Friday, March 13, 2009


Another Friday the thirteenth to enjoy!

This will probably be my last blogpost from southeast Asia this season. I am due to fly home on March 17th, in good time to enjoy the equinox in a nothern latitude. I know, I know, it doesn't mean the weather will get warm anytime soon, but that deep thrill of the sun returning, of the light being longer than the dark for six months, is a precious touchstone each year, don't you think?

This morning I went off to the weekly Haw market here in Chiang Mai. It sets up in a parking lot across from the mosque, just a block from Thapae Road. It's been there for years, but I only discovered it a few years ago, so tucked away is its location.

The word 'Haw" is used generally here to refer to a variety of people who are from Yunnan, many of them muslim. The market is most like the market in Mae Sai, the town at the northernmost tip of Thailand, in the so-called Golden Triangle at the Burma boder. There are Shan people, and hilltribe people, and Yunnanese of various kinds, and Burmese too. The food on offer feels like jungle food, wild roots and tubers, greens that are more common in Yunnan than here, and also lots of pickles, Beyond The Great Wall-people-style pickles. There's more than a hint of sour in the air, in fact!

To offset that there are unusual sweets, like black sticky rice disks that are then grilled over charcoal and brushed with a blend of melted palm sugar and sesame (what could be bad?), and "doughnuts" made of cooked black sticky rice shaped into rings and then deep-fried... Yum! I bought some grilled banana and sticky rice, wrapped in little banana leaf packets slightly blackened from the grill, then ended up giving several to a woman who was begging in front of the mosque, her injured foot out before her. (Food feels more constructive than money to me, so when I have the choice that's what I give.)

There are at the market several places where you can sit and eat breakfast. One place has Shan noodle combos, and that's where I ate with some of the people who came to our immersethrough session, last time I was at the market, more than a month ago. This time I went to the other corner, for a different kind of noodle dish.

Fresh back from Burma, I had one of those "duh!!" moments, for the soup over fine rice noodles was a version of mohinga, the Burmese rice noodle soup breakfast. This one was different, for there was no banana stem in it, just tender cooked whole shallots, very like one version I tasted a week ago in Myitkyina. The soup came with a crispy deep-fried chickpea-studded sort of round cracker about four inches in diameter, like but not the same as, the equivalent in Rangoon or Myitkyina. It was delicious, the soup, especially with extra lime squeezed into it, and the crispy disk crumbled on top to give extra texture.

As I walked out of the market with my small purchases (a bag of roasted chestnuts and some cheroots to give to a friend for his birthday this evening; and some black rice doughnuts, why not?), past some hilltribe people selling organic brown rice from huge beautiful baskets, I was reminded that I'm leaving town for awhile, and felt a little downcast. But then I bounced back with the thought that this amazing market, this coming-together of so many people whose origins lie across often-difficult borders, will keep on happening every Friday, in all its wonderful and puzzling variety.

And I have to confess that part of me is already impatient to be back for another breakfast at the Haw market, another immersion in the endless intriguing cultural mysteries of this region.


Tashi said...

The house is somewhat clean[er] so you don't have to be impatient to go back to Thailand anymore. Really! It's totally livable here now!

Mmm....that's good said...

Ahh...I loved that market! The doughnuts, the noodles, and even my shoes! Have a safe trip home...xoxo, Jodi

nowpicnic said...

That all sounds so delicious! My husband and I are long-time fans of your book, Hot Sour Salty Sweet, and I'm planning my first trip to southeast asia for this August, 2009. We would have loved to join you for the immersethrough project in Chiang Mai in November, but it's not possible for us to get away then.

Do you have some recommendations for places/things not to miss? We'll spend some time in Chiang Mai for sure, and try to keep our money "as low" as possible. :) We'd be especially happy to meet up with people living there, or stay at friendly gusthouses, to share more of the local experiences. Any help you could provide would be invaluable.

Thanks so much for your writing and photography, and some inspiration for our trip!