5 Farm-to-Table Restaurants in Chiang Mai
July 11, 2013
Northern Thailand takes advantage of its wealth of produce with a string of new farm-to-table dining locales. Story and photographs by Marisa Marchitelli
Published on Jul 11, 2013
Sprouting in Thailand’s verdant north: a new crop of farm-to-table restaurants in Chiang Mai, long the agricultural hub of the country. The locavore movement, though still in its infancy, is on the brink of a boom. “We need to support these kinds of businesses so green farms have a future,” says sustainable development consultant Jeff Rutherford of Fair Earth Farm, an independently run natural farm in Chiang Mai. With more restaurants plucking produce from their own gardens, and a growing interest from green-eating gastronomes, Chiang Mai’s culinary future is looking fruitful.
Anchan Vegetarian Restaurant
The newest addition to Chiang Mai’s vibrant vegetarian scene, Anchan showcases local produce in classic Thai recipes. The daily offerings chef Naphat Na Talang chalks onto the walls at Anchan reflect the cuisine of his southern Thai childhood. “I learned to cook in my grandmother’s kitchen,” he says, “and now my mom helps me with the restaurant.” In fact, she grinds all the fresh curry pastes by hand. Don’t miss the yum hua plee, Na Talang’s take on a Thai classic—deep-fried banana blossoms tossed with cilantro, onions, chilies, tomatoes and radicchio. He grows several of these ingredients in his garden, along with organic bananas, tropical fruits and his restaurant’s eponymous anchan, the striking blue butterfly pea flower. Look for this blossom, known for its ayurvedic healing properties, sprinkled throughout the menu. Nimmanhaemin Rd. Soi 4; +66 83 581 1689.
Pun Pun Vegetarian Restaurant
A nearly overwhelming variety of vegetables greets you at the newly opened third branch of the popular farm-to-table pioneer Pun Pun Center for Self Reliance. An organic farm and sustainable-living and -learning center supplies produce to this modest open-air eatery in the heart of town. The center also promotes seed saving, propagating local seeds to help indigenous vegetables thrive. The menu is mostly Thai with salads and pastas tossed in the mix. The yen ta fo is an absolute must-try for all soup noodle aficionados—thick rice noodles in a dark mushroom broth, topped with two-tone homemade tofu, morchella and enoki mushrooms, and purple seaweed, and finished with a fiery burst of beet sauce. Their signature dok mai salad is a veritable bouquet: chopped seasonal greens tossed with pomelo chunks, kidney beans, white pomegranate seeds and a deep-fried assortment of colorful flower petals. 6/1 Suthep Rd., Amphur Muang; +66 81 470 1461; punpunthailand.org.
History and healthy eating meet at Palette, the exquisitely restored teakwood home from the 1800’s that originally belonged to the son of Anna (Anna and the King) Leonowens, who managed the local office of the East Borneo Company. Chef Tammasak Chootong’s offerings are likewise an educated blending of East and West, incorporating fresh herbs from his organic garden, which sits in a charming courtard next door. Many of the proteins are still imported—the farm-to-table trend in Chiang Mai will not satisfy those hungry for steak or lobster—but when it comes to fruits and vegetables, Chootong keeps it all local. 2 Soi 1 Nawatgate Rd.; +66 53 247 788; 137pillarshouse.com.
Expect (almost) all things diminutive at Café Mini, a cozy new bistro in the trendy Nimmahaemin area. Think tapas-style appetizers, salads and soups with an emphasis on Mediterranean cuisine with a splash of Mexican. “Our entrees also used to be mini,” says Chef Moss Veerawat—but he increased the portion size to sate the patrons who just can’t get enough. Chef Veerawat created the menu based on his favorite dishes from the impressive list of kitchens, including those at three Four Seasons, where he previously worked. Using high-quality local produce is paramount, Veerawat says, and as evidence points to his grilled vegetable salad with zucchini, Japanese eggplants, bell peppers and carrots, all sourced from The Royal Project, a foundation set up by the Royal Family that supports the development of small farms. Management of Café Mini has plans to create their own hydroponic salad garden this year, and there’s talk of adding a cooking school. For now, try the honey toast: a toasted mini-brioche bun, stuffed with caramelized native corn, a dollop of vanilla-bean ice cream and drizzled with red cherry-honey sauce. 12/2 Nimmanhaemin Rd. Soi 9; +66 53 212 468.
Sitting atop the farming-fever food chain? The Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi, which in mid-2011 began cultivating 3,000 square meters of vacant land on the hotel grounds with the goal of supplying produce to the hotel’s five outlets as well as the staff cafeteria and a local orphanage. René Bennett, the property’s assistant food and beverage manager, says the hotel’s earthworm composting project is now fully functional and the medicinal section of the garden cultivates local herbs for use in the hotel’s spa and wellness center. Students from the hotel’s culinary academy, also onsite, are encouraged to explore the garden and pick ingredients to use in their cooking classes. 51/4 Sankampaeng Rd., Moo 1, Tasala, Amphoe Muang; +66 53 888 888; mandarinoriental. com/chiangmai.