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Favorite One-dish Meals in Thailand

Michael Babcock, Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

One of the best things about Thailand is the ready availability of delicious one-dish meals, both as street food and in restaurants. This blog looks at 5 of my very favorite non-noodle dishes. I’ll reserve noodles for another time. You can also look at my blog Thai Noodles – An Amazing Variety.

Of course, almost any dish can be a “one-dish meal.” Green Curry over Rice, for instance provides a protein from meat or seafood, vegetables (usually Thai eggplants and pea eggplants) over a starch (rice). Four of the dishes here, though, are often thought of as stand-alone dishes and eaten most often by themselves as a quick breakfast, lunch or (even) dinner.

Several of these dishes are Chinese-influenced; these are the one-dish meals I order the most in Thailand. I’ll save the more “Thai” one-dish meals for another blog.

(Click images to see larger version.)

Basil Pork with Fried Egg over Rice – Moo Pad Kaprao Khai Dao

Pork Dish

Stir-fried Pork dish

I’ll start with one of the most popular dishes in Thailand (and an authentically Thai dish) – Basil Pork with Fried Egg served over Rice.

The picture shows the dish – Moo Pad Kaprao Khai Dao Rad Khao – as it was served in a no-name restaurant in Bo Klua in eastern Nan province in northern Thailand. (See my blog: Bo Klua – Visiting the Salt Ponds.) It comes with a typical Thai-style fried egg – ไข่ดาว (Khai Dao) – literally a “star egg” – with its crisp-fried edges. The dish here is made with larger pieces of pork; I see it more often with ground pork.

Kasma taught a Spicy Basil Chicken recipe in the 3rd class of her Beginning Series. You can easily adapt the recipe for pork and add a crispy-fried egg at the end. Or check out my blog Basil Pork – Moo Pad Kaprao.

    Pork Leg Rice – Khao Ka Moo

    Pork Leg Rice

    Pork Leg Rice

    This just might be the one-dish meal that I order the most in Thailand: it’s Stewed Spiced Pork Leg Rice with Pickled Mustard Greens, Blanched Asian Broccoli and Hot-Sour Sauce – Khao Ka Moo. The picture to the left is from the food court at Imperial World Shopping Center in Samut Prakan.

    Although it’s a Chinese-influenced dish, you find it all over Thailand, though not so much in the Southern provinces that have a larger Muslim population. It is predominantly a street food or found at food courts (which are, basically, street food brought inside). In restaurants you’ll see stewed pork leg (or fried stewed pork leg) mainly as a dish to be served over rice, family style (as in the picture below right).

    This dish has an incredibly rich mouth feel – the pork leg is stewed with the skin on, which means it includes the fat in-between the skin and meat as well. You don’t really need to eat very much of this: the rich fat will fill you up. The richness is balanced by the pickled mustard greens and by the hot-sour sauce that you put on top. When you order, you have the option of getting it with a hard-boiled duck egg or without; I always get it with the egg, which typically has been cooked first and then stewed a while with the rest of the ingredients. Yum!

    Stewing Pork Leg

    Stewing Pork Leg

    Stewed Pork Leg

    Stewed Pork Leg

    The picture above left shows the stew pot in one of Kasma’s classes just after the pickled mustard has been added. The right-side picture shows how she serves it in class – more as it would be served in a restaurant. It does need to be eaten with rice though: it’s such a rich dish.

    Kasma taught this dish in Advanced Set E-2.

    Poached Chicken Rice – Khao Man Gai

    Chicken Rice Shop

    Chicken Rice Shop

    Another Chinese-inspired dish, perhaps more famous in its Singapore version, is Poached Chicken Rice with Melon Soup and Hot Fermented Soybean and Ginger Sauce (Khao Man Gai). It is often found as a street food and probably just as often at shops which specialize in the dish. It’s pretty easy to find a place that serves it: just look for the plump, hanging chickens such as in the picture to the left, taken at the Imperial World Food court in Samut Prakan.

    What makes this dish special is the rice, which is cooked with chicken broth and also chicken fat, a bit like making a risotto; the rice by itself is rich and tasty. The stewed chicken is succulent and juicy. This dish is invariably served with a spicy fermented soybean-chilli sauce and accompanied by a light, chicken-broth based melon soup.

    Poached Chicken Rice

    Poached Chicken Rice

    Poached Chicken Rice

    Poached Chicken Rice

    Here are two versions of the dish. To the upper left is the dish as Kasma had it last year at the food court at the Imperial World Shopping Center near her Samut Prakan townhouse. The rightmost version is from one of Kasma’s Advanced Cooking Classes.

    Kasma used to teach this dish during Advanced class D-3.

