Northern Thai food in northern Bangkok: khao soi and gaeng hunglay at Han Jao Nua

Khao soi and gaeng hunglay at Han Jao Nua, Union Mall

When a craving for khao soi strikes, nothing of course beats eating Chiang Mai’s most famous dish in the cool, laid-back northern capital itself. But if you’re stuck in Bangkok then you need not go without. There are almost as many spots in Bangkok to chow down on a bowl or three of these spicy curried wheat noodles topped with a few more crispy fried noodles – among them Han Jao Nua at Lad Phrao’s Union Mall shopping centre.

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Han Jao Nua, Union Mall

Han Jao Nua, meaning ‘the northerner’s restaurant’ in northern Thai dialect, may have moved from its humble beginnings in Union Mall’s (now very empty feeling) basement to occupy a spot alongside well-known chain restaurants, but it still retains a distinctly northern atmosphere. Drinks are even served in silver metallic beakers, just as in Chiang Mai and its surrounding provinces.

Han Jao Nua, Union Mall

The dining area, open-air to the rest of the shopping centre, is decked out in Lanna style, though you do get the feeling that the fast-food-style uniform-clad waiting staff make it a little faceless. Nevertheless, the owner still appeared to be pottering around on-site; she added a pleasant smile to proceedings when she showed up and promptly showed the staff who was boss.

Khao soi gai at Han Jao Nua, Union Mall

The well-sized bowl of khao soi gai was deep in flavour and had a generally well-rounded spice mix to the broth. The cook had perhaps gone a little heavy on the star anise, making it a tad too aniseedy, but a squeeze of lime put paid to that. However, the chicken drumstick used here could have been more tender  – it is a pain to eat a drumstick with chopsticks and a spoon at the best of times, and this one wasn’t quite soft enough to slide off the bone without effort.

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Khao soi gai at Han Jao Nua, Union Mall

The soupy noodles were pleasant and the portion of deep-fried crispy ones thrown on top was generous, but the usual side plate of garnishes – pickled vegetables, lime wedges and onions – were missing the chilli paste that normally accompanies them. A bowl of khao soi, also available with beef, pork ribs or northern pork sausage, costs between 60 and 70 baht.

Khao soi gai at Han Jao Nua, Union Mall

The pork gaeng hunglay (100 baht), another Burmese-origin dish heavy on ginger and otherwise using a similar spice base to the southern massuman but producing a very different end product, was a beautiful dark colour and had a pleasing layer of glistening oil on top – just as every good curry ought to. Though it boasted a good serving of pork belly, this was a little on the fatty side for my liking. Hunglay isn’t meant to be a diet curry by any means, and the cut of pork used should have a fair amount of fat, but I prefer for that to be complemented by some actual meat fibres to soak up the curry and for my teeth to tear through.

Gaeng hunglay moo at Han Jao Nua, Union Mall

The amount of ginger was just right – it should feature strongly in any good hunglay – and the consistency was about perfect, thin enough but still rich-tasting. Even so, the overall taste was still somehow just a little too gravy-like. Han Jao Nua also has gaeng ho, the sister dish which if made at home involves adding glass noodles and beansprouts to your hunglay leftovers the following day (when hunglay invariably tastes better anyway).

RECOMMENDED: Check Agoda’s rates at the Centara Grand Lad Phrao

Gaeng hunglay moo at Han Jao Nua, Union Mall

Service at Han Jao Nua is prompt and reasonably friendly, and the restaurant has a long Thai-language menu with a whole array of other northern offerings beside the staples of khao soi and gaeng hunglay. Think gaeng kae, a curry loaded with wild betel leaves (chaphlu) and here available with frog, chicken, beef or pork ribs; also laab dib with raw pork or beef, sai-ooah northern sausages, and the famous nam ngiaw, a rich Burmese-origin broth with tomatoes and congealed pork blