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Monday, January 09, 2012

To Market, To Market

Another Chiang Mai Secret, this special outdoor market only happens on Friday mornings. Located across from the oldest mosque in Chiang Mai it is known as the 'Chin Haw Market', a reference to the mosque and it's original constituents, the Chinese Muslim traders whose mule caravans plied the Golden Triangle and as far south as Chiang Mai. Friday morning markets are a traditional feature of the Muslim holy day and I can recall the impromptu markets sprawling into the roadways in Saudi Arabia.


One of my favorite markets in Chiang Mai, this one always features unique foodstuffs, both fresh produce and prepared foods, from the north- sometimes as far afield as Shan State. I usually start with a purchase of fresh samosas from the stand near the front. Filled with potatoes, onions and spices they are just the right ratio of filling to crispy covering, and the right amount of spicy heat. At 5 baht each, they're a steal.



After that I always stop to admire the beautiful rice in all its colorful glory. Who knew rice could be so many different colors.




Nearby the rice is the roasted chestnut vendor. You read right- roasted chestnuts are available in Chiang Mai. This fellow is often here in the hottest time of the year, stoically keeping his products moving over a bed of hot rocks. I only wish I were more fond of roasted chestnuts, as I'd like to show my appreciation for his very hot job.




Somewhere in this stretch I usually find the lady who sells wild honey, or she finds me as I often hear her addressing me with a cheerful 'Sawadee Kha' before seeing her. This honey is brought to the market intact in the comb and the bottles filled right there in front of you. These honeycombs are a forest product: found high up in the trees they require patience, skill and courage to dislodge and bring down intact. The honey is very good and quite reasonably priced considering the effort. Robert has made some excellent mead using forest honey.



At this point, the market opens up into a larger, more open space with a few trees scattered around, and most of the produce vendors are concentrated here. As with any good market, the produce changes with the season, so one cannot always go expecting to find what was there a few weeks ago. I have yet to figure out what some of the root vegetables are, as well as some of the herbs and greens. Many are not typically used in what we think of as Thai cooking, tho may be staples of the people closer to the border or in Burma. This is the only place I've seen the cute melon-shaped eggplants and some very attractive small orange pumpkins splashed with green decorating the stem end.





And how timely to find a salesman of that ubiquitous kitchen tool, the Vegematic, or its lesser Chinese cousin. It slices! It dices! It shreds! For 50 baht I should have probably given it a go.



Also further in the back of the market, hiding on the side between the greens stall and the noodle soup slingers is the purple rice donut lady. These little morsels of goodness (Anthony Bourdain where are you?) are popped into hot oil and when crispy, put into a bowl of jaggery, a molasses-like dark sugar which is just the right sweetness and the perfect complement to the crispy chewiness of the donut.


One of the great pleasures of this market is the people-watching. Many are not Thai, but from Burma, or are members of the hilltribes in the mountains. I often see Lisu ladies in their distinctive solid colored tunics edged in black. And there is usually a selection of hilltribe textiles for sale, such as these Hmong embroidered pieces.



Several stalls sell pre-packaged food products such as the dried egg noodles needed for 'Kao Soy', the famous curry-flavored soup found in Thailand only in the north. I had been looking all over town for 'gram' (chickpea) flour and found it here. Seeds for unusual vegetables of dayglo colors (if the packages printed in China can be believed...ha ha) can also be had for those with gardening predilections.




And on the way out I came across the broom vendor ready to take to the streets with his assortment of handmade brooms of wild grasses. I've been buying these for years as decorative items, but also now use them for their intended purpose. It's nice to know your 20+ baht purchase not only supports the work of a skilled tribal person, but when it's worn out it just goes on the compost pile.

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