Christine: Imagine being in a certain SE Asian country, at the beach with clear blue water, teeming with luscious sea creatures - fish, crab, squid - just waiting to be eaten. Maybe steamed so the meat is tender and flaky with cilantro and a squeeze of lime, or stir-fried with lemon grass and red curry. Mmmm.
Now imagine all of that amazing, fresh seafood being taken out of the water, dunked in batter, deep fried and put on a stick. Some of you say “Yay!” I say nay. NAY. After this past week in Phuket where I encountered way too much fried seafood, I decided that the only thing I want to see fried should come in a red box with “Popeye’s” written on the outside.
(Help! We are covered with batter.)
Thankfully, I have this week in Chiang Mai with my sister and her family, then on to Bangkok with Jimmy, to help redeem my Thai food experience. I have eaten so much good food the past two days in CM that I don’t even know where to begin. I’ll start with Airport Plaza, one of two local malls here. Normally, I would not look to the mall as a food destination. It would be like going out of your way to eat at Sbarro’s. Well, I have to tell you, the Thai Sbarro’s is pretty darn awesome.
In the basement of Airport Plaza, there is a huge food court filled with stall after stall of northern Thai cuisine. You could eat there every day for a month and not get through everything. And what’s amazing is that the food is fresh and made from scratch, not at all like processed food courts in the States. I lit upon the kuay teow, a sweet and savory noodle soup with a spicy, almost cinnamon-y beef broth. You could make it to order, so I got the wide flat noodles that were rolled up like little Ho-Hos, with pork, crispy fried garlic, an egg and fish cake slices.
And the condiments! This was no ketchup/mustard/mayo/relish condiment bar. This was fresh limes, bean sprouts, red and green chilis in vinegar and fish sauce, Thai basil, mustard greens, and sliced shallots. To the right of this picture is an old Thai lady who kept ordering me to put certain things in my soup.
(this tastes better than it looks)
The other thing I loved was the yum pla dook fu, a.k.a. crispy catfish salad. There’s a great version of this at Sripaphai in Queens. I’m realizing as I’m writing this that it is deep fried, which seems to contradict what I was just saying. But this is different. I don’t know how they do it, but they fry it in such a way that the fish becomes very light and airy, not heavy and battered like the kind I had in Phuket. It practically dissolves in your mouth. You pour the salad made of shredded green mango, red and green chilis, shallots, fish sauce, vinegar, and peanuts over it, and seriously, it’s one of the best things you’ll ever eat.
These are only two of the many amazing things I’ve eaten so far. And the kicker? Everything costs about 30 baht, roughly one dollar. So if you ever come to Chiang Mai, go to the mall. On your way to Sbarro’s, you might see a pig praising to steam.