We talk a lot about eating food that’s regional, food that’s in season, but it’s all simply about going local. Local, by definition, connects us to our immediate area and its context. On my recent trip to Chiang Mai, I made an effort to go super-local. There I found places where every dish, every drink, every tasty delight was concocted from the amazing cornucopia produced by this wonderfully rich and fertile area.
From coffee shops to night food markets, everywhere I turned the city was bursting with deliciousness. I came across so many delicious vegan and vegetarian places, too. I can’t recommend Free Bird Café highly enough, not only as their colourful and delectable homemade food is completely additive-free, but all their profits go to supporting an English and Arts centre teaching Burmese refugees and ethnic minorities in the region.
Another gem was Amrita Garden, a beautiful little café tucked away deep inside the Old City walls. It’s an organic, macrobiotic vegan eatery, which focuses on seasonal cooking and sustainably sourced foods. To quote their menu: ‘Consuming wholesome, local produce is the best way to stay in touch with nature’s energy. Let us listen to, and nourish our body.’
I was lucky enough to go on one of Taste of Thailand’s food tours, a wonderful window on the history of Chiang Mai and the Lanna people. We sampled many local delicacies as well as discovering hidden wonders such as the Wat Gate Khar Rnam Museum – a treasure trove of eclectic artifacts, from swords and silks to a vast elephant’s skull! The tour gave us a unique taste of daily life in Chiang Mai - visiting local markets (two) and sampling of fragrant traditional specialties such as ‘Khao Soi’ (coconut milk-based yellow curry noodle soup) and spicy ‘Sai Oua’ sausages.
And of course, no Thai food tour would be complete without a generous helping of mango sticky rice! The fact that it was mango season made this experience all the more glorious; I was overwhelmed by the fragrance of these golden bites of sunshine, so succulent and oozing with juice. To our delight, coconuts were also in special abundance, and so we tried to incorporate them into everything we ate - coconut smoothies, coconut milk coffees, coconut ice cream, coconut water, coconut curries – the works!
Sometimes food can share its bountiful benefit back up the consumer chain. The Royal Project Foundation is a particularly extraordinary example of a win-win. This is an amazing initiative that supports sustainable farming, a non-profit organisation founded in 1969 by the late King, His Majesty, King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Its aim is to help solve the problems of deforestation, poverty and opium production by promoting alternative crops in Thailand.
This morning I woke up a coffee from beans grown on one of the many Royal Project farms. Not only was it one of the best coffees I’ve ever had in Thailand, but also it had the additional sweetness of making me feel that, in a micro-infinitesimal way, I was part of this beautiful initiative. And I was going local.