but nothing to write home about.
I thought it was strange that each of us got two servings of rice. One on a plate, and the other in a bowl.
No matter, the rice had been cooked in chicken stock, and I would have been happy with just the rice alone.
Even better then the rice was the bowl of chicken broth, rich and vibrant with chicken drippings, great oil, with just the right amount of salt, and a touch of ginger to cleanse the palate.
That was worth the price of admission......
Like the rest of Thailand......... food was everywhere.......
Before I get to the wonderful Sunday Walking Market in Chiang Mai, I thought I'd share what I thought was an odd bit of "safety equipment" found in our room.
For some reason, the thought of placing a plastic bag over "mi cabeza" disturbs me......
Chiang Mai's Sunday Walking Market is something to be seen, stretching from the Tha Phae Gate all the way to Wat Phra Singh, streets in all directions are filled with booths selling all matter of goods.
Unlike the merchandising hell that is the Night Bazaar, the Sunday Market is more relaxed, especially since we got there just when the market started, at about 4pm. Our hotel was located just a half block from the the street the market was on, which made things very convenient for us.
When we arrived folks were still setting up.....
Not many tourists were seen, possibly due to the rain which seemed to fall for a short while every afternoon, scrubbing the sky and the streets clean. Of course the Thai locals took everything in stride....
And since this is Thailand, food stalls are everywhere. You couldn't go but a few steps without running into a food stall.
This is Thailand and snacking is a way of life here. I was more than happy to participate......
If you wanted to give up grazing and get something more substantial, we quickly learned that the courtyard of every Wat along the way was loaded with food booths.
The Wats it seemed, became de facto Food Courts.
And the range of food was amazing......
Bamboo Shoot salad....
And of course things would not be complete without some TFC (Thai Fried Chicken):
And of course, there were scores of "items on a stick". Which got me wondering how many wooden skewers were used on every Sunday?
I wish I took a better photo of this woman. Her beef jerky was fantastic.....
I felt no need to partake in the surprising amount of sushi available from dozens of booths.
The variety was indeed breathtaking. From the "standards".....
To items that were a bit more interesting....
And of course there were the items that were a bit more "challenging".....
Fried silkworm is delici-yoso stuff.....
But there was stuff that I thought was even too strange for me.....
Before you knew it, we arrived at Wat Phra Singh.... and things had gotten pretty crowded.
It was time to turn around and head back to the hotel...but not without a couple of snacks along way......
Arriving back at the Tha Phae Gate we noticed a huge crowd of folks, and young men and women were dancing on a stage.
Apparently, there was some kind of dancing contest going on. We decided to get away from the crowds and head up to our room, where we snacked (yet again), and watched the proceedings.
The Sunday Market was an enjoyable experience for us.....
As much as we enjoyed the Sunday Market, we did have a few regrets. The Missus really wanted the quail eggs from this stand.
We decided to get them on our way back to our room, but couldn't find the stall....
And of course, we regret not being able to bolt on a second stomach.....
I was once told, "you won't have to eat in a restaurant in Thailand, it's all on the side of the road". Never have words rung so true. Though the scents of food doesn't waft down every street and alley in Chiang Mai, there is more than enough to keep you stuffed.
Much like Luang Prabang we quickly developed a routine of sorts. Up early, after a small breakfast, which was free at the hotel. Unlike other folks we didn't load up on the free stuff, saving ourselves for later. We'd get on our way early. On our first morning, we headed off to the Chiang Mai Cultural Center. As we took the turn on Ratwithi an "escort" joined us:
As if he knew that we weren't from around these parts, this mutt walked alongside the Missus making sure we made our way to the Museum.
He guided us almost to the doors of the museum, and seeing that his duty was completed, he looked up at us, with almost a smile on his face, and went on his way. It was pretty remarkable.....
We enjoyed the Museum, and learned a lot, but forgot even more!
There was a good collection of interactive displays.
There was one display that was a bit too realistic. We noticed this display, and kept wondering what part the stuffed cat played in the display. Then the cat sat up and yawned! I almost jumped out of my shoes!!! It seems this cat has found the perfect spot to take a nap......after all, what better than the lap of a (semi-) human????
On the way back we passed a small booth on the side of the road.
It was obvious that they made the classic sticky rice with mango, but the Missus pointed to one of the pots and even though the couple didn't speak any English, they knew what the Missus was asking about. When the young man opened the pot, the fragrance instantly hit me.......
