48 foodie hours in Chiang Mai

The sun was rising over the dark green, hazy mountains as our plane approached Chiang Mai International Airport. Our moment of zen came to an abrupt end as Murtie and I entered arrivals and were ambushed by a noisy rabble of taxi reps. Our hotel was only 15 minutes away and as the heat rash began to flare on my ankles we picked the least obtrusive taxi driver who led us to his car, which had turf on the floor. Obviously.

We arrived early at the Thai Akara Lanna Boutique Hotel so we left our bags at reception and explored the winding streets of the old town. A couple of people were queuing outside the spot we had chosen for lunch, Tikky Cafeand we were given a paper number 3 marking our place.  The area at the front of the restaurant was brimming with tropical fruit and we stood watching a young Thai woman effortlessly lopping the tops off fresh coconuts with a cleaver.

Five minutes later we were seated at a low table with big comfy chairs and a colourful patterned table cloth. I ordered a coconut-pineapple shake, and Murtie ordered a mango-passionfruit-coconut shake, which the lady set to work making immediately. They tasted as good as they looked.

I could have eaten the whole menu, but I’m a sucker for anything deep fried so I chose prawn tempura and vegetable fried rice. Murtie had stir fried chicken with chilli and Thai basil. We could hear the sizzles from the kitchen behind us as we took in our surroundings; a family with two young children giggling and sharing plates of food, a young woman on the table next to us, dining alone, impressively scoffing down two giant plates of noodles and a fruit shake. Our food arrived in generous portions too and my tempura prawns dunked in sweet chilli sauce were heaven. Murtie’s teddy bear-shaped rice was cute if random.

Arriving at Tikky Cafe at 11.45am had unwittingly been a good move as the queue had tripled in size by the time we left. We saw some of the sights of Chiang Mai on the way back to our hotel, my favourite was Wat Phra Singh, where the meditating monks were so still they looked like statues.

We hopped in a tuk tuk having lost our sense of direction and finally checked-in to our hotel where we were kindly presented with a slice of banana bread as a honeymoon gift.

After scoffing the banana bread we took a taxi to the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar, which we’d been told not to miss. 6pm was much too early to arrive and the stall holders were just starting to fire up their grills and hot plates. We killed some time perusing the market stalls nearby for half an hour and I impulsively bought a 7/11 t-shirt to wear as a pyjama top. The food market was beginning to get busy when we returned and it was hard to decide what to eat with so much on offer – grilled fish, stir fries, spring rolls, kebabs, pasta, burgers, crepes and more. We shared the following:

Fresh noodle spring rolls

Chicken gyoza

Nutella Roti

The tables around us filled with people as we ate and a guitarist started playing Bryan Adams songs on stage as flashing lights came on. We did one more loop of the food market but our stomach’s were too full.

24 hours in

The next morning we dropped into a coffee shop by our hotel called Coffee Telling and Murtie sampled the local coffee beans. I don’t like coffee but he said it was delicious, so I’ll take his word for it. I pored over a display of marathon medals hanging opposite the main counter that turned out to be the owner’s. I was reminded of the joke ‘how can you tell if there’s a marathon runner in the room? They’ll tell you‘ as he and I (London, 2016, never again!) bonded over our marathon experiences – his a lot more interesting than mine with marathon medals from Thailand and Japan.

We were picked up an hour later for our excursion to Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, one of the ethical companies in Chiang Mai who focus on animal welfare and conservation, and don’t allow tourists to ride the elephants. Our day was spent rolling around a mud bath with these beautiful creatures and I will remember it forever (despite the ‘authentic’ tunics they made us wear, see below).

It took two showers to finally wash all the mud out my hair and even then I’d missed in-between my toes. We rounded off our day walking to Kat’s Kitchen for dinner and despite almost all the tables being full, people were chatting quietly and the atmosphere was easy-going and relaxed. I wanted to try the local dish in Chiang Mai – Khao Soi egg noodle, but couldn’t resist having another Pad Thai so I ordered both. The Khao Soi had crispy, crunchy noodles on top of a thick fragrant curry sauce with chicken and even more noodles underneath. It was carb heaven.

