There are many reasons to visit Sukhothai, the site of Thailand’s ancient capital. The ruined city is a marvel, as is its lesser visited companion Si Satchanalai, a short drive to the north. And whether you see the ruins on foot or from the back of an elephant (which I heartily recommend), you’re sure to work up a hunger. In which case, you simply have to visit the astounding Laan Chula on Thanon Jarodvithi Thong (Highway 12, heading out of town towards the Historical Park).
Chefs Khun Tee and Khun Bangkom specialise in the classic cooking of the central plains, including dishes such as nam prik makarm made from the plentiful local tamarinds, local venison, and pad krapow gop, with tender fresh frogs’ legs and tons of garlic and holy basil. You’ll also find pla tubtim nung manao or ruby fish steamed with lemon, garlic and chilli, a very spicy pad normai or stir-fried baby bamboo with look chin pla — tiny fish balls, and a profoundly good gaeng ped hoi kom or bitter snail curry, with acacia leaf, betel leaf, coconut and bamboo shoots.
It’s a massive menu and, on four visits, I’ve hardly scratched the surface. But, as with so many great places to eat, the food is only a part of the story. Khun Tee and Khun Bangkom are local celebrities. They’ve appeared on Thai cookery shows for years, but are still not so well known to foreigners. And with their contrasting personalities — the tall, laconic Khun Tee makes the perfect foil for Khun Bangkom’s bundle-of-fun enthusiasm — I look forward to my visits as much for the laughs I’ll share with them as I do for their first rate food.
Grab a beer, settle yourself down against a backdrop of Thai soap operas, and ask them simply to bring you three or four dishes, depending, of course, on how many of you there are. Frankly, I’m salivating at the thought!