It was the making of Durian Rice! The Missus ordered some Sticky Rice with Mango and Durian and tapioca pearls with sticky rice.
Which we brought back to our room and devoured.......
After our "snack" and quick shower, we'd head off, and grab some lunch (we'll cover that later), and do something like head off and visit a few Wats. The Missus loved the Wats, and She'd take advantage of every opportunity to accost talk to the Monks.
We returned the next afternoon, and while the Missus high-jacked did Her hour and a half "Monk Chat" I walked the grounds.
A Buddhist University is located on the grounds so this was a great chance for students to practice their English, and the Missus to talk to the young men, starting with the inevitable "I thought Monks are vegetarians, and aren't supposed to eat meat, how come monks in Thailand eat meat?" Sigh........
The restored Chedi (Stupa) at Wat Chedi Luang clocks in at about 200 feet and is a good landmark when walking within the "Inner Moat" part of Chiang Mai. It was originally built in 1441 and was restored by UNESCO and the Japanese government. The Chedi lacks a spire because no one is really sure what it looked like. Another interesting tidbit. There are six Elephant sculptures along the Chedi, five of them are restorations. Only the one with no ears and trunk is an original.
After returning to our room, we'd head off for something to eat, often stopping off at Pratu Chiang Mai, or something up the street at one of the other markets.
There's always food in sight, and you will run into something. One night while walking up the Moon Muang we ran smack into a market, and a couple of food carts. One of which featured meat on a stick....who can resist?
These looked a spooky white in color....
OK, all the red specks were the only pieces of meat in this sausage......... it also tasted kinda strange....sour, but a strange sour.
And of course......
We could not pass a Kanom Krok cart without stopping. This Guy was busy, and couldn't keep up with demand. The Konom Krok we got was overcooked and solid in the center......it tasted fine, but was hard through and through. No molten, lip melting center for us this time.
Every evening after dinner, we'd head back to our room. But we'd always end up waiting at this stand a block from our hotel:
I'm walk over to the 7-11 (there's one on every block in Chiang Mai and Thailand) for water and some, uh, liquid refreshment, while the Missus would wait for Her our 35 Baht ($1) Fried Rice.
For those who complain that Sab E Lee puts too much white pepper on their fried rice and Pad See Ew, check this out. This was soooooo good.....
And of course, there's always a Durian story...... On our second night we noticed a pick-up parked alongside the road, loaded with Durian.
The Missus couldn't resist! There was fresh Durian that had been cleaned sold on a folding table next to the pick-up. The Missus bought some, and declared it the best She's had to date. So of course we went back the next night and bought more.
While the Missus enjoyed the Durian, and the Montri did not have any "no Durian" signs posted, I felt bad for the folks cleaning our rooms. I tried to ease my guilt by leaving a bit of a larger tip everyday for the folks having to suffer through cleaning our rooms.
Chiang Mai was an interesting city. On one side quite the tourist town, with a bustling visitor industry. On the other, an ancient walled city........ with a real spirituality that we saw over and over. It was a fascinating balance.
Chiang Mai didn't quite have the constant fragrance of food wafting through the air like Bangkok. In fact, at times you kinda had to work a bit to find something that wasn't tourist, Western style, or Pseudo-Thai Food. After walking around Chiang Mai a bit, we were rather happy we stayed in the Inner Moat area, right across the street from the Tha Phae Gate. The hotel, The Montri was a bit worn, and there was a huge renovation project going on during the day, which didn't bother us much since we were out of our hotel by 8 am. One of the places we visited many times was the area by the South Gate, called Pratu Chiang Mai. The Pratu Chiang Mai Market area really has something going on during all hours.
At night all the food stalls and carts are going strong.
During the day, there are more formal stands within the market area, and more produce vendors lining the street.
The evening carts seem to get started right after the afternoon rains, and get going pretty quickly.
On the day we arrived in Chiang Mai, the Missus decided to do a quick walking tour of various Wats.
And at the end, I was bushed. I remember seeing food stalls on our way in the from the airport, so we took a walk to Pratu Chiang Mai, and had our first dinner here. The only problem is what to get!
The TFC (Thai Fried Chicken) stand was going strong, and you can eat well for less than 2 bucks. At the time of our visit it was 33 Baht to a Dollar. So here I was in Thailand....so why not get some Pad Thai???
Place your order, and things get rolling pretty quickly.
Meat on a stick, just 15 Baht (50 cents):
Which on this day was enough for the Missus and I....a buck-fifty for dinner.....
