There couldn’t be a Thai Food Heroes series which didn’t mention the fabulous Puong Thong restaurant in Chiang Mai. I’ve known Mali and Anchalee Ti Aree for nearly ten years now and, quite simply, Mali is one of the finest cooks I’ve ever met. With her at the stoves and Anchalee sous-ing and serving, they send out dish after dish of perfectly conceived and executed Central Thai food from what is essentially a home kitchen.
It’s hard to single out specific dishes from their very large menu, because I could go on and on about the various favourites they’ve served up over the years. But here’s a list of some of the highlights in no particular order:
— Si Grok Moo — meltingly tender pork rib which has been slowly cooked with fragrant Chinese-style spices, pictured above;
— Yum Kratiem — a delicious warm salad of tiny Thai garlic, squid, prawns, cashews and dried chillies — I’ve had this on practically every visit;
— Poo Op Woon Sen — crab cooked in a stoneware pot with glass noodles;
— Choo Chee Goong — thick, rich curried prawns — think of a thicker than average red curry with serious tiger prawns, made by angels!
— Pla Neung Manow — snake-head fish steamed until flakingly tender, served bathed in a lime, chilli and coriander sauce;
— Kai Yeow Maa Pad Krapow — thousand-year-old eggs stir-fried with chillies and holy basil, and covered in deep-fried basil leaves — quite simply, the best I’ve ever had;
— Moo Dat Deao — air-dried then deep-fried pork strips, the perfect snack with a cold beer, and just right to start a meal;
— Nam Prik Kapi — Mali and I often joke about the correct way to make this pungent shrimp paste dip since there are so many regional variations. Suffice to say, Mali’s is delicious. It’s one of my benchmark dishes, so if you’ve never had it before there’s no better place to try it for the first time than here. And if you have, this is just about as good as it gets.
This is quite simply one of my favourite restaurants in the world, and I don’t say that lightly. Sat at one of the wooden tables by the Ping River with a fan trained on me and some of Mali’s food laid before me, I couldn’t be happier. Consider Puong Thong the holder of my highest esteem.
You’ll find the restaurant just beyond the Ratilanna Spa on Charoen Prathet road. And you can find a good selection of Mali’s recipes in Anchalee’s book La Cuisine de ma Mère: Thaïlande, which is available in French. And here’s Mali in action making yum kratiem.