On a full moon November night after the last major annual rainfall, Thai families go to a river's edge and float a banana leaf boat that has been decorated with flower, candles and incense sticks for the Moonlight Festival of Loy Krathong. The decoration can be as grand and creative as the maker designs the krathong. The purpose of preparing the krathong is to thank the goddess of the river for flooding the fields with abundant water for the yearly rice crop. Each person can make a silent request. (Nearly the same as making a wish before blowing out candles on a birthday cake). Actually there are many folk tales about this tradition. There are too many tales to relate in one article.
When Hillary Clinton came through the teak doors of the Gallery Restaurant in November 1996, she was already knowledgeable about the history of the 100 year old building. It's located at "Tha Chaang" which means elephant pier where only 90 years ago this area was an important pier on the Mae Ping River for sending and receiving goods in Chiangmai. Nowadays this a popular place to celebrate at all kinds of parties.
Mrs. Clinton dined on the middle terrace with the American Ambassador, the Consul General plus others making up the party. She walked through the restaurant confidently and pleasantly acknowledged other guests when they made the gesture of offering their hand to her. They were impressed with her down to earth manner as well as her great interest in human rights and women's causes to improve their family's standard of living.
The dinner menu comprised delicious Thai food, of course. Mrs. Clinton sampled each dish but her favorite dish out of eleven offerings was the "Gai Haw Bai Toey" or Baked Chicken wrapped in Pandanus Leaf. Pandanus leaf imparts a fragrance to the meat as it cooks in the oven. When the chicken is eaten, the leaf is taken off at the table. There is a method to unwrap the leaf all in one piece and it is not awkward to do so. Thai people say "Mai pen rai" or "It doesn't matter" or "Taam sabai" or "Eat and enjoy your food". This chicken dish is served with a sweet sauce prepared with ripe tamarind fruit.
The reputation of the good food served at the Gallery Restaurant has continued over the years since that historic visit. A few of the best selections are : Dtom Kha Goong Maprao-On. The delightful shrimp soup is creamy with coconut milk cooked inside baby coconut fruit containing soft coconut meat, and of course fragrant with elusive flavor of Siamese ginger, or Galangal, lemon grass and kaffir lime leaves. The next dish is Goong-Ob-Wine, fresh water prawn grilled with white wine and served along with French bread and butter. Also a popular dish of Hoy Paad Naw Mai Farang. Stir-fried fresh young Asparagus with Scallops. Of course, accompanied by two dishes of steamed white rice the above suggestions will be serve two to three people. A sweet ending for this traditional West-meet-East dinner is Cheese Cake, something, Westerners know by heart.
The long time restaurateur, Khun Surachai Leosawadipong, and owner, is very proud of the Gallery Restaurant. It's a gathering place for regular patrons and a "must dine spot" for first time visitors to Chiangmai. The entertainment regularly features gentle melodies by a group playing Thai music. On Saturday nights, guests listen to jazz such as Latin and standard melodies by local musicians. The Gallery is more than a restaurant with its gallery at the main entrance offering a wonderful selection of unusual handmade items produced in northern Thailand. The ever changing selection includes original paintings, hand woven silks and cotton fabrics plus intriguing furniture items.
Khun Surachai has eagerly taken action to preserve another old building on Thapae Road on the west side of the Changklan Road Intersection. It's known as Baan Thapae with a labyrinth of 15 fascinating small shops offering beautiful items to buy as mementos of an enjoyable holiday in Chiang Mai..
With the imminent opening of Tha Chang Jazz Club & Restaurant, Khun Surachai is making news again in the entertainment scene.. Tha Chang Jazz Club will be located in a vintage 2-storey teak building adjacent to the Gallery Restaurant on Charoenraj Road. With a terrace open to the river for evening dining, it's sure to be a hit for jazz enthusiasts. The musicians of the jazz club promise to offer a new dimension to the jazz music scene in Chiangmai. The great view of the river is sure to be a drawing point for this popular rendezvous for relaxing and taking a break after a hard day's work.
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