Khao soi egg noodle with chicken

Pad Thai with chicken – also absolutely delicious.

We washed our food down with a mango and pineapple shake each, and the whole thing came to less than £7.50.

48 hours in

Our final day in Chiang Mai was spent getting lost outside the old town and eventually ditching our map in favour of a red taxi to see the oldest temple in Chiang Mai, Wat Chiang Man and then Wat Chet Yot

We left the sights in search of food and took another red taxi to the Nimmanahaeminda Road, which was recommended to us for good food and shops. We found a street food market at One Nimman, an established, well-kept shopping area. It was a pleasant surprise that the food market wasn’t too expensive, as the building it was housed in seemed rather swanky.

I tried a steamed fish parcel wrapped in a banana leaf for 30 baht (75p) and it was hotter than the sun. Whatever else was in the fish parcel besides chilli was delicious, but it was so hot it genuinely made me feel light headed.

I’d lost Murtie in the melee of food stalls, so I got myself a plate of fried rice noodle with black soy sauce for 50 baht, just over £1. He reappeared a minute later with a fragrant duck noodle bowl. The photo doesn’t do either of our meals justice as they were both delicious. Mine thankfully reversed the effects of my chilli overdose 10 minutes earlier.

After lunch we continued our sightseeing at Wat Suan Dok and Wat Chedi Luang, where we took part in the ‘Monk Chat’ and learned about their daily life and beliefs.

As the sun was setting we took a Tuk Tuk to Cooking Love, a restaurant Murtie had seen on Tripadvisor, for dinner. I was so grumpy when we got there because we’d walked 16,000 steps that day, my heat rash had spread up to my thighs and we had to wait 10 minutes for a table. I’ve waited for tables in London for an hour so in hindsight 10 minutes really was no big deal at all, and as soon as we sat down where it was cool, I forgot about my heat rash.

Cooking Love was packed, and for good reason. We were greeted with green tea and watermelon as we sat down –

My panang curry with chicken was big on flavour and portion size. I was desperately sad to be defeated by it!

We ended the night with a drink in a bar near our hotel owned by a Brit named Mike, who told us he had been in Chiang Mai for 17 years. I can absolutely see the appeal of Chiang Mai and I’m so glad we included a visit in our 2 week trip to Thailand.

The heat during the day was dry, it cooled down in the evenings, there were minimal bitey bugs, slightly less traffic than Bangkok (but driving still as bonkers), fewer tourists at the sites, and most people going about their business at a slower, more sensible pace. Food-wise, we ate some of the best and cheapest food in Chiang Mai. I would fly back tomorrow for the prawn tempura from Tikky Cafe.

72 foodie hours in Bangkok

People have told me that you either love Bangkok or you hate it. I’m the first camp, but I wouldn’t blame anyone for being in the second. It’s bonkers. During our first hour in Bangkok, Murtie and I unwittingly strolled hand-in-hand down the neon lit street of Soi Cowboy, which I’d seen in a ‘things to do in Bangkok’ guide, and somehow missed the minor detail that it is in fact the red light district. On the plus side, it triggered a topical and excellent discussion on the regulation of sex work as we passed a bar called ‘Spice Girls’, which definitely did not have the vibe of a 90s girl power band.

With rumbling stomachs, we left the bright lights and scantily clad people behind and found a small Japanese restaurant for dinner: Tori Soba Nanase. We both had the special soba, a chicken broth with chicken balls, sliced chicken and egg. Yes, after 12 hours flying to Thailand, our first dinner was … Japanese. Sacrilegious perhaps, but completely delicious and for about £3 it was worth it just to eat food that didn’t jiggle off the tray from turbulence.

