So where exactly did I leave you last? Oh yeah, that’s right… when we last discussed our tour of Thailand I was recounting the endless barrage of 30 baht made-to-order meals and the deluge of chili-infused calories that seemed to culminate in our days of outdoor markets and cooking lessons with Wanee and the staff of the Classic Home Cooking School. We were in Chiang Mai where the hustle and bustle of a thriving congested metropolis is juxtaposed by the surrounding serenity of undeveloped jungles and rural hill-tribe villages without plumbing, electricity, and the distractions of the Internet and cable TV. This intersection of old world and new was our last stop in Thailand; a tourist’s tropical paradise full of fantastic food, foot fondling massages, and who would have thunk…fondue! But I’m getting ahead of myself so let me back up.
Here’s the thing about spending more than a week in Thailand. Because the food is so cheap (average meal was $3-$6 USD per person), and equally scrumptious, you end up eating a ton of it. And when you’re craving a burger, spending $8 USD on a McDonalds Big-Mac just seems sacrilegious with all the fresh fruits and yummy goodness available for a fraction of the price [claimed!]. This being the case, we ate Thai food for every meal. Each street food vendor was their own culinary genius serving up something we hadn’t seen before, and every menu had some variation or twist on a noodle or fish that we thought we’d be hard-pressed to find in the US. So we ordered it….and because we could, sometimes ordered it a second and third time. The variety was staggering, but at a certain point it was a little overwhelming for my taste buds and me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m an adventurous eater, but I’m used to a certain gastronomic give and take the diversity San Francisco’s food scene provides my stomach and tongue. At home I have the chance to go from spicy, to sweet, to hot, to cold, to breads, to rice, to pastas, to proteins and then back again. In Thailand, it was a lot of the same basic ingredients: lemon grass, garlic, fish sauce, curry paste, lime, galangal root, cilantro, Thai chilies, Thai chilies, and more Thai chilies. And I needed a break from it all.
Fortunately, about a month before we left the States for our trip, Jonathan’s mother had struck up a random conversation with a University of Pennsylvania Business School student who coincidentally is from Chiang Mai. His name is Chana Pongcharoenkul (Pai for short) and he spends several months of the year in the US getting his MBA and the rest of his time growing his family’s businesses in Thailand and Burma. And that’s the last time I complain about my commute!
Being the quintessential Jewish mother with the gift of gab, it wasn’t long before my mother-in-law had learned Pai’s entire story. His family is quite entrepreneurial and he, his brother, and his father all earned business degrees from top-tier universities in the US, and have grown their empire back home in Thailand. They’ve got their hands in a lot of different business ventures. They own Chananon, a small chain of high-end jewelry stores, several Arabica coffee plantations and the roasting/packaging/distribution facilities behind Nacha Coffee, one of the most popular and sustainable coffee brands in the region, and at least one more source of revenue and passion, which I was extremely grateful for, the Fondue House.
The Fondue House in Chiang Mai Thailand
Adjacent to the Chiang Mai airport sits the Fondue House, serving authentic French cuisine and several types of fondue. Thanks to my mother-in-law’s networking skills and Pai’s generosity, on our last night in Thailand, our entire group was invited to dine on delicious food prepared in the traditional French ways. The only Thai flavors I could taste was the special Thai Heinz ketchup dipping sauce, which is a zestier version of the traditional ketchup.
The interior of the restaurant felt like the inside of a French wine cellar with banquet seating tucked behind the rustic brick interior.
We started with a cup of French onion soup. I’ll admit, I was skeptical of the melted yellow cheese on top since I’m so used to a white gruyere, but it was full of that deep sweetened onion and beef broth flavor. I guess you could say I learned firsthand how not judge a French onion soup by it’s cover!
Then we got personal Caesar salads with crispy romaine hearts and salty pecorino roman cheese. Considering the lack of cheese consumption the week prior, this ended up being one of the best Caesar salads I’ve had in my entire life.
Then came the three fondue pots. The first was your traditional cheese and white wine, which was perfect for cubes of French bread.
Then they brought us two Lazy Susans each with a fondue pot over flames and a variety of dipping sauces.
One was filled with bubbling oil. This was good for the chicken and thin pieces of beef, and everything came out a la confit style.
The other was filled with boiling red wine, which I had never seen before. Pai recommended we cook the premium beef chunks in the red wine, because the wine would infuse the rich beef with those deep rich acidic flavors. It was great!
The pickle plate was almost a palate cleanser used as I moved from one fondue pot to the next.
To finish things off, Pai served us some of their very own Nacha Brand premium Arabica coffee, and won us all over (especially my father) by finishing the evening off with dessert crepes drizzled with a fruit glaze served alongside a heaping scoop of strawberry sorbet.
Albeit strange conceptually, the Fondue House dinner was the perfect palate cleanser marking the completion to our stay in Chiang Mai and Thailand as a whole.