The heritage of Northern Thailand and of Chiang Mai itself,
is nowhere more evident than at Huan Soontaree. There is something
here for each of the five senses. It is most evident in the
taste and smell of Chiang Mai specific cuisine that emanates
from the kitchen of head chef Salunu Muangwon. No Western
food invades these premises - but there are any manner of
river fish, northern curries and chili sauces.
Many interesting aspects delight the restaurant goers'
sight. The decorations of this classic traditional house,
with its multitude of cloth hangings and scattered antiques
lining the walls, is most definitely northern. Entries in
the menu and even the name of the restaurant itself are in
Northern Thai. Huan is Northern Thai for "Ban,"
(house in Central Thai dialect). Literally, it is the "House
of Soontaree Vechanont," one of the most famous singers
to hail from Northern Thailand.
Then there is the feel of the hard wood floor upstairs, where
patrons are seated in the traditional northern style around
a table without chairs.
And the sounds - well, that is where this restaurant stands
apart from the rest of the eateries that line the river. The
sounds, instrumental and vocal, are all northern. The owner,
for which the restaurant is named, comes to the microphone
six nights out of seven, never on Sunday, to sing northern
songs, celebrating her beloved culture - the culture of the
It is later at night when Huan Soontaree really comes alive,
when the songs start to flow and the darkness of the evening
matches the black tablecloths and dimly lit interior of this
restaurant. On weekend nights, reservations are almost always
required. Come early, anytime after 4 p.m. when the restaurant
officially opens and you can catch sight of the staff preparing
for the night ahead and even random snatches of kayaks making
their way up and down the Ping River. You also see the scattered
bits of rust left on the tables, from the rainy season floods
and the age of the building itself. Nighttime hides these
Some nine years ago, further strengthening her quest to promote
the Lanna culture, Soontaree convinced the talented Thai chef
of the Prince Hotel, Khun Muangwon to accept the essential
role of Head of Operations at her "house'. Ever
since, Muangwon's kitchen has served a unique array of
Chiang Mai treats, specially and more exactingly prepared
than in other locations around town. One can sense the dedication
in his explanation of how he makes his Gang Hang Lay, one
of the classic pork curries of the north, creamy and coconut-laced.
"That has a real good taste," he says. "It
takes three hours to make it. I make 15 kilos a day. I use
both curry powder and hang lay powder and I use sugar cane
instead of sugar. People usually don't bother with those.
They just use sugar. It's very difficult to make. It
takes a lot of time."
Our party tried some of the other dishes of the house, including
a northern sampler, Saba fish with soy sauce and steamed crab/pork
meat on bean curd. The northern sampler included sticky rice,
an array of sausages and the ubiquitous green chili sauce
of the north - "nam prik noom." This sampler is
very authentic in appearance and flavour. Although we have
been in Thailand long enough to have seen and tasted some
rather unusual dishes, we must admit that we sent the raw
items in the sampler back to be cooked! The remaining portions
were highly palatable. The saba was flaky and succulent, cooked
just long enough to enhance its sweet flavour. The crab/pork
meat complemented the bean curd in both texture and taste
and was laced with spring onions and egg.
There are so many other specialties to choose from - the
northern sampler is almost more of an appetizer to whet your
appetite for more.
Besides the aforementioned pork curry, Huan Soontaree is
known for its boneless grilled snakehead fish, stuffed with
garlic, egg and pepper. That dish is another of Muangwon's
inventions, the other is chicken stuffed with crab meat and
egg, topped with mayonnaise and lemon sauce.
Muangwon is an amiable person, well-disposed to talk about
food preparation and the long hours he usually has to put
in to ensure constant quality.
When asked about the continuing success of Huan Soontaree
and the reasons it stands apart from all the other riverside
attractions of Chiang Mai, he offers up the following concise
explanation - "it has a good location, good food and
a really good singer."
Huan Soontaree Vechanont is located
at 46/1 Wang Singkhum Road in Chiang Mai.