    Black Olive Rice – (Kao Pad Nam Liap)

    Salted Black Olive Fried Rice (Kao Pad Nam Liap or Kao Ohb Nam Liap) is another Chinese-influenced dish. It’s not a dish that you see very often in Thailand. The main ingredient is a Chinese salted black olive, which is mixed with shrimp, dried shrimp, green mango, Thai chillies and ground pork. It’s a marvelous dish, full of several different types of flavors and anchored by the black olive.

    Black Olive Rice

    Black Olive Rice

    Black Olive Rice

    Black Olive Rice

    Here are two versions of the dish. Kasma’s version, above left, presents it more like a composed salad; before eating, all the ingredients are mixed together. The above right version is from My Choice Restaurant in Bangkok. It’s a rare trip to Thailand when I don’t make it by My Choice at least once or twice to get this dish for lunch.

    Bitter Melon Stir-fried with Egg – Mara Pad Kai

    Bitter Melon & Egg

    Bitter Melon & Egg

    This is a recipe that is very easy to cook and very healthy. Bitter melon is a vegetable that is said to help regulate the blood sugar and here it is served with eggs, still one of the healthiest foods you can eat. This is a dish that I cook often at home, particularly when I’m on my own. Start to finish, including prep time, is about 10 minutes or less. Serve it over rice and you’ve got a satisfying, healthy meal.

    Try it yourself using Kasma’s Bitter Melon & Egg Recipe. Or try my variation – Bitter Melon, Chorizo and Egg – for some extra pizzaz. (You also can substitute Thai sour sausage for the Chorizo.)


    Written by Michael Babcock, July 2014

    Wat Phumin in Nan – The Murals

    Michael Babcock, Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

    Perhaps the most famous temple murals in Thailand are at Wat Phumin in Nan in the North. This is a quick look at the history and at some of the enticing scenes that can be found there, taken on our visit to Nan in January of 2014.

    The temple murals were one of the features of Northern Thailand temples that most intrigued me when we visited there this past January. Most temples had murals and some of them were quite fascinating (as were the murals at Wat Phumin).

    (Click images to see larger version.)

    Mural #1

    The artist & his lady

    Much of the information in this blog comes from the book Reading Thai Murals by David K. Wyatt; copyright 2004 and published by Silkworm Books in Chiang Mai. (Reading Thai Murals – offsite, opens in new window.) Rather than being comprehensive (you can read Wyatt for that), I’m going to quickly go over some of the history and then include a slideshow of images that caught my eye as I wandered around the interior of the temple (for quite some time).

    Seen here, to the left, is, perhaps, the most famous of all the images from Wat Phumin. Anyone who has visited Nan has seen it on any number of souvenirs, t-shirts and posters. Local tradition has it that this image shows the artist, Thit Buaphan, himself with a female companion.

    Wat Phumin #1

    Wat Phumin exterior

    Wat Phumin #2

    Wat Phumin exterior

    The main building at Wat Phumin is both the “ubosot” (ordination hall) and the “viharn” (meeting hall). (At some temples these will be two separate buildings.) It’s in the shape of a cross (cruciform) built on the back of two giant nagas (the naga is a mythical serpent, much like a water dragon). The main entrance is guarded by two “singh” (mythical lions).

    Buddha Image

    Main Buddha image

    In the center of the building there is a 4-sided Buddha statue, with a Buddha facing in each of the 4 directions (towards the doors). The statue is in a posture known as “Subduing Mara” or “Calling Earth to Witness” and represents the Buddha at the moment of his enlightenment. At that moment, Mara mocks Buddha and asks how he can claim to be enlightened, who is there to witness his enlightenment? The Buddha takes one hand and points to the earth, indicating that the Earth Mother Goddess will bear witness.

    Murals

    A wall of murals

    Really, though, the main attraction in this temple is provided by the murals. The picture to the right shows how entire walls are completely covered with murals. These murals were painted beginning in 1894 by a Thai Lue artist named Thit Buaphan, who was well known for painting the murals at Wat Nong Bua (also in Nan Province). He had many assistants and the work continued into the 20th century.

    The main story represented here is a story of one of the Buddha’s past lives – one of the so-called Jâtaka stories. There are roughly 550 “official” stories and, in addition, another 50 or so stories about previous lives that are included in a collection called the Paññâsajâtaka, known mainly in Burma, Northern Thailand & Laos.

    Mural #2

    Mural of the main story

    At the time the murals were painted, Nan was a separate kingdom that was a vassal-state to the Kingdom of Siam. In 1893, Siam made Nan give half of its kingdom to the French to become part of French Indochina, in order to appease the French. One of the reasons that Thailand was never colonized was because, on several occasions, they made gestures such as this to appease the western powers. Obviously, this move was not popular in Nan.

    The main story depicted at Wat Phumin is a story that (according to David Wyatt) is found in just a few manuscripts and most likely only published in Laos. Wyatt knows of no other temple where this story is portrayed. The story concerns an orphan, Gaddhana, who went searching for his absent father (said to be the god Indra, disguised at an Elephant). As Wyatt says (on page 21):

    . . .The theme of orphanhood thus is repeated, acted out in the panels of the mural at Wat Phumin, though the orphanhood is the condition of lacking a father and not lacking a mother.

