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Ban Rai Yam Yen Entrance, with cat. :)
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Monday, 14-Jun-2004 00:00
Northern Thai 'Mueang' Food - Ban Rai Yam Yen
Surprisingly enough, a good variety in 'traditional Chiang Mai food' is not all that easy to find in most of Chiang Mai's restaurants. Sure it's sold at pretty much all the markets all over town for 10 baht per serving in a plastic bag, but once you get to a proper restaurant you often don't find so many Northern dishes on the menu. Some restaurants offer a few of the ubiquitous ones, like a predictable 'Hors d'Oeuvre Muang' set or Hang Lay curry; this mostly for visitors from Bangkok and other parts of the country who want to taste the local food. Yet the truly hard core 'Mueang' dishes you mostly don't find. (http://chanchao.fotopages.com/?entry=105079(Kafe restaurant) deserves an honourable mention here because it manages to have both some Western as well as Thai and Northern regional things on the menu, and does a nice job at all of them.) But also Kafe doesn't have the huge variety of Mueang food that Ban Rai Yam Yen has.

Note that 'Mueang' means 'pertaining to Thailand's Northern Region'. It's more of an ethnic/cultural designation than a purely geographical one; people from the Northern provinces, roughly the area covered by the old Lanna Kingdom, will refer to themselves as 'Khon Mueang', Mueang People. This depending on context of course, it's not that they won't call themselves 'Thai' in a group of mixed nationalities because they will, but if you step up to any villager somewhere in the sticks of Chiang Rai or Mae Hong Son and ask 'Are you Thai'? then chances are he will reply "No, I'm Khon Mueang". (As opposed to any of the hill tribes in the area, Shan people, central Thais and so on). Along the same lines, when you talk about Northern Thai food, then people in the North will call their local fare 'Ahaan Mueang', Mueang Food.

Ban Rai Yam Yen restaurant is pretty far out of the city center, in the San Phee Suea area, East of the Ping river just North of the Superhighway ring road. It has featured on mainstream Thai TV shows on food and the major magazines, making it a rather famous place. It's the perfect place to take visiting Thai friends wanting to taste the local food, and of course won't disappoint any significant other who hails from the North of Thailand.. (That's assuming he/she can get over paying regular big restaurant prices for Northern food, which many people perhaps associate with the market or with Mum's cooking at home.) Ban Rai Yam Yen is not seriously expensive, but definitely moderate and on par with the big riverside restaurants such as The Good View, The Resort and all those. Another option for Northern food that comes to mind and which is equally famous is Huean Soontaree, on Wang Singh Kham road on the West bank of the Ping river.

Ban Rai Yam Yen is moderately priced, many dishes go for 70-80 baht, more for whole-fish dishes of course. They have Pla Buek on the menu as well, the Giant Mekhong Catfish. Also there's quite a lot on the menu that I will just describe as 'adventurous'. :) Great for shocking any visiting Western tourists. The interior of the restaurant is traditional wood, with lots of plants and little fountains around. There's a live music band as well playing both Thai as well as Western country type songs.

To get there you have to take Fa Ham road North past the Superhighway. So if on Fa Ham road then you pass under the Superhighway bridge over the ping river, then continue North for another 100-200 meters or so until you see the sign on the right hand side. The restaurant is 50-100 meters into that soi on the right. Alternatively, when driving on the Superhighway going East towards the Mae Jo intersection, make a U-turn LEFT directly after crossing the Ping river. (This means breaking hard and then U-turning the wrong way into oncoming traffic. This may feel like a highly dangerous move, which it is, but trust me that it's allowed. 8-) )

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