The Grand Opening of “Kao Sen-Kao Soi” went off well, to the accompaniment of traditional Lan na folk music, some of which raised tears to the eyes of the alternately happy and sad audience. The band comprised traditional musicians playing ancient instruments, like the Salor – a 2-string violin-type instrument, the sound box made from a coconut shell, and the Sung – a 4-string banjo-like instrument, which was acoustic, though they also had electric amplified versions. There was also a demo of the seemingly endless musical conversational folk song, whereby participants sit in a circle and pose impromptu questions to which the next in turn round the circle must respond – scary, if you’re not an extravert! Although the band was only here for the Grand Opening, patrons will be happy to hear that the Lan na folk music will be a regular feature of “Kao Sen-Kao Soi”, albeit on CD.
“Kao Sen – Kao Soi” is no mere restaurant, however, but also, amongst other things, a mini-museum of Lan na culture, the original culture of the Chiang Mai region, meaning the region of a million rice fields. The restaurant is run by Khun Jip aka Saran Suebsri Vichai, a master chef of Lan na cuisine, who is also a devotee of traditional Northern costume from Lan na, as well as being an avid collector of Thai silver, porcelain, metal ware and other interesting artefacts. He was also privileged to receive the royal patronage of their Royal Highnesses Queen Sirikit and Princess Sirintorn. The first when he won 2nd prize for his contributions to Tin Jok – old Lan na textiles and the second for assisting at the arrangement of traditional costume at gala occasions.
Pattaya has many Thai restaurants, but the majority serve Esarn or mainstream Thai cuisines, the new addition to Lan na cuisine makes it the third of its type, but because the taste of its recipes are exquisite, it is almost certainly going to rank as number one. Khun Jip earned 9 stars from the Centre of Lan na Food Quality Control and earned his diploma at a hotel and restaurant school in Bangkok, from where he learnt the extra recipes, including Thai, Chinese and European dishes to make his cuisine truly comprehensive. Following this, he worked at the Samui Villa Flora Resort for one year as a floor supervisor in the kitchens. Khun Jip’s original recipes were learnt from his grandmother, who was Burmese, consequently, his base is Burmese-Lan na, however, most of the ingredients he uses are from Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai, especially the herbs and curry, and wherever possible, homemade. His apprenticeship with his grandmother lasted for 9 years, starting at age 8.
The menu will feature 8 dishes during the week, with more at the weekend. At the weekend, there will be a special set 4-piece menu for Bt199 for two, which will change every week. Initially, it will feature Lan na sausage, Deep fried skin of pork, Chilli paste and Nahm Prik Num, Keng Ke, or mixed vegetable soup (originally all the vegetables in your garden), and Lab Moo – spicy Lan na pork, served with a variety of fresh Northern vegetables and a drink, which will be changed daily. The four drinks they serve are Ma toom, Grta Jiap, Lemon Grass juice and Grek hui; all of which qualify as health drinks.
The specialities of the house are:
Kanom Jeen Pat Pak – fried white noodles and vegetables, with a black soya bean base; a typical breakfast dish. I can attest to the fact that this was literally exquisite and by far the most tasty Thai dish I have ever tasted, with subtle flavours that impinge on the palate in successive waves. It was also non- spicy, which I found refreshing for Thai food.
Kanom Jeen Nahm Ngee-o – white noodle soup with pork, Lan na style.
Kao Soi – yellow noodles in chicken curry, medium spicy.
Kao Kan Jin – steamed rice, with minced pork cooked in pork blood, and special herbs, wrapped in banana leaf and then steamed. This is a traditional recipe which wives used to give to their husbands to sustain them through their arduous work in the rice paddies.
The restaurant also has three vegetarian options:
Kao Man Som Tam – jasmine rice, with coconut milk. This is an ancient royal dish, much appreciated by farangs.
Kanom Jin Sao Nahm – coconut, pineapple, ginger and garlic with mixed vegetables, or if you’re a meat eater, a fish ball option.
Kao Neuk Nga – steamed sticky rice, black sesame seeds – an appetizer.
Kao Tan – deep fried sticky rice and sugar cane. The brown sugar is homemade, though it isn’t milled in the traditional way, which involved the assistance of two rotating cows driving the mill!
Following, Khun Jip’s sojourn in the kitchens of Samui, he took a completely different direction into that of one of his great loves, antiques. He worked at an antique shop in Bangkok, selling Thai silver, old textiles, porcelain, and other collectors’ items. Then, he was weaned away to work for the Sogo
Department Store, again involved in selling antiques for 7 years. This lasted until the Asian Crash of 1997.
To survive, Khun Jip then went freelance, organising a team to cater for lavish parties held variously at hotels, resorts, gardens and private houses. Here, he supervised his team, sometimes catering to over 1000 guests. He was also intimately involved in the floral decor of the events.
Then Khun Jip opened his own Lan na-style restaurant in Pratumtani Province, which he ran successfully for 3 years, till the lease expired and it was turned into a 7/11 store, instead! Following this, he came to prospect in Pattaya where he first met Khun May, the Editor-in-Chief of Pattaya Daily News, who was to later help him set up his new restaurant, “Kao Sen – Kao Soi”.
The decor of the open-air restaurant “Kao Sen – Kao Soi” is a fine exhibit of Khun Jip’s other hobby, collecting item from 30-50 years ago, including clockwork toys from the WW2 era and all manner of period cartons for soap, talcum powder, toothpaste, green, jasmine and rose teas, and metal ware crockery etc. to augment his antique collection. The restaurant is festooned with period photos and has a fine feng shui feature in the form of a tasteful working fountain, which is bound to bring him luck. He won’t sell any of these, but could be persuaded to swap certain items with other collectors. We heartily encourage anyone with a discerning palate to come and sample “Kao Sen – Kao Soi’s” excellent cuisine, we guarantee you won’t be disappointed and may even be more than pleasantly surprised.