The Sausage was decent, but had a bit too much rice and was not sour enough for my tastes, but the Missus really enjoyed it. It was garnished with slices of cucumber and galangal.
The Pad Thai was pretty good, a bit greasy, but in a good way.
It was surprisingly filling. We had gotten to appreciate Thai portion sizes, which seemed to be just enough to be satisfy you without taking you over the edge.
I do remember watching in amazement as a Thai Gentleman poured several scoops of what looked to be palm sugar over his Pad Thai before consuming it!
And finishing things off was some Kanom Krok.
This woman made the best we had on the entire trip! It became our "gold standard" for Kanom Krok, wonderful hints of coconut, without being too sweet. A wonderful crisp crust with a tongue melting molten interior. Familiar and simple, but complex in texture and taste at the same time.
It was a nice first meal.
Over the course of our stay in Chiang Mai, we always knew we could stop by for a nice snack. For us, it provided the perfect pace unlike the crazy and tourist saturated Night Bazaar, which we visited once, and decided never again.
Man, I can't believe it's been over 10 months since we returned from our Laos - Thailand trip, and I still haven't finished my vacation posts yet! So to make sure that I get these posts done, I thought I'd deviate from my usual chronologic posts and start with our favorite meal(s) in Chiang Mai.
We kind of regret that we didn't check out Huen Phen until our last day in Chiang Mai, we'd surely have wanted at least another lunch there. Huen Phen is located down Thanon Rachamankha, in a more sedate area of Chiang Mai.
Huen Phen itself is actually two different restaurants. During the evening, it's the crowded antique filled restaurant. During lunch, the area to the front left of the restaurant serves up steam table and noodle dishes.
The lady behind the counter was very nice, and even provided samples. I even sampled the broth for the Khao Soi, which only confirmed (this was third version I tasted) that I didn't care for it. Of course everything we asked about was met with a, "it's good...you try, you try....." Which is kinda what happened, we ended up eating enough to feed a small army. And incredibly we finished everything.
I've suddenly realized that if I went over every single dish, I'd still be writing on Monday, so I'll keep this to mostly photos. Let me just say, that I really enjoyed some of the dishes, especially the various Nahm Prik (dips/pastes) which is one of the signature dishes of Lanna (Northern Thai) cuisine. So without further ado, here are the photos:
We enjoyed lunch so much, that we returned for dinner!
Though we enjoyed lunch more, dinner was no less yummy! Especially the Nam Prik Ong, the classic Chili and Pork dip...think Thai Bolognese sauce. As much as I enjoyed that, the version with crisp pork skin was even better!
So here are the dinner photos:
Just a quick note, wouldn't you know that the only dish we didn't care for was the Morning Glory pictured above! Of course the Northern style Fish Soup was super!
I think there are times when the photos speak for themselves.
Huen Phen 112 Thanon Rachamankha Chiang Mai, Thailand
Yep, we're back.....the Missus and I have just returned...tired, and yet exhilarated at the same time. So excuse me while I noodle around with our photos for a while. The wonderful noodles to the right was from a stand in Luang Prabang, where we stopped and ate breakfast every morning....along with a wonderful cup of Lao Coffee....after the first morning, we would just have a seat, and the Owner who smile at us, and ask "same-same"? And we'd nod yes....so we ended up calling the place (no English sign) "Same-Same". We did so much, ate so much, that I really am not sure how I'm going to do this yet.
But let me just give you a recap anyway.
We started in Bangkok, just an overnight stay...we had an idea, and just went with the flow. Of course, there's an unending supply of street food in Bangkok.
You really can't go wrong.
We also managed to catch some of the sights.
That afternoon it was off to the border town of Nong Khai. And much to our surprise, we arrived during the Naga Fireball Festival.
No mysterious orbs rising out of the Mekong, but lots of street food. We managed to snag a room in a Guest House overlooking the Mekong River.
We also had some interesting meals in Nong Khai. Have you ever had anything like this from a Hospital Food Court?
Or maybe Kanom Krok in a bus station?
One thing for sure....I'd never had this before.
It was delicious. As was the Kai Yaang (Roasted Chicken), and sticky rice we had.
In spite of all the interesting food and venues...the strangest thing we did in Nong Khai was visit Sala Keo Ku, a somewhat bizarre-nightmarish park of sculptures by mystic Boun Leua Surirat. Sculptures, some towering up to 80 feet tall, are a mixture of various Hindu and Buddhist deities that seem to come from some HR Giger-ish dreamworld.