    The message that viewers were reading off the walls was from a cautionary tale of persistence through adversity, in a world suffused with evil in which virtue was rewarded eventually.

    Mural #3

    Woman weaving

    Wyatt says the story was chosen as a subtle criticism of Siam’s actions in giving Nan’s land away, chosen because more overt criticism was impossible.

    Along with another Jâtaka story on the walls, and interwoven as part of the stories, we see the portrayal of ordinary, day-to-day life in the late 19th century; it is these depictions that set the murals apart and account for their fame. Amongst numerous individuals in the midst of daily activities, we also see representations of Europeans, hill tribe people, animals and lovers, both heterosexual and transgender. It is a marvelous celebration of life.

    Slideshow – Murals at Wat Phumin in Nan

    Rather than point out slides and themes, I’m going to insert below a slideshow of some of the wonderful images that you can see at Wat Phumin. Where I’m able, I will point out what is being portrayed (often relying on David Wyatt); otherwise, I’ll let the slide speak for itself.

    Rather than setting the slideshow to run by itself, you may want to simply click on each picture to see the next image, so that you can go as slowly as you might like to enjoy the images.

    Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow.

    Clicking on a slide will take you to the next image.

    Mural #1
    Mural #2
    wat-phumin-08
    wat-phumin-09
    wat-phumin-10
    wat-phumin-11
    wat-phumin-12
    wat-phumin-13
    Mural #3
    wat-phumin-14
    wat-phumin-15
    wat-phumin-16
    wat-phumin-17
    wat-phumin-18
    wat-phumin-19
    wat-phumin-20
    wat-phumin-21
    wat-phumin-23
    wat-phumin-24
    wat-phumin-25
    wat-phumin-26
    wat-phumin-27
    wat-phumin-28
    wat-phumin-29
    wat-phumin-22
    wat-phumin-30
    wat-phumin-31
    wat-phumin-32
    wat-phumin-33
    wat-phumin-34
    wat-phumin-36
    wat-phumin-37

    According to local tradition, the rightmost figure is the artist, Thit Buaphan

    Gaddhana asking his mother who was his father

    Gaddhana and his mother. The 2 boys above are playing a game

    Close-up of Gaddhana and his mother

    Transgender couple

    Women going to market

    Men & women flirting

    Woman at spinning wheel and an aggressive musician

    Mural showing a woman weaving

    Hilltribe people with a dog barking at them

    Elephant and soldiers

    The Buddha and disciples

    The artist, Thit Buaphan, and his lady companion

    Europeans at a dock

    According to Wyatt, a Nan monk

    "Helping seek the Lord Buddha" (Wyatt)

    Serpents; perhaps a depiction of the Buddhist hell realm

    Europeans unloading a ship with (apparently) 4 London bobbies

    Close-up of Europeans unloading a ship

    "People entering a city" (caption says)

    "Escalator" picture; caption says they are on their way to heaven

    Mural #1 thumbnail
    Mural #2 thumbnail
    wat-phumin-08 thumbnail
    wat-phumin-09 thumbnail
    wat-phumin-10 thumbnail
    wat-phumin-11 thumbnail
    wat-phumin-12 thumbnail
    wat-phumin-13 thumbnail
    Mural #3 thumbnail
    wat-phumin-14 thumbnail
    wat-phumin-15 thumbnail
    wat-phumin-16 thumbnail
    wat-phumin-17 thumbnail
    wat-phumin-18 thumbnail
    wat-phumin-19 thumbnail
    wat-phumin-20 thumbnail
    wat-phumin-21 thumbnail
    wat-phumin-23 thumbnail
    wat-phumin-24 thumbnail
    wat-phumin-25 thumbnail
    wat-phumin-26 thumbnail
    wat-phumin-27 thumbnail
    wat-phumin-28 thumbnail
    wat-phumin-29 thumbnail
    wat-phumin-22 thumbnail
    wat-phumin-30 thumbnail
    wat-phumin-31 thumbnail
    wat-phumin-32 thumbnail
    wat-phumin-33 thumbnail
    wat-phumin-34 thumbnail
    wat-phumin-36 thumbnail
    wat-phumin-37 thumbnail

    Written by Michael Babcock, July 2014

    Yum Saap Restaurant – A Thai Chain

    Michael Babcock, Sunday, June 15th, 2014

    Yum Saap – ยำแซ่บ แซ่บครบรส – is a restaurant chain specializing in Northeastern (Isan) food; there are around 50 branches, most located in and around Bangkok but also found as far afield as Chiang Rai and Phuket. On our last visit to Thailand we had a meal at the branch at the Imperial World Shopping Cener in Samut Prakan. Here are my impressions. (note: แซ่บครบรส is translated as “full flavor.”)