24 hours in

The next morning we spent 15 minutes at Sukhumvit MRT station trying to get our heads round the ticket system, finally opting for prepaid travel cards, which we later realised didn’t actually save us any money than if we’d just got single tickets. We took the blue line to Chatuchak Park for the Chatuchak Weekend Market and followed the meandering crowd to an entrance packed tightly with stall holders selling fruits, cold drinks, and things with elephants on. Once inside it dawned on us how massive the market was – we were in zone 27, of 27. We walked 9.5km in 3 hours through the bustling melee of sellers and selfie-taking tourists, stopping regularly to try the tempting street food on offer:

Spring rolls

Coconut ice cream

Chilli squid

Mango sticky rice

Toasted brioche with sweetened milk

At dusk we slumped at a table with our bags of wares (tshirts, baskets and Thai spice mixes) and had a fresh coconut shake and a Singha beer for about £1.50.

We freshened up at our hotel and navigated our way through the backstreets to find our dinner venue: Cabbages and Condoms. When we had asked our friends for their food recommendations in Bangkok, Cabbages and Condoms came up numerous times. It’s the most bizarre restaurant I’ve ever eaten in –

Questionable, but inclusive, tips on safe sex

Condom lights

Food guaranteed not to cause pregnancy…

Murtie and I shared a Massaman curry, vegetable fried rice and Thai fish cakes.

The food was delicious although it was one of the more expensive places we ate at whilst in Thailand (£23.66).  The bill came with a plate of condoms as our after dinner ‘mints’. As we left I read a bit more about the restaurant: it exists to promote family planning and raise funds for the area’s Population and Community Development Association. It’s definitely an innovative way of getting people’s attention and money.

48 hours in

After a morning sightseeing at Wat Saket (The Golden Mount), Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha) and Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn)  we came back across the river to the Tha Tien Ferry entrance where the street was jam-packed with food stalls. Murtie had a stick of shrimp for 40 baht (£1) and I had spring rolls and sweet potato balls for 60 baht (£1.50). Both were served to us in plastic bags, which was handy but guilt-inducing and we’re now trying hard at home to minimise our plastic waste to make up for it.

Grilled shrimp

Sweet potato balls

We walked to the Grand Palace and Murtie had to buy some fetching elephant trousers because his shorts weren’t long enough. It was heaving with tourists and my neck was sunburnt, so we took our photos and hopped in a tuk tuk to Maha Chai Road. We slumped in a bar that I can’t remember the name of and had coconut shakes and beer waiting for our next eatery, Thipsamaito open.

‘Is this Thailand’s best pad Thai?’ asked the BBC earlier this year – we had to check it out. We arrived at 5pm on the dot and joined the queue of people already winding down the street. As we approached the front of the queue we could see their famous pad Thai wrapped in egg being made freshly outside –  it took 10 seconds in the best non-stick wok I have ever seen. The kitchen was run like a military operation with food cooked and immaculately presented on plates in seconds, whilst servicing an unrelenting queue for takeaways.

Our server had pre-empted our order and our prawn pad Thais wrapped in egg appeared within seconds of handing over our marked menu. We drank the restaurant’s renowned freshly squeezed orange juice, which had so much pulp it was a challenge to suck it up the straw. On the wall behind us were framed newspaper cuttings stating that this was indeed the best pad Thai in Bangkok. I ate quite a few pad Thais during my two weeks in Thailand and it was definitely up there. I appreciated the pot of ground peanut on our table and liberally sprinkled it all over my pad Thai at least three times.

‘The best pad Thai in Bangkok’

Fresh orange juice

All the ground peanut

72 hours in

We ventured to the Khao San Road on our third day in Bangkok, but we quickly decided it wasn’t our cup of tea. We ventured onto the backstreets instead and chose Krua Apsorn for lunch. We ordered the crab omelette to share, a dish the restaurant is renowned for, which was tasty and incredibly filling. I had a Thai green fishball curry and it was so spicy I had to hide my teary eyes from the locals.

Crab omelette

Thai green curry with fishballs and steamed rice

We walked off our food for an hour in no particular direction and eventually I spied a cake shop. Choux Time had tables of treats inside and outside the shop, and Murtie picked something to try whilst I went round taking photos. We had the sweets with yellow and pink in the middle. Still no idea what they were but the sugar fuelled the rest of our afternoon.

