Kanom Jeen Nam Ngiew (ขนมจีนน้ำเงี้ยว) might be Chiang Rai’s most famous dish. There are a countless number of delicious local menus that are little known to tourists or even local people today. While some dishes can be widely available in restaurants, some are available seasonally only, and some can be extremely hard to find due to the shortage of ingredients and people with the right skills.
Chiang Rai used to be one of the areas that had the biggest rain forests in Thailand. Local people in Chiang Rai have been living very close to the forest since the beginning, and that makes many menus rely on ingredients from the forest. When the amount of forest decreases, it is harder to find real local food.
There are some menus from the forest that can be found today in many local markets in Chiang Rai and some cities in Northern Thailand. Today I will present you with little know local food “Kang Hed Ha” (แกงเห็ดห้า – Bolete Mushroom spicy curry). It is very delicious, and with the sourness and smell of sweet basil leaves, it will be one of the dishes to remember from Chiang Rai.
Hed Ha grows in tropical forests especially in Northern Thailand and can be found only during the rainy season. Hed Ha has spores as reproductive tools. Some farms in central Thailand provinces, are trying to farm this mushroom using spores and grow it in a controlled environment. But the real taste of Hed Ha still has to come from Hed Ha from nature and preferably from Northern Thailand. When you come to Chiang Rai, you can be almost 100% sure that you are tasting natural grown Hed Had – from its home, the forest.
Because of its shape that looks like the liver of a turtle, Thai people from other parts of the country call it Tab Tao mushroom, where the word “tab tao” means a turtle’s liver. Also Its Thai common name is “Hed Tub Tao”. As for the scientific name, it is known as Thaeogyroporus porentosus (berk. ET. Broome ).
It is not very easy to walk in any Northern Thai restaurants in Chiang Rai and ask for Kang Hed Ha. Chances are you will not find it. Though, a few local restaurants that offer authentic Northern dishes, might have in it on the menu a few times a year, it is still very hard to find. There is one particular restaurant in Chiang Rai called “Lulum Chiang Rai – ร้านหลู้ลำ เชียงราย” serving Kang Hed Ha, but only when it’s available, mostly during the rainy season – May through July. Of course, due to the high demand and low supply, there is no guarantee that when you get there you will get the dish you want.
The best way is to go out of the city, or establish contact with local people and find fresh or already-cooked dishes in local markets, for example Pong Dang Markets (which is very close to the preserved forest), Phan Markets and Mae Chan Markets. There you will have a better chance to find either the fresh mushroom or finished dishes.