    (Click images to see larger version.)

    Yum Saap Restaurant

    Yum Saap Restaurant

    I enjoy eating at Thai restaurants of all varieties. It’s fun every once in awhile to try out the food at one of the Thai chain restaurants. Imperial World is a shopping center that is about a 10 minute klong (canal) ride and walk from our townhouse in the neighborhood of Nakhon Thong in the Samrong district of Samut Prakan (found on the edge of Bangkok). The basement of Imperial World houses a food center, which is a popular lunch destination for us, and also many restaurants, including Yum Saap. We decided to give it a try at the end of December last year (2013).

    Restaurant Logo

    Yum Saap Logo

    Coconut Drink

    Blended coconut drink

    Yum Saap has a whimsical and very noticeable logo, as you can see to the left. It’s a clean restaurant, furnished not unlike chain restaurants in the U.S. (such as Denny’s or IHOP).

    One item we ordered was a “Coconut Frostie” – นำ้มะพร้าวปั่น (Nam Maprao Pan), which arrived before the food. It’s a refreshing drink, not overly sweet (as some are).

    Eggplant Salad

    Country-style Eggplant Salad

    Grilled Chicken

    Grilled Chicken

    As might be expected, their menu had a fair number of ยำ (yum) type salads. The menu had pictures of every item and my eye was immediately caught by Eggplant Salad (Country Style) – พล่าหมูมะเขืออ่อน – (Phla Moo Makeau Awn). I had never seen an eggplant salad made with the Thai eggplants. I wanted to try it. It did not disappoint. It included pork and was spicy and sour, with a bit of sweet. I’m hoping Kasma will duplicate this recipe for a future class! When Kasma likes a dish at a restaurant she’ll write down the ingredients and flavor profile so that when we return home, she can de-construct it and come up with her own version. Quite often, I find her versions better than the originals. Many of these show up in her Advanced Thai Cooking Classes.

    Another delicious dish was the Grilled Chicken – ไก่ย่าง (Gai Yang), served with two types of dipping sauces – น้ำจิ้ม (Nam Jim); one sauce was sweet and the other was spicy and a bit sour (made with roasted chillies).

    Stir-fried Morning Glory

    Stir-fried Morning Glory

    Vegetable Stir-fry

    Vegetable Stir-fry

    We ordered two other dishes. The Stir-fried Morning Glory – ผัดผักบุ้งไฟแดง (Pad Pak Boong Fai Daeng) above left. The 4th dish was Vegetables Stir-fried with Oyster Sauce and Squid. (I’m unable to find this dish listed on their online menu so can’t give you the exact name.)

    All in all, the food was quite acceptable. Two of the dishes were very good and others were also good. What impressed me was that the food was authentic Thai food – it did not seem as if any shortcuts were taken. It was spicy and flavorful. I only wish I could get food that tasted as good at the chain restaurants here in the U.S.!

    Note: When we ate her in early 2020 the food was still authentic and tasty.


    Location

    Imperial World Samrong
    999 Sukhumvit Road. Samrong Nua,
    Muang, Samutprakarn 10270
    General Phone : 0-2756-8217-9
    Imperial World Facebook page (offsite, opens in new window)
    Map of location of Imperial World, Samut Prakan (offsite, opens in new window)

    Yum Saap Restaurant – ยำแซ่บ แซ่บครบรส
    Imperial Samrong Branch – สาขา อิมพีเรียล สำโรง
    For address & map – see Imperial World above. Restaurant is found on the basement floor.
    Phone: 02-756-9991
    Yum Saap Website (offsite, opens in new window)
    Yum Saap Facebook page
    (offsite, opens in new window)
    Review of Yum Saap, MBK (a different branch, offsite, opens in new window)


    Written by Michael Babcock, June 2014 & June 2020

    Bo Klua – Visiting the Salt Ponds

    Michael Babcock, Sunday, June 1st, 2014

    We recently traveled to Bo Klua (also spelled Bo Kleua or Boklua) – บ่อเกลือ – a district in Eastern Nan province in Northern Thailand right on the border of Laos. A translation of the name would be “Salt Ponds”  (เกลือ (klua) means salt). This blog explores some of the sights we visited. Bo Klua is well worth a visit.

    The town of บ่อเกลือใต้ – Bo Klua Tai  (ใต้,  tai, meaning south) is some 90 km from Nan, about a two-hour drive up twisty, windy mountain roads, to an elevation of around 1,100 meters. (Here’s the Google map of the route from Nan to Bo Klua Tai –- opens in new window.) Along the way we stopped to enjoy numerous mountain views.

    View #1

    View on the way to Bo Klua

    View #2

    View on the way to Bo Klua

    (Click images to see larger version.)

