21 September 2016

Chiang Saen Street Food Fest - Thailand

With views across to Laos and a slower river town vibe, Chiang Saen for a few days floats our riverboat.

This is a room at the Chiang Saen Guesthouse. It was like staying in Auntie Beryl's holiday house, we counted at least five different types of tiles being used inside and out, sometimes in the same room. It's just so typical of older style guesthouses, the type that gives you a feeling of actually being somewhere else. The fridge was cold and the wifi was excellent, a modern travellers only desires. While it ain't flash it suited us but the owners pack of barking shar pei dogs could be a turn off. Plus we are lazy travellers and it was right in front where the bus dropped us off, so this is where we stayed.

Really though, this is why we stayed. A room with a view across to Laos on the other side of the river, a comfortable verandah to rest and drink sundowners on and a gate to keep out the dogs and any other pesky intruders. The building is a bit shabby (and frankly the reception area where the dogs lived was pretty smelly), it doesn't offer much in niceties but this balcony sold us. 600 baht a night.

Just a few doors down from the guesthouse is somewhere to eat. 

Pork with crisp roasted skin.

Soft steamed chicken on rice, served with a side of chilli sauce and a highly fragrant and tasty soup, so unlike the usual dishwater broths you get at times.

While we ate a market sets up along the main road. The whole road along the riverfront closes off on Saturday night to become a walking street market.

Food stalls along the river set up at either larger sit up tables or these smaller squat tables. You can sit and watch the boatloads of tourists getting a tour of the 'Golden Triangle' or slipping over to the casino in Laos or a view of the cargo ships slowly chugging down from China.

Before we had dinner there were plenty of choices of entrees at the market. These rice cakes on sticks were about 5 baht each.

The cutest dog in all of Thailand. He's probably an instagram star earning huge bucks.

Following is our market tour, lots of food photos for you to peruse. Don't view if you haven't eaten.

Fried things on sticks. Note the ingenious use of a soft drink cup as a lampshade.

Thai style sushi, typically it was bright and colourful.

A few varieties of hor mok, a steamed fish mousse.

Pandan mini waffles.

Had enough yet? Here's more...

Purple spotted dog. You don't see one of them everyday.

This snack intrigued us. A flat disc of pounded rice mixed with blood, heated on this small grill. Inside was sprinkled with sugar to make it sweet as well.

As the discs cook they change colour, revealing the blood base, and get folded over onto the sweet filling and wrapped in a banana leaf ready for eating. Soft texture, great taste. 10 baht.

The market finished finally way down the road. So we walked back to get some dinner as the sun dipped behind the town and the moon started to rise above the river.

Tables are set along the riverfront.

Dinner along the river: Soft river fish with a hard thick skin, a gelatinous texture underneath that took some getting used to. Lets just say the cats that lurked along the river bank loved it. Served with a spicy green chilli sauce, possibly to mask the muddy river fish flavour.

Stir fried morning glory with garlic and salted beans, a Chinese influence in the cooking here.

Basic papaya salad, but provided a good balance to the rest of the meal.

This chicken curry was the winner, real depth of flavours here. A greenish chilli and herb jungle style (no coconut) curry, cooked inside a thick bamboo tube sealed up with clay to keep the juices inside. Ground toasted rice thickened the sauce and the chicken bits were still on the bone for more flavour. 

Last of the river boats go by for the day.

The market packs up watched over by a sensational moon over the river.

Fortified with coffee from the cafe next door piping out Kenny G muzak and a breakfast of fruit from the night markets (ready chopped for your convenience) and coconut yoghurt, we hit the town for second breakfast and perhaps lunch too.

Shop dog minding the Coke stash.

The main road through town is in full market mode.

Ever present salt grilled fish. Any grill, there will be fishies.

Oh, those Thai sausages, full of spice and fresh flavour.

Off the main street, the wet market carried on it's trade inside.

Strings of sausages grilling, a mandala of porky goodness.

Such beautiful, little round balls.

Serving suggestion: Take a bite of chilli, then nibble on the fresh herbs and lettuce and sausage, perhaps wrapped together in the leaf. Don't chomp hard on the chili now, just a small bite.

Other areas of the markets sold homewares, cheap new clothes and lots of second hand clothes piled onto sort through jumbles.

There's unexpected sightings of the ancient capital down backstreets, these remnants of an old wat are just down a residential street.

Back down by the river is a small jetty where some of the Chinese tail boats dock and a small food market with a few stalls. Both of these are chicken soup, one with yellow noodles and the other with fresh flat rice noodles. While the meatballs weren't too bouncy, the broth was superb witha goodly amount of chopped garlic and pepper giving the broth some depth.

Local transport.

A little further down the waterfront is a poultry market, with many chickens being shown off for their finery, and perhaps their super nunchuck fighting skills.

Love the takeaway carry home bag for this fine feathered friend.

Past the chickens, it was plastic fake wooden wardrobe land.

We looped around the block and back up to the food market.

It was time to think about grabbing some snacks for later on. Some pounded chilli dips looked intriguing. This red one had a pungency beyond the chilli heat that slowly grew on us after a few beers.

Our second choice was a green chilli paste with pounded water bugs. There wasn't much of a strong flavour from the bugs, more the warmth of the green chilli and herbs. We grabbed a packet of pork rinds to snack with the dips. They were the most porkiest rinds ever, basically just big slices of pork belly deep fried so they go crisp wherever they can. Some pieces were still just a little soft to the bite where it was pure fat.

After we grabbed our snacks, we noticed these bamboo pipes sticking out of the side of a stand, like a street stall pipe organ. The leaves at the top flavour the curry as well as help keep the moisture in.

Inside each pipe is a serving of curry. This was a fabulous fish curry, one of the tastiest we've had in a long time. It was green and vibrant with loads of pounded lime leaves and lemongrass. No toasted rice but the herbal mix was enough to thicken the curry. The head was included, gills and all, which can make for a few bitter mouthfuls if you weren't too careful.

Sticky rice with the fish curry. Little packets of rice were available on the table for you to eat as you wished, just for a few extra baht.

Chiang Saen back streets.

So while we are snacking on bugs and beers on our balcony, the stalls across the road start setting up at the end of the day.

Families come out along the riverfront for a feast.

Our tastes are heading a little bit more regular at the end of the day, we go for a simple Chinese style veggie stir fry while sitting along the riverfront.

We even go the ultimate in farang comfort food, seafood fried rice. We can't all be roughty toughty food explorers, all the time.

We love Chiang Saen, and Thailand.

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