We aren’t typically the type of people that book a bunch of food tours. They almost never represent value for the money. (How can they, when excellent street food costs only a dollar or two?) And, we tend to be fairly adventurous and good at tracking down food. In fact, one of our favorite memories is from one of those days when I was hangry and bordering on hitchy. Robert walked us into a food market in Vietnam where no English was spoken, sat us down, made it known we wanted one dish, and we waited to see what the vendor would bring out — it turned out to be an excellent chicken soup, the hangry went away, hitchy never arrived, and a catastrophe was averted.
But, after reading about A Chef’s Tour, we decided to give it a try. It was absurdly expensive at $55 dollars a person, but the reviews were excellent and it sounded like a tour that would introduce us to things we hadn’t tried (not too hard, since I’ve eaten almost nothing but khao soi in Chiang Mai) and neighborhoods we hadn’t been to yet. And, the tour was a success — we were absolutely stuffed by the end of the night and most of the food was absolutely delicious. Plus, our guide was fantastic and spoke with us about a wide variety of topics other than food.
The tour started at Wat Lok Molee, which was nice as we had not yet seen that Wat.
As it turned out, we were the only ones that booked the tour that day, so we had a private tour. Lucky us! (Honestly, we would have preferred it if others had joined us, as that often makes things more fun and interesting).
The eating began almost immediately, with our first stop at the stand of the world-famous Cowboy Lady. She was featured on Anthony Bourdain’s show and is insanely popular. She makes Khao Kha Moo, which is basically stewed pork. Our guide said the Cowboy Lady goes through 300 kilograms of pork every night (and more on holidays). You can get leg or intestine or foot, and you could order your dish with more meat or more fat. The leg was delicious, especially after adding chili vinegar sauce. Yum! Our guide told us that street food gets awarded something like the equivalent of a Michelin star — it looks like an empty bowl with chopsticks. The Cowboy Lady has this award and you can bet we will look for that symbol from now on. (Sadly, we don’t know the name and can’t find any information on-line about it).
Our next stop was a local market. Our guide introduced us to a wide variety of vegetables that were completely new to us. Have you ever heard of stinky fern? Trust me, it smelled disgusting. And, it didn’t taste much better when fried up into an omelet. We also tried pennywort juice. It tasted very green. We both thought it was disgusting.
Our guide had us try some things at the market. Mostly desserts. I finally got to try the lotus flower cookie Robert had on his bike trip. Yum! And, we had small little crepes filled with marshmallow cream and other things. Double yum! And, bright yellow egg yolk desserts. These were a mixed bag, with some being very good and some being just ok. And sweet rice cracker cakes that are far better than any rice cakes you can get in the US.
Robert also got to try a sausage at the market. The sausage was sold by two ladies. Between the two of them, they are at the market from 4 am until midnight. In fact, they are the only stall that stays open when the market otherwise closes at 8 pm. They sell something like 3000 sausages a day on holidays and something like 1700 on a normal day. They have that Michelin-like award I mentioned above too. And Robert loved the sausage.
Next stop was a small restaurant where we ate pork larb (a minced pork dish) and a Burmese pork stew with sticky rice. The pork larb was too spicy for us, but the pork stew was excellent.
After that we went to a Burmese restaurant. Only, we learned that the people that work that are actually Shan and don’t like to be called Burmese. We all have heard about the plight of the Rohingya people. Apparently, the Shan are in a somewhat similar struggle, fighting for independence, and many Shan have fled into Thailand. In any event, we tried three salads at the restaurant. Robert was thrilled with the tea leaf salad, as it was one of his favorite dishes when we visited Myanmar.
We also had a fun butterfly pea flower drink. When it was served to us, it was dark blue and didn’t taste very good. Then, we added lime juice and the drink turned purple and tasted much better.
We also tried Miang Kham. Basically, you fold up a betel leaf, fill it with ginger, shallot, lime (with the peel), chili, dried shrimp, coconut flakes, and peanuts, slap on some sauce made of shrimp paste and fish sauce, and pop the entire thing in your mouth. You can leave out stuff you don’t like and the final result is quite good.
We also tried green and red nam prik, which are basically spicy dipping sauces. We learned that Thais eat nam prik as a meal with sticky rice, but we used pork cracklings to dip into the sauce. I liked the cracklings, but can’t say that I liked the nam prik. Maybe if we had added the water beetle….
Then, it was off to another market for yet more food. We started with two types of soup: minced pork and cooked chicken blood with rice noodles in a pork broth and fish balls and rice noodles in a coconut broth. Guess who loved the chicken blood???? (Hint, it certainly wasn’t me). We also had more sausage, more desserts, and a wonderful watermelon smoothie.
Our last stop was for ginger soup with silken tofu and deep fried dough. The ginger was STRONG. Our guide told us it would make us burp. We both badly wanted to burp by this point…. (Sadly, the ginger soup didn’t do what it was supposed to do and both fell into bed completely bloated and uncomfortable but happy….).