    Doi Phu Kha National Park

    Doi Phu Kha National Park – อุทยานแห่งชาติดอยภูคา – in the Luan Prabang Range in Nan province, is the largest National park in Northern Thailand. It is directly adjacent to the district of Bo Klua and a good place to visit on the way. Its most noticeable feature is Doi Phu Kha – Phu Kha Mountain – which is 1,980 meters high. There are numerous trails for hiking; accommodations (cabins) and camping are available.

    Park Sign

    Michael & Sun at the park

    Park View #1

    One of the views at the park

    Above left are Michael (that’s me) and our driver, Sun, standing in front of a park sign on the way into Doi Phu Kha National Park, with Phu Kha mountain the background. The park is full of beautiful views, such as the one above right.

    "Cherry" Blossoms

    Flower blossoms at the park

    Park View #2

    Another beautiful view

    The National Park is home to Chumpoo Phu Kha (Thai: ชมพูภูคา – Bretschneidera sinensis), a tree with attractive pink flower bunches. Although they were not in bloom when we visited in January (they bloom later, in the spring), there were other trees with beautiful pink blossoms. The trees we saw (see above left) are often mis-called “sakura,” after the Japanese cherry tree; they are actually a completely different tree (not a cherry) indigenous to Thailand.

    I’ve put in another of the stunning views at the park above right.

    For further exploration:

    The Rock Salt Pits

    The name of the district – บ่อเกลือ (Bo Klua) – “salt ponds” – tells you about the main attraction here. For centuries salt has been extracted from these ponds and the salt has provided prosperity and power for the region. People still come here to see how the salt is extracted and to purchase it for their own use.

    Salt Pit #2

    Getting salt water from a well

    Salt Pit #2

    Another way to draw salt water

    Salt is still manufactured much as it has been for centuries here. The first step is to extract the salt water from the wells. On the left it is being extracted in the traditional fashion: by lowering a bucket down into the well, hauling it up and putting it in a clay pot. The second operation we saw (picture on the right) used more modern methods: pumps were used to draw up the water rather than relying on manual labor.

    Salt Oven #2

    The two ovens

    Salt Oven #1

    Boiling away the water

    The next step in the extraction process is to boil the salt water until much of the water has evaporated. The resulting salt is then put in baskets and suspended over the ovens to further dry it out.

    Then the salt is packaged and sold. These days, iodine is often added to the salt to prevent goiter due to iodine deficiency. We saw it for sale in both forms: iodized and non-iodized.

    The following blog has some good information on how the salt is produced:

    Town Walk

    Strawberry Patch

    Pick your own strawberries!

    Temple Sign

    Sign for Wat Bo Luang

    The best way to see everything is to walk through the town, from the one salt operation to the other. On our walk, we passed a temple with a sign also in Northern script (above right) and continued to the edge of the buildings to a field where you could pick your own strawberries; you could also buy strawberry plants. On our way back, we stopped in at the temple.

    Wat Bo Luang – วัดป่อหลวง

    Temple

    A temple building

    Temple View

    Temple view

    The temple is a good example of a local northern Temple. There were two simple buildings open with different Buddha statues. As with many northern temples, there were murals on the walls, both behind the main altar and along the sides leading to the altar. When we were there towards the end of our day this January, the sky and clouds provided a lovely backdrop for one of the buildings and the naga protecting it.

    Buddha #1

    Buddha & Murals

    Mural Close-up

    Mural close-up

    Here is the main Buddha statue and a close up of the wonderful mural behind it. (Click on the pictures for a larger image.)

    Mural #1

    Buddha’s moment of enlightenment

    Mural #2

    Buddha’s “Parinirvana”

    These two images are murals that were found on the side walls of the same building. The mural to the left depicts the Buddha at his moment of Enlightenment. Mara (represented by the green demon and the black elephant to the left) is mocking Buddha and asking how can he say he is enlightened. Mara asks: “Who will vouch that you are enlightened?” Then the Earth Mother Goddess (in the center) arises and says: “I will vouch for his enlightenment.” She then wrings out her hair and the resulting flood washes Mara away.

    Above right is a representation of the Parinirvana of Buddha, where he gives his final sermon, lying on his right side, prior to leaving his body for nirvana.

    Buddha #2

    Another Buddha statue at the temple

    Mural Close-up #2

    Another mural close-up

    One of the other buildings was also quite interesting: it had two Buddha statues under a mural with yet another Buddha image. The mural behind these statues had two fantastical creatures, one of which is shown as a close-up on the right.

    (Click images to see a larger image.)

    A Bo Klua Breakfast

    When we stayed in Bo Klua this last January, we went looking for a quick and easy breakfast place. We found a place typical of so many restaurants in Thailand, with very basic decor and basic food that was delicious.

