On the edge of both the city of Chiang Mai and the Ping River is the surprising Huan Soontaree Vechanont, a chic but unintimidating restaurant owned by a famous Thai folk singer. The name translates from the local gam muang language as Soontaree Vechanont's House, and that is exactly how it feels to dine in the welcoming ambience of this special place where northern Thai Lanna culture is exalted both on the plate and on the stage.
The restaurant is voluminous, with a double-height ceiling and many open spaces flowing into each other. The stage on which Khun Soontaree performs each evening is on the second floor, open on one side like a very large balcony facing diners on two levels. The artistic atmosphere matches the style and flair of the owner; a mixture of handicraft items, photos of Khun Soontaree throughout her career, and large lanterns make for an eclectic setting in which to enjoy northern Thai cuisine, less spicy than the more famous type of Thai food known all over the world. Among the pictures on the wall is a large poster of the beautiful Lanna Commins, Khun Soontaree's Thai-Australian daughter who is an established singer in her own right.
Among the many interesting foods of northern Thai cuisine is sai ua, known in English as Chiang Mai sausage. Pork and rice are the mainstays of northern Thai cuisine, which exhibits a heavy Burmese influence thanks to the region's location and history. Another Burmese-influenced dish is kaeng hangle, a pork curry made with peanuts, chili, and tamarind juice. Though coconut is notably absent from the main courses of northern Thai cuisine, desserts more than make up for its absence with delicious bananas and taro in coconut milk being a favourite, the thick coconut milk being prepared with a bit of salt to establish a balance of flavours vital to all Thai food.
Though Chiang Mai can seem overrun with Western tourists scouring the markets day and night for the bargains that abound in Thailand's second-largest city, Huan Soontaree Vechanont sees few of them due to its location away from the tourist centre and its relatively low-key reputation as a place to relax to the sounds of live entertainment from one of the country's most beloved singers. You won't be disappointed.