Cakes at Choux Time

Selection of sweet goodies at Choux Time

These are the sweets we tried

After struggling to flag down a taxi, we took a tuk tuk to Petchaburi Road and spent the late afternoon exploring Pratanum Market. The women’s fashion was awesome and I haggled away a couple of hundred baht at a stall with some really quirky tops. The market was packed with locals and there didn’t seem to be any other tourists in sight. I loved this area as it felt like authentic, bonkers Bangkok – the overhead wiring being a visual representation of this.

I had my first Thai massage at the Watergate Spa on Petchaburi Road. Despite opting for a head and shoulder massage (heat rash on my ankles was too bad for a full Thai massage) the masseuse put me in positions I didn’t know were possible. My spine cracked with every movement,  but it did the job. I felt like I’d been needing that massage for about 5 years.

Bangkok was face-paced, full-on, and I absolutely loved it. I’m used to London, which is organised ‘don’t you know there’s a queue?’ chaos. Bangkok is disorganised chaos. Crossing the road is a heart-thumping but life-affirming experience.

From a food perspective, Bangkok is brilliant. Whether in a restaurant or served from a cart, my defining memories will be fresh ingredients, big portions, punchy flavours, chilli to make me cry – all served with a warm and welcoming Thai smile.

Half Cup, King’s Cross, London

‘Magenta hummus, hello’

I had earmarked Half Cup for brunch about 3 months ago after seeing an abundance of beautiful photographs on Instagram. I was due at London Paddington later that afternoon to catch a 3 hour train to Plymouth for a weekend of 30th birthdays with my school friends and decided that a delicious plate of food was needed to sustain me on the journey. Half Cup was bustling at 1pm when I arrived. I was welcomed with a smile and given a spot in the window to read my Harry Potter book, watching the world go by.

The menu was comprehensively tempting and I text a Whatsapp group of girls to ask what I should have. Numerous grumpy replies followed about being hungry and not there, but suggesting I go for the smashed avocado, grilled mushrooms, beetroot hummus, grilled vine tomatoes on charcoal sourdough, which I did. And added a poached egg because it’s illegal to have smashed avocado without poached egg didn’t you know?

I wondered how big it would be and if I’d be a greedy guts to get the Oreo cookie French toast as dessert. I looked around me and saw that the portions were sizable and, given that I was about to spend the weekend with a group of women turning 30, I reined myself in and stuck with one dish.

I waited about ten minutes for my food to arrive, during which I snapped a few photos of the colourful, floral décor and talked myself out of buying another branded tote bag that I really didn’t need.

My mouth watered as the plate was put in front of me. A magenta smear of beetroot hummus had two giant Portobello mushrooms stacked on top of black sourdough, with my poached egg on the side and a tower of rocket on top. I’ve never seen food so colourful so I took a series of photos, pushed aside my phone and demolished it.

The vine tomatoes could have done with a bit more grilling for my own personal taste (I prefer to grill the hell out of my tomatoes) but the hummus was divine and the poached egg poached perfectly. The charcoal sourdough was the tastiest black food I’ve ever eaten.

I need to go to Half Cup again and have the Oreo French toast. And the Banana Bread. The whole menu just sounds so good. Just take my money now.

Casa Cannoli, King’s Cross Real Food Market, London

‘Take photos, we love photos’.

I thought I was being subtle trying to take photos of the rows of sugar dusted cannoli when the trader at Casa Cannoli encouraged me to keep taking more, and to share them on Instagram. I always feel awkward taking photos at markets because, to be honest, I just feel like a lemon. I’ve been following Casa Cannoli on Instagram for a while and vowed to get one during my lunch break, and a Thursday hammering down with rain seemed like the ideal time to go. An old American colleague of mine introduced me to cannoli a few years ago. She was flabbergasted that in my 20 something years on this earth I’d never eaten one, and once I’d had one, I was too. The joy of cannoli is the second bite. The first one being insanely delicious, and the second one being a mixture of panic and hilarity at how it’s disintegrated and you have to shove it all in one go rather than attempting a third bite.