    This roadside place had a menu that was in Thai and English, indicating that Bo Klua gets a fair number of foreign tourists. The menu was called เมนูอาหาร – menu ahaan (ahaan means “food”) – and the English on the menu says “Fast Foods Menu.”

    Restaurant

    Roadside restaurant

    Thai Omelette

    Thai Omelette over Rice

    You can see that there’s nothing fancy about it: a roadside restaurant that opens onto the street. Our driver ordered an omelet – ไข่เจียว (Khai Jiow) – over rice. The menu had a “Minced pork omelet” – ไข่เจียวหมูสับ (Khai Jiow Moo Sap)  – but our driver doesn’t eat pork so he ordered it without pork instead.

    Noodle Dish

    Rice Noodle Dish

    Pork Dish

    Stir-fried Pork dish

    Kasma ordered a noodle dish (above left), which the menu called “Wide rice noodles with vegetables and meat” – ก๋วยเตี๋ยวแห้ง (Kway Tiow Haeng). The dish on the right, which I ordered, is called “Rice topped with stir-fried pork and Sacred basil + Fried egg” – ผัดกะเพรา + ไข่ดาว  (Pad Kaprao + Khai Dao). A dish made pad kaprao (stir-fried with holy basil) – prepared with any kind of meat or seafood you can imagine – is one of Thailand’s favorite dishes. (See my blog on Basil Pork – Moo Pad Kaprao.) Here the dish came with a typical Thai-style fried egg – ไข่ดาว (Khai Dao) – literally a “star egg” – with its crisp-fried edges.

    Where to Stay or Eat Lunch or Dinner

    My previous blog was on Pongza Restaurant and the Boklua View (Resort).

    Further Exploration

    • Thai Wikipedia Entry on อำเภอบ่อเกลือ (Amphoe Bo Klua) – Bo Klua District (offsite, opens in new window).
    • Good map of the area – scroll down to the bottom on this page – opens in new window

    Written by Michael Babcock, June 2014

    Pongza Restaurant in Bo Klua

    Michael Babcock, Thursday, May 15th, 2014

    Pongza Restaurant – ร้านอาหารปองซา (Raan Ahaan Pongza) – is found in the town of Bo Klua Tai – บ่อเกลือใต้ – in eastern Nan province in Northern Thailand, about 85 kilometers from Nan city. Here are my impressions from eating at this popular restaurant in a beautiful setting in January 2014. I’ll also talk briefly about the Bo Klua View (Resort) where the restaurant is located. My next blog will be on Bo Klua itself

    Pongza Restaurant is located at the Boklua View (see below) in the foothills of Doi Phu Kha, nearly 700 meters above sea level. Both restaurant and resort are owned by Toun Upajak, an English speaking Thai who is a trained chef. The restaurant serves a combination of Western and Thai dishes, including local (jungle) specialties. They make their own bread and desserts (western-style) and use produce from their own organic gardens whenever possible. Although the menu is not extensive because of the difficulty in getting ingredients at their remote location, there are still plenty of interesting dishes to choose from.

    I’ll start with a couple of the dishes for, after all, the main reason to go to any restaurant is the food.

    Fried Chicken

    Fried Chicken with Mak Wan

    If the restaurant has a “signature dish” it is ไก่ทอดมะแข่วน – Kai Tod Mak Wan – Fried Chicken with Ma-kwaen Herb. มะแข่วน (ma-kwaen or ma kwan) is usually identified as Zanthoxylum Limonella Alston and it is apparently fairly common in Northern Thailand (including Mae Hong Son & Chiang Mai). The genus Zanthoxylum (in English commonly known as prickly ash) includes the more commonly known Sichuan (or Szechuan) pepper. It has an exotic flavor and, like Sichuan peppers, a somewhat numbing effect on the mouth. It adds a very interesting, almost floral, taste to the chicken. It is used medicinally in Thailand to treat toothache, gum disease, nausea, dizziness and certain menstrual problems. Its oil can also be used as a mosquito repellant and has been investigated with some promising results as a possible bactericide for multi-drug resistent bacteria.

    If you want more information about this interesting spice, do an Internet search using the Thai name (copy & paste) – มะแขว่น. Nearly all of the articles will be in Thai so you’ll most likely need to translate the page. There’s a company in Canada – spicetrekkers.com – that sells it under the name of Mah Kwan Wild Pepper (offsite, opens in new window).

    (Click images to see larger version.)

    Fern Salad

    Fern Salad

    Fried Fern Salad

    Fried Fern Salad

    The restaurant has a number of dishes with a type of fern growing in the local jungles, called ผักกูด – pak kood. The dish on the left above is Yum Pak Kood Ruam – ยำผักกูดร่วม – a “yum” salad with the fern, ground pork and squid. We had this on our visit this January (2014).

    Above right is a Fried Fern Salad – Yum Pak Kood Tod – ยำผักกูดทอด – Kasma had this dish on a visit during December 2012. This particular dish wasn’t on the menu when we visited in 2014.