We also took the "yellow bus" to Tha Bo, a market town.....I'll say this for sure....the "Yellow Bus" sure has a bunch of character! Tha Bo was also interesting since the population is 70-80% Vietnamese.
The next morning we crossed the Friendship Bridge into Laos, and a cab into the capital city of Vientiane. In contrast to crazed Bangkok, Vientiane is a sleepy city of 230,000.
We also met some of the nicest, kindest, and most gracious folks we've ever encountered. Depending on who you talk to, experienced travelers to Laos will tell you that Laos is what Thailand was like 20-30 years ago(or maybe more...depending who you're asking).
Our most memorable meal in Vientiane was from one of the many stalls lining the Mekong River.
There are few things better than having a cold Beer Lao, some freshly grilled seafood, all wrapped up in a sunset on the banks of the Mekong River.
There's more to the story of this dinner, but I'll save that for later. For now you'll just have to admire our salt crusted, lemongrass stuffed fish, that was swimming around a few minutes before.
We had planned on staying overnight, but stayed 2 nights in Vientiane. To save time we ended up flying to Luang Prabang.
Beautiful, scenic, Luang Prabang was by far our most favorite stop on this trip....or perhaps on any trip. If you think Vientiane is laid back, and do Luang Prabang right, your blood pressure is sure to drop several notches......There were times when I thought Luang Prabang was an island floating over the Mekong River....
We intended on 2 nights, and stayed 5....if I didn't need to work...I'd still be there.
Early every morning, the streets of Luang Prabang becomes a river of flowing orange as the Monks come to collect their Alms.
There's something about this time honored tradition that attracted the Missus and I, enough so, that we watched the procession every morning.
Silence....except for the padding of bare feet on the asphalt. The Missus and I felt honored to be able to give alms....
We stayed in a Hotel next to one of the Wats, and away from the main tourist drag, where this procession turns from a respectful, time honored tradition, into a depressing paparazzi moment.
What about the food you may ask? The Missus and I were able to sample many of the Luang Prabang specialties, such as Khai Pene, a dried, then fried river moss from the Mekong:
Like very good Nori, flavored with tomato, shallots, and garlic, and always served with Jaew Bong, a garlicky, mildly spicy, sweet, and savory "dip", studded with buffalo skin, considered a classic Luang Prabang dish.
Heaven on Earth with a cold Beer Lao.....
I had pretty much dismissed the Fresh Market right off the tourist track in Luang Prabang, as being too touristy...until we visited. Man was I wrong. Along with the usual suspects:
Were some quite unusual items......
And I was to find out that the "forest" and "mountain" people come here to sell their wares. And also noticed that the customers were almost all local early in the morning.
Fascinated with the cuisine(and staying in one place for more than a few days for the first time), I took a cooking class from Joy Ngueamboupha, Co-Owner of Tamarind Restaurant in Luang Prabang. Please read Joy's interesting short bio, here. The class and market tour were fantastic, and it did much to fill in the blanks regarding Lao food. There was no gas or electric stoves, we cooked over charcoal...I was surprised that my stuff actually turned out ok(pretty good actually).
We also had the chance to taste some items that are considered pretty exotic by US standards. Boy have I been missing out all these years......forget about french fries, where can I get my hands on more of this?
At the time I scheduled the cooking class, I also attempted to make reservations for the "Adventurous Lao Gourmet" dinner. The nice Young Lady hesitated and asked that I wait until after the cooking course to schedule. After the course was over, I walked back to the restaurant, and tried to schedule the dinner again. The young lady called Joy on his cell....and he gave us the green light......
The degustation menu was an amazing eye-opening experience.....
With items we've never experienced before, like Sa Thao, another classic Luang Prabang dish made with river algae.
And other items which really challenged the Missus and I. You'll just have to stay tuned......
We were sad to leave Luang Prabang behind, but Chiang Mai was calling to us. We enjoyed historic Chiang Mai, and the Sunday Market is not to be missed (though we'll pass on the Night Bazaar):
And along with street food, we enjoyed a few sit down dinners as well.
Time got away from us in the end, and we managed only one last night in Bangkok before returning home.....but the Missus still got in some "parting shots", in the city that smells of food.
I'm still wrestling with how, and what to post.....
With tons of photos of various Wats (Temples) in every city....
I wish I had a cold Beer Lao to help me figure things out right about now.....since I don't, any suggestions anyone?