We're in Chiang Mai. And this is what we had for our second lunch on Monday.
According to our local guide Fern it's the city's best grilled pig (an opinion seconded by our fellow eater, a pretty fervent pork fan herself).
Our porky feast was cooked up by a mother-daughter team (spitting images of each other, don't you think?) on the stretch of Muang Samut Road just south of Dalat Kamthieng, the city's large plant and flower market. They're there Sunday through Saturday (mom occasionally takes a day off -- "When I feel tired") from 10am to 6pm, except for when they sell out by 3pm, which according to our friend Fern is pretty often.
If you look closely you'll see that mom has her nostrils plugged with wads of tissue paper. For good reason -- she's continuously wreathed in a swirl of roasting porcine fog. A lovely thing to immerse yourself in for about a minute, after which it starts to sting the eyes and the back of the throat. Thus the wads of tissue paper.
As customers we could dip in and dip out of the fog, visiting mom and her smoking grill to order a bit of this and a bit of that. We started with some plain old sliced pork -- not sure which part of the animal -- that was sublime in its simplicity.
Much of the grilled pork you might get on the street here has been marinated in fish sauce and sugar. Don't get me wrong -- it's a great and tasty thing when that sugar caramelizes on the meat and does a sweet little duel in your mouth with the fish sauce's saltiness. But sometimes you just want to taste the meat, unadulterated. That's just what mom's grilled pork delivers.
The meat is fatty and the skin impeccably crisped. Before slicing up our serving she tapped a piece with her tongs - tock, tock, tock -- to demonstrate how crispy the skin was.
She's precise with her cleaver. There's no hacking going on here -- she slices it up just so. I suspect she'd tell you that the way you slice the meat affects the way your tongue receives, and tastes, it. (If she wouldn't tell you that, I would.)
Our pork was served with a classic dried chili-tamarind-sugar dip. I can't think of a better way to cut through, and at the same time complement, a tender and unctuously fatty piece of meat than with tartness and a pinch of heat.
Our virgin foray into the land of mom's grilled pork past, we moved onto muu nam tok ('waterfall' pork -- so named, I was once told by my Thai teacher, for the way the meat's fat falls like water onto the coals below as it cooks). Perfectly executed, it featured more of that stunning grilled pig, plentiful mint and cilantro leaves, finely sliced red onion, dried chili, and lots of roasted rice powder. After we'd finished the meat the roasted rice was a delicious, saucy sludge in the bottom of the plate -- ready to be scooped up with bits of sticky rice.
We thought we were done. It was our second lunch, after all.
But Fern ordered up some khaw muu yang or grilled pork neck (a cut from the animal that is seriously underrated in the US; once a celebrity chef figures out how great it is I predict Pork Neck Everything will sweep the country the way Beef Cheek Everything did years ago) -- more wonderfully crispy, with its intact skin, than even our first slices of pork -- and somtam (green papaya salad).
Mom farang-ized the latter a bit (we couldn't find a single chili) but it was a minor misstep when taken in consideration with the overall greatness of the meal.
She'll have the opportunity to make it up when we return. We're dying to try the grilled pig intestines (opening photo). And the catfish looks pretty darned good too.
Grilled pork stall, Muang Samut Road just south of the plant market (Dalat Kamthien). It will be on the left side of the street as you approach the plant market. Look for a smokin' stall and a couple of tables under a tree.