    Green Curry

    Green Curry with Crispy Catfish

    Limeade

    Two blended fruit drinks

    On our visit we ordered one other dish, the Green Curry with Crispy Catfish – เขียวหวานปลาดุกกรอบ (Kiow Wan Pla Dook Krob) – shown to the left. It had a lovely presentation, as you can see; however I found the curry itself a bit disappointing. It was ok, just not terrific (which somehow I come to expect in Thailand).

    Incidentally, the food here is served with a lovely purple rice (that’s what it’s called, in English, on the menu); it’s a whole grain rice with a couple different varieties cooked together.

    The restaurant can be excellent when it comes to presentation, as you saw with the green curry and can see with the two glasses of blended fruit drinks above right, taken by Kasma in December 2012. (When we visited in 2014 the drinks were a bit plainer, probably because the restaurant was absolutely packed.)

    Caramel Cream

    Caramel Cream

    Banana Banoffee

    Banana Banoffee

    If you are so inclined, Pongza does have some very tasty desserts. Above left is what the menu calls “Caramel Cream” – it looks very much like a delicious Crème Brûlée.

    The dessert on the right is called “Banana Banoffee” and looks mildly decadent. Kasma (who took these pictures on the December 2012 trip) said that they were quite tasty.

    View #1

    A view from the restaurant

    View #2

    Table with a view

    The restaurant is in a lovely physical setting; it is quite pleasant to have a meal next to the mountain views from the dining room. You see a couple of examples above: some of the tables are right at the edge of the deck, giving a memorable dining experience.

    If you’re ever in Bo Klua, I recommend eating at Pongza Restaurant. The food is very good  – some dishes excellent, others good –  the presentation is lovely and the views are quite nice indeed. Give it a try.

    Check out:

    Boklua View (Resort) – บ่อเกลือ วิว

    I can’t end the blog without at least mentioning the Boklua View (Resort) where Pongza restaurant is located.

    Boklua View

    Front of Boklua View (Resort)

    Resort View

    View from a room

    It’s a wonderful, peaceful place to stay. Many of the rooms overlook beautiful views, such as the one above right.

    Bedroom

    Bedroom at Boklua View

    Wash basin

    Wash basin

    The resort is very nicely appointed, as you can see from this shot of the bedroom above right. There are numerous beautiful and tastefully done details, such as the wash basin above right, and the flowers floating in water (further down the page)  It’s a great place to stay while in Bo Klua.

    Update, January 2020: When we stayed here in early 2020 there had been a number of rooms added to the resort. It’s still very pleasant but feels a bit more crowded and less intimate than before.


    Boklua View (Resort) (offsite, opens in new window)
    209 Moo 1 Baan Bo Loung
    Bua Kluea Tai
    Bo Kluea 55220, Thailand
    Phone: 081 809 6392 or 054 778 140
    Email: admin@bokluaview.com


    Also see:

    Floating Flowers

    Flowers floating in water – another nice touch at Bo Klua View (Resort)


    Written by Michael Babcock, May 2014 & June 2020

    Mae Salong – Tea & Beautiful Views

    Michael Babcock, Thursday, May 1st, 2014

    Mae Salong – แม่สลอง – (or Doi Mae Salong – ดอยแม่สลอง – doi meaning “mountain”) is an area in northern Thailand in Chiang Rai province where one of the main activities is growing tea, primarily high mountain oolong tea. The village there is called Santikhiri – สันติคีรี.

    Mae Salong reminded me of the village Baan Rak Thai in Mae Hong Son province, mentioned in Thailand Trip – Favorite Moments, Part 2 (scroll down in that blog). Both places are found up in the hills and are home to ex-Kuomintang soldiers, many from Yunnan province in China, who eventually began cultivating tea. The soldiers in Mae Salong were from the Kuomintang’s 93rd division and they continued fighting the Chinese through the 1950s, growing opium to fund their continuing military operations. They were granted asylum in Thailand in 1961 and, later, Thailand enlisted them to fight a communist insurgency in Thailand until 1982 when they laid down their arms and were granted Thai citizenship. There’s a fascinating article on China’s Forgotten Army (offsite, opens in new window).

    View

    View driving to Mae Salong

    The drive to Mae Salong, found about 80 kilometers from Chiang Rai, wends its way up to Santikhiri, which is at an elevation of around 1,300 meters. It is quite close to the Burmese border. When we went in January, the climate was decidedly cool. Along the way we stopped several times to admire views, such as this one to the left. In addition to the ethnic Chinese living there, you also find Akha, Yao, Karen and Hmong hill tribes, many of who originally came from southern China or Myanmar.

    In addition to the tea, Mae Salong is a popular destination for trekkers.

    Tea on a Hill

    Tea plants on a hill

    Tea Plants

    Close up of some tea plants

    (Click images to see larger version.)

