Ging Grai is an informal eatery serving authentic regional Thai cuisine in comfortable surroundings. The menu features dishes based on home-cooked recipes from four Thai regions: the North, the Northeast (Isan), Central Thailand, and the East. It is located in a trendy part of the Northern Thai city of Chiang Mai.
In This Post
The Back Story
Following three years of isolation in Hong Kong, my feet were getting itchy. And I couldn’t wait to fly the coop as soon as the hotel quarantine requirements were lifted.
Where to go? Thailand, of course! It’s close. And it has long been one of my favourite travel destinations.
Shortly after my arrival, Secret Retreats arranged a lunch for me at Ging Grai, which has a well-deserved reputation for serving authentic home-style Thai cuisine.
Ging Grai was founded by Isan Jantra, a Chiang Mai based restaurant brand focusing on regional Thai cuisine. And it was named after the grai tree, which is a sea fig.
To clarify, the sea fig is a member of the banyan family, whose trees are famous for their ability to send down aerial roots which develop into “accessory” trunks. Over time, the trees can continue to expand indefinitely.
Does this foreshadow the brand’s hopes for the future?
Ging Grai serves a menu based on home-cooked recipes from four regions of Thailand: the North, the Northeast (also known as Isan), Central Thailand, and the East.
My server guided me through the menu, helping me select at least one dish from each of the four regions. A recollection of my lunch follows.
My lunch began with two typical dishes from Northern Thailand, whose cuisine tends to be both spicey and salty. Interestingly, many of the herbs used in Northern Thai cookery originate in the nearby countries of Myanmar, China, and India.
I ordered the Lanna Local Galangal Chili Paste, which served as a dip for several pieces of steamed beef paddies Wow! The beef was so tasty! And the pungent dipping sauce was absolutely delicious!
My server suggested I try a second dish from the North, the Sun-dried Deep Fried Fresh Water Local Fish. In fact, it was served with a famous Lanna green chili paste and seasonal vegetables.
At first glance, the fish appeared to be quite dry. But looks can be deceiving. In fact, it proved to be surprisingly moist and tender!
And it definitely had a salty kick, which is one of the hallmarks of Northern Thai cuisine!
Northeastern Thailand (Isan)
Northeastern Thailand, which is often referred to as Isan, has a unique culture. And its food is famous for its sweet, sour, salty, and spicey flavours. And Ging Grai’s Original Spicy Green Papaya Salad is a representative dish of this part of the country.
Actually, I’ve enjoyed green papaya salads many times on previous trips to the Land of Smiles. In fact, it’s one of my perennial Thai favourites. But this rendition of it had to be one of the best I’ve ever savoured!
And talk about a fiery kick!
I’ve often seen Thais consuming this dish from Central Thailand. So it must be a national favourite. But I’ve never actually tried it.
Ging Grai’s version featured seven types of raw local vegetables surrounding a bowl of Preserved Soybean and Mixed Dip. Its taste might come as a surprise to those not familiar with authentic Thai cuisine.
To clarify, it has an unusual taste, which I’m at a loss for words to describe! It must be that preserved soybean!
This dish was the first to arrive on the table. But I’ve saved it for last because it was my absolute favourite!
Ging Grai’s signature dish, Pork Neck Curry is a typical dish from Eastern Thailand. And it had a pungent sweet and sour sauce enhanced with Chamuang leaves. As for the pork, it was so tender it practically melted in my mouth!
The pork neck curry went perfectly with that perfectly cooked white rice. If I were to dine at the restaurant again, this dish would would definitely be the first one that came to mind.
I made sure to save room for dessert. So I had lots of leftovers for dinner that night. And there was even enough for lunch the following day! But I digress …
Since I have a weakness for cheese cake, I couldn’t resist ordering the Cheesecake Kra Ya Sart. And I was glad that I did!
To be honest, it had a lot in common with a New York style cheesecake. But it was not quite as sweet. And it brought back memories of those Rice Crispy Treats we used to enjoy as kids. Was it the roasted rice?
In addition, there were pecans, almonds, and cashew nuts mixed with caramel. And it was absolutely delicious, with that subtle nuance that only salt and caramel can create.
I asked the chef what his inspiration for the cheesecake was. And he said he wanted to “elevate traditional Thai desserts to be more interesting and modern”.
So he took some of the ingredients often used in traditional Thai sweets and came up with this East-meets-West masterpiece.
As with everything else that day, the cheesecake was beautifully plated.
My server suggested washing down lunch with a mocktail. So I opted for Cowa Cowa, a combination of oolong tea and ginseng, which was enhaned with a syrup made from Chamuang leaves.
Not only was it very refreshing. In addition, it had a very creamy head, which I found absolutely delightful.
Best of all, it came with a very yummy snack made with sticky rice to tide me over until the first course arrived.
Ging Grai had an informal, contemporary ambiance, with dark hardwood floors and subtle ethnic touches. And I particularly liked the gorgeous tropical murals along the walls upstairs.
There were two indoor dining spaces: downstairs and upstairs. In addition, there was outdoor seating in front of the entrance.
While it was too warm to have lunch outdoors during my visit, I’m sure I would have enjoyed having dinner outside in the evening as the restaurant faces a relatively quiet street.
My lunch at Ging Grai was like a short course in Thai cuisine! My knowledgeable server expertly guided me through the menu, explaining what makes each of the country’s four most popular cooking styles unique.
I enjoyed the laid-back atmosphere, the contemporary décor with those subtle ethnic touches, and of course the mouthwatering cuisine. As for the staff, they were patient and professional.
If I could make a suggestion, I would like to see coffee added to the menu. While it might not be a traditional Thai beverage, a cup of espresso would have gone fantastically well with that very decadent cheesecake!
Ging Grai is a member of Secret Resorts, a collection of unique properties and experiences – including boutique hotels, villas, cruises, restaurants and exclusive itineraries – throughout Asia. It is a community built by independent owners and chefs to share resources and ideas.
Together, they offer guests authentic travel experiences that go beyond typical offerings to connect to the very heart of Asian culture and traditions. Secret Retreats Members are vibrant advocates of their surroundings and passionate about sharing special moments with travelers curious to discover the “essence of Asia”.
All properties and experiences also emphasize supporting local communities, environments, and sustainability efforts in which they are based to ensure continued opportunities for both locals and travelers for years to come.
My lunch at Ging Grai was sponsored.
Ging Grai – 18 Soi Nimmanhemin 11, Nimmanhemin Road, Suthep, Muang, Chiang Mai, Thailand.