We love laab. We love gai yang (grilled chicken). So when our Chiang Mai food-obsessed friend Wilaiwan told us of a place serving a combo of these two dishes there was no doubt that we'd make our way there as soon as opportunity presented itself.
The lanes limbing south off the stretch of Thanon Suthep east of Nimmanhaemin Road were -- are still, really -- the "main streets" for little villages. Few have street signs. Don't worry -- ust tell your taxi, tuk-tuk, or songthaew driver to drop you off on Suthep Road at roongpayabaan suandook (roong-pah-yah-bahn soo-ahn dawk). Opposite the large patch of green is a gray concrete fence anchored by white painted posts. Enter the peaceful lane,
proceed to the stall sporting a yellow sign with not-very-attractive photographs of various dishes and fronted by a green-framed blackboard menu, and prepare to be amazed.
The kichen is humble (it usually is, in these kind of places), but beautifully lit by a skylight.
Magic happens there.
First, in the form of the dish that lured us beyond our adopted neighborhood of Gat Luang -- is an inspired creation of smoky grilled chicken, roughly minced and mixed with toasted rice, chopped green onions, roasted ground chilies, lime juice and fish sauce. An average Isaan-style laab, basically, but made with grilled bird. Which makes it about ten steps above average.
Perhaps even more intriguing is the restaurant's tom yam gai bak makham, a sour chicken soup floating sliced green onions and sawtooth coriander, grilled red chilies smashed with the side of a cleaver, lemongrass, bone-in chunks of tender chicken, and young tamarind leaves. Sawtooth coriander adds an agressive herbiness that counters the tom yam's ferocious chili heat. And each spoonful packs a double dose of tartness, a sip of limey soup followed by the sourness that leaks from the feathery tamarind leaves as they're chewed.
More reasons to love this place: yam khanaa, a sweet-sour "salad" featuring the stalks and leaves of phak khanaa (aka gailan, or "Chinese broccoli"). We could have gone with a bit less sweet and rather more hot, but the general concept -- one of our favorite vegetables served lightly blanched instead of stir-fried, as it usually is -- is one we can certainly get behind. Especially when it's embellished with sweet fresh shrimp, as this one is.
Thai eateries of this sort don't often offer khong waan (sweets), but both this spot -- and its neighbor, which serves housemade kanom jeen (more on that later) -- offer law chawn, short squat pandan-flavored noodles similar to Malaysia's cendol, but made with rice instead of mung bean flour.
It's a self-serve set-up: bowls of law chawn, taro chunks, and fresh daeng tai (a local cantaloupe) are arranged on a table in front of a vat of palm sugar-sweetened "broth" and a dish of coconut cream. Choose your "soup" ingredients, add broth and a drizzle of coconut cream, and top with ice.
Immensely refreshing, even in this abnormally cool hot season.
Tom yam gai bai makham (the tamarind leaves are a seasonal item but tom yam gai is always on the menu), laab gai yang, and more. Lane off of Thanon Suthep opposite roongpayabaan suan dook. Look for the yellow sign with photographs of dishes -- it will be on your right. Daytime -- opens around 930am, stays open till at least 6 or so.