    As you approach the town, everywhere you look there are rows and rows of tea plants hugging the contours of the hills. In the background, you see the hills and mountains: it’s truly a lovely area.

    Tea & Blossoms

    Tea plants with “sakura” blossoms

    Blossoms

    Close-up of “sakura” blossoms

    When we were there in mid-January this year (2014), we were lucky enough to see some trees with pink blossoms in bloom – they gave a lovely backdrop and accent to the rolling hills with the tea plants. These trees are often called sakura trees, the Japanese cherry tree. Although reminiscent of sakura trees, they are actually a tree native to Thailand and not a cherry tree at all; this variety is taller than the sakura trees and the blossoms are smaller. It is advertised as such because of the fame of cherry blossom time in Japan and is therefore more familiar to people.


    Pu-erh Tea

    Mae Salong Villa

    Mae Salong Villa

    Tea Info

    Pu-erh Tea Package

    A real treat for me was finding a high quality pu-erh tea. Pu-erh (or pu-‘er or pu’ erh) tea is a type of tea, the most famous variety coming from Yunnan province. Pu-erh teas are first oxidized in the sun, then fermented and then rolled and pressed into differing forms. Because it is compressed and takes up less space, it is much easier (than loose tea) to transport over land. Because of the unique processing, pu-erh teas get better with age, unlike un-fermented teas. There are a wide variety of forms and tastes. (Check out the Wikipedia Entry on Pu-erh Tea – offsite, opens in new window.)

    Tea Package

    Pu-erh tea package

    Pu-erh Tea

    Thai Pu-erh Green tea

    We tasted the pu-erh tea at the Mae Salong Villa, where the Choke Chamroen Tea Company provides tastings. It is a high quality pu-erh green tea, aged 8 years. We went through roughly 10 different infusions of the leaves during the tasting; it was marvelous to note how the flavor changed throughout the process. The tea left a lovely aftertaste that spread throughout the entire mouth.

    I bought disk in lovely packaging to bring home. The cost was 2,000 baht (about $63, at the time) for 357 grams, about 12-1/2 ounces. It may seem expensive but when you realize how many infusions you get out of each set of leaves, the cost isn’t that outrageous. I will enjoy it here in the states for many weeks to come. When we visited again 2 years later, the same pu-erh tea was now 10 years old and cost 3,000 baht.


    Tea Tastings

    Tea Tasting

    Tea tasting

    Hills and Sign

    101 Tea Plantation sign

    In the area there are numerous places where you can taste the local teas. There will be a set-up such as the one above left where different teas will be prepared for you to taste. We found an oolong tea that we liked very much at 101 Tea Plantation. We saw the sign above right on the road, right in front of rows of tea overshadowed by the blossoming “sakura” trees.

    Oolong Tea

    Oolong tea leaves

    Blossoms

    Blossoms for the tea

    At the tasting counter the tea leaves were displayed in cups so that you could see what they looked like before brewing. At this place they also add blossoms to some of their teas for added flavor, such as the ones above right. I don’t know what the name of this blossom is.

    Tasting Cups

    Cups used for the tasting

    Tea Packages

    The oolong tea we bought

    To the left you see the set-up used to taste tea: there’s a whole ritual to it. Tea is steeped and poured into the tall cup. Then the smaller cup is placed on top, you flip the cups over and pour the tea into the small cup. You then smell the aroma of the tea from the tall (now empty) cup and taste from the small cup. We liked a particular oolong tea with blossoms very much  and bought a couple bags (packages on the right) to take home for gifts.


    Yunnan Food

    View

    View from Mae Salong Nilla

    Steamed Fish

    Fish dish

    If you go to Mae Salong, be sure to stop and have some Yunnan Chinese food. We had dinner at the Mae Salong Villa, which is where we purchased the pu-erh tea. Above left is one of the views from the front of the Villa.

    Above right is a fish dish we had, smothered in a lovely sauce, that included mushrooms. It was quite tasty.

    Pork Leg

    Pork leg with buns

    Mushrooms

    Mushroom dish

    We also ordered Stewed Pork Leg with buns, Yunnan-style, a truly delicious dish. And since the area grows mushrooms, we ordered a stir-fried mushroom dish that was very good.


    Morning Market

    Akha Vendor

    Akha vendor

    Main Street

    Market street with lanterns

    There is an interesting morning market at Santikhiri. It is definitely a local market and most of the vendors are from ethnic hill tribes, mostly Ahka. This is not a tourist market – it’s meant for locals. It’s best to go early; it starts at 6:00 a.m. or even earlier. By 8:30 a.m. or so many of the vendors have already packed up and left.

    The area does get a lot of tourists and the Akha vendors are savvy to this: they do not want their picture taken unless you buy something from them or pay them for the privilege.


    Written by Michael Babcock, May 2014 & May 2016