A plate clatters to the floor, clanging, banging, startling….everyone stops their work to glance at the mild ruckus. The older Thai woman behind the counter with kind eyes and a warm smile makes eye contact with me, and we both burst into a fit of giggles.
I’ve been living in Chiang Rai, Thailand for over a week now, and eating at- what I call- the chicken place has become part of my daily routine. Here, no one speaks English, except for me and my farang friends. But the language barrier doesn’t matter. The family that runs the restaurant- Mr. Art’s- know us, chattering away in Thai. I nod in agreement, pretending to understand, wanting so badly to understand.
Every morning, I savor the 15 minute walk from my tiny studio apartment to have breakfast and coffee. The heat is starting to creep as I pass the highway, and beads of sweat cluster on my forehead and lip. On the bridge, I stop, as usual, to enjoy the spectacular view.
The Kok River is all amber glass and sheen, draped with a lush backdrop studded with never-ending rows of slumping limestone mountains. An enormous white Buddha statue sits peacefully above the peaks, the stone giants bow down respectively from North, East, South and West.
This is home.
Upon arrival at Mr. Art’s, they know my usual order of chicken, rice and hot espresso, and no longer serve my chicken with the skin on it. They’ve noticed that I always peel off the tender strips before digging in.
Service is quick. I sip ice cold water after my hot walk as a plastic plate is laid gently before me. My eyes, nose and mouth are met with a mound of steaming white rice, topped with thick strips of white-meat chicken, encompassed with neat cucumber crisps. A pink bowl of fresh chicken broth accompanies the dish.
But, I eye the brown ceramic bowl before me. There is one on each table. The lid comes off and the rich aroma overwhelms my nostrils. A homemade sauce consisting of chunky ginger, diced chilli peppers and a sweet and spicy medley of flavors creates the most addicting condiment my taste buds have ever savored.
“Always fresh. Cook with no MSG,” chef and owner, the one and only, Mr. Art explains enthusiastically to me in broken English.
I’ve never seen such passion for food, and Art’s dedication and love for his restaurant is obvious. The little chicken place on the dusty outskirts of Chiang Rai is constantly busy. Helped by his wife, aunts, mother, father, brother and daughter- it is one big happy family affair.
All work together doing whatever it takes to keep customers satisfied and the business running smoothly. But, at the same time, smiling and joking with each other, cherishing each day they share together and with their customers.
Belly full of chicken, rice and ginger, I enjoy a pot of jasmine tea and observe the family in the light of a busy new day. I watch with a smile as Art takes a minute from putting together delivery meals to kiss his small son or the women chuckle together as they prepare meals. Art’s young daughter always runs up to us with menus, eager to practice her English with my friend Ale and I.
“Special menu… red curry,” Art whispers shyly, sliding over a small sampling of pork marinated in a delectable blend of coconut milk and bright, red spices. Every day there’s something new he lets us try, free of charge. He simply loves cooking and wants others to enjoy it as much as he does.
Not only is the food delicious, but it’s the heart-warming atmosphere Art and his family have created that keeps me coming back. Their positive attitude and genuine kindness is the perfect start to my day, and I always look forward to it. They don’t treat you like a customer- they make you feel as if you’re part of the family.
Mr. Art’s is open early each morning from 7am to 3pm, with fresh, tasty Thai food and impeccable service that has made it a popular dining choice for locals.
A small sized dish of chicken and rice- their specialty, costs a mere 30 baht. Other chicken and pork dishes are offered, changing daily. They also serve yummy bubble teas and fresh, strong coffee. This is a must try spot when visiting Chiang Rai if you want to get away from the typical tourist joints. I’ll see you there 🙂