Thankfully the rain had stopped when I got to the real food market outside King’s Cross station as I spent a good few minutes deciding which flavour cannoli to go for. Classico, coconut, pistachio, chocolate chip, if I hadn’t have just eaten a giant lunch from Hanoi Kitchen and eaten 3 biscuits at my desk already that day I’d have gone for the 3 for £5 box. I did however choose salted caramel which was handed to me in a Casa Cannoli branded napkin, which I immediately photographed and had to start eating because the ricotta started to spill out and I didn’t want to lose any.

As described above the cannoli crumbled after my second bite and I scoffed the rest of it in one very happy mouthful. After sorting out the ricotta on my fingers with my tongue and a napkin I resumed photographing the rest of the colourful cannoli on display. The awful weather didn’t seem to have put people off their cannoli because lot of the trays had been decimated.

I can highly recommend cannoli as an naughty but compact lunchtime treat to get you through the rest of your working afternoon. I’ll definitely be coming back – I’ve already decided on trying the pistachio cannoli next time – and I’m planning to take a box home for Christmas. Considering all this came about from following Casa Cannoli on Instagram I hope they give their social media person a well earned high five. And a cannoli.

Hanoi Kitchen, KERB King’s Cross, London

‘My poor chopstick tekkers is making my hand hurt’

I sat in King’s Cross station stretching my fingers because they were aching from my attempt to use chopsticks. In my head I’m a pro, but sometimes the chopsticks just literally fall out my hands. Hanoi Kitchen did provide sporks as well as chopsticks but I was determined to eat my chicken noodle pot with authenticity.

It was hammering with rain when I left my office, but I’d Googled who would be at KERB that afternoon and I desperately wanted noodles from Hanoi Kitchen. I zipped up my coat, donned my hood and put up my red umbrella to walk over to Granary Square. The pavements were soaked but instead of being grumpy about it splashing up my legs I just chose to ignore it. The food market at KERB was a bit of a sorry sight. Most of the stalls had no customers and the traders stood with crossed arms behind their steaming stalls, evidently chilly and soggy. The guys at Hanoi Kitchen were in good spirits though and when I asked them if the rain was ruining their day they said no because their trailer was dry and warm. I tried to take some photos but the rain proved a challenge so these are the best I could do:

I ordered the garlic chicken Bún noodle pot, which was served to me after a few minutes. One of the guys offered to put a foil lid on my pot so it wouldn’t get rained on, which was nice of them. I asked if I could take some photos before the lid went on and they obliged, agreeing that if it wasn’t on Instagram then it didn’t really happen.

I grabbed some chopsticks and made for King’s Cross station, trying very hard not to drop my pot of food or my umbrella, but by this point the rain was easing off and the sun started to come out. I made my way to the mezzanine opposite the departure boards and a well-dressed Italian gentleman let me take the spare seat his table. He later asked me if I wanted his napkin because the broth from the noodles was dribbling down my chin. Not my finest moment.

I was so excited to eat having spent 10 minutes visualising dropping my lunch as I walked back from the market. I pulled the foil off and a steamy aroma of coriander and chilli hit my nostrils. I winged-it with my chopsticks and took sips of broth when I thought fewest people were looking. My favourite thing about this sort of food is crunchy peanuts and to my delight it was garnished with lots. Even as I was finished there were peanuts swimming in broth at the bottom of the pot. The whole thing was delicious, warmed me up, and distracted my brain from my soggy feet.

I’ve never been to Vietnam so I can’t comment on authenticity, but I loved it and I don’t really care about authenticity if it tastes good.

BBQ Dreamz, KERB King’s Cross, London

‘I’m so cold, but this is so good’

When I left my office to go to KERB, the food market in Granary Square, the sun was high in the sky and its warmth took the edge off the cold wind. Minutes after sitting down with my chicken satay curry from BBQ Dreamz the dark clouds rolled in and I regretted leaving my umbrella in the office. I moved from the square to the giant concrete steps by the canal to escape the wind and thought about the last time I’d sat there in July eating sweet and salty popcorn and watching the Lion King with my friend Laura in 30 degree heat. I was grateful my curry was warm and delicious, so I persevered eating my lunch al fresco.

I’d spent a good twenty minutes online looking at the different vendors who would be at KERB that day, trying to decide what I was going to eat. Granary Square was getting busy as I arrived and I decided to do a walk round of the other stalls to make up my mind. I chose BBQ Dreamz partly because the queue wasn’t so massive that I’d have to wait around for ages, but because I’d spying other people’s food and their curry looked big and colourful. I stepped up to place my order, a large chicken satay curry for £9, gave my name which was scribbled on the box and paid by contactless. After a few minutes my name was called and I stepped up to the trailer. It made me smile that the ledge to step up on was a Reebok fitness step, but instead of exercise the reward for stepping up was a steaming box of curry.

As I stepped up I could look into the wooden bowls that were on the counter top and they were filled with fresh ingredients to top the curries – peas, slaw, coriander, spring onions, pineapple, lime wedges, crushed peanuts and chilli flakes. I asked for everything, although to go easy on the chilli because I am a wimp.

The final result was a box of curry with every colour of the rainbow in it. I took a photo but the wind was getting stronger and I was getting hungrier, so I headed for the canal to sit down. The curry was delicious despite having to fish my own hair out my mouth thanks to the wind. I’m not a massive fruit fan, so I admit that I ate one cube of pineapple and left the rest. Fruit with savoury just doesn’t work for me (pineapple on pizza is a no no), but if it is your thing then I’m sure you’d love it. The chicken was full of satay flavour, the rice was cooked perfectly and the array of toppings provided crunch, freshness and punches of flavour whether lime, chilli or peanut.

I will definitely be donning my thermals and coming back to KERB (once I get paid) over the coming months. The vendors change from week to week and I look forward to trying out the other feasts on offer. If you have any recommendations then leave me a comment.

KOOX, Store Street, London

‘This is a fancy pants wrap’

The parade of shops on Store Street have a very satisfying smart and quirky aesthetic with matching dark green signage and pristine window displays. KOOX fits the aesthetic perfectly and every single thing from food to décor is intensely Instagrammable. You can tell even the smallest details have been thought about, from the scrupulous placement of indoor plants, the soft shade of light from the lanterns, even the fire extinguishers were a bright silver colour. They display their Instagram handle on the wall as you walk in and they’d probably be sad if you didn’t take out your phone and photograph everything.

Despite being outwardly ‘fancy pants’ as I described it to my husband, KOOX actually had a very welcoming feel. Perhaps it was because I went in at 5.30pm and the only other people in there were office workers sipping tea and demolishing a smart looking tart. I’d heard on the grapevine that KOOX’s egg and spinach miwam (such an unnatural word to type) was something not to be missed.  I ordered one, and a chicken and mushroom Hot Kone. It was expensive, £10.90 (I’d have got 15% off if I was a student) but I’m used to London food prices by now. I was paying for the words ‘Michelin starred chefs’ painted on the wall. My miwam arrived after a few minutes…

… on a slate. And then one minute later, my Hot Kone, in its own stand.

I told you it was fancy pants. I did feel a bit silly eating a waffle off a slate and a wrap off a plastic stand, but I put aside people’s stares and enjoyed the food. The miwam was moreish and I loved the texture of the waffle. Having stared at the wrap for a minute thinking ‘how do I eat this’ I went in with my fork, taking bites of the wrap in between forkfuls of chicken, spinach and mushroom. It was going swimmingly until I got to the last couple of mouthfuls of the wrap when creamy sauce squirted out the bottom of the wrap and went all over the table. There was no styling it out so I mopped up the mess with my napkin and was glad I didn’t have more of an audience otherwise I would probably be on Instagram right now.

I helped myself to a glass of minty water from a communal jug that was next to the trendy fire extinguishers and a jar of paper straws. It’s a simple thing to offer water to diners and I’m always appreciative when food places do it. The server said thank you and goodbye as I was walking out. Overall I liked KOOX a lot and I will be going back to try the chocolate mousse which I picked up and put back, and now regret not trying. Dessert regret is the worst.