The ethnic and indigenous tribes and people groups in the mountains of Northern Thailand add incredible flavour and colour to the Lanna Tai culture – and to the local cuisine. And yet, in the Northern Region in and around Chiang Mai, there are precious few places outside private homes to sample these amazing, and unique, tribal flavours.
That has all just changed.
On Sunday evening we went to Punnee’s Lisu Kitchen for the Vegan-Vegetarian Buffet – a new offering on Chiang Mai’s world famous culinary scene.
The Lisu people are a Tibeto-Burman ethnic group who inhabit mountainous regions of Burma, southwest China, Thailand, and the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. They number about 730,000 – see wiki reference – and are traditionally a nomadic people without a written language. In the last 50 years, many Lisu people have become citizens of the various countries in South East Asia, as globalization has opened and expanded their traditional world. We’re very proud to have several personal friends in the extended and diverse Lisu community, including our bubbly friend Mimi and her extended family, and the lovely Punnee.
And Punnee, as it turns out, is passionate about forest foods, foraging, her Lisu heritage, mountain cuisine and LOVES to cook and talk about herbs. Let’s just say dinner time on Sunday was inspiring and gave me a hankering to get the heck out of the city for good!
At the moment the buffet is a monthly affair, on top of the private function catering Punnee already does for local events. Last Saturday she and her Lisu team did a STAND-OUT job catering at the local TedX event.
And then straight into the Sunday evening monthly buffet. It was very well attended and, for many, their first taste of traditional Lisu food.
Stand out dish for me? Without a doubt, the Lisu Tea Leaf Salad was remarkable.
Best I have ever tasted in 16 years in South East Asia – and I’ve had dozens of versions of this dish. Wow! Piquant and spicy without blowing your head off – a really nice balance of textures with the crunch factor just right, despite us (deliberately) getting there 2 hours after it started. You can always best evaluate a buffet by not being one of the first.
Seconded by the Lisu Som Tum – quite different from Thai som tum (green papaya salad) and really amazing flavours.
We were the last to leave on Sunday, having enjoyed a leisurely chat about mountain food and Lisu herbal-healing culture with Punnee and her husband, Mike, who runs the legendary Chiang Mai Smokehouse.
Punnee’s Lisu Vegan-Vegetarian Buffet is stunning value. 200 THB (around USD $6.50) for all you can eat, which included free water and a desserts table. Yes, you DO need to book. Next buffet night is October 12th. For dinner or private group bookings 11am to 7pm at their Saraphi, Chiang Mai site on other dates, you will need to message and book well in advance.
Rumor has it that Punnee is feeling expansive, and that she is opening a Lisu Cooking School – not your regular run-of-the-mill, tourist production-line cooking school, but a head-out-into-the-nearby-hills and forage for traditional foods, visit her extended family in the Lisu village on the outskirts of Chiang Mai, and then come back to cook your forest-finds before relaxing in a traditional Lisu herbal steam bath.
If you’re coming to Chiang Mai for the 2020-2021 tourist season and think you want to be part of this unique Lisu cultural event, please connect with Punnee and get your name on a list somewhere. The world-famous Vegetarian Festival is coming, and I’m guessing it’s going to be first-in-first-served for this exciting new culinary travel experience.
Best way to connect with Punnee and her Lisu Kitchen right now is via Facebook.
If you’re in Chiang Mai, Punnee’s is a MUST.
Feeling very well fed, and grateful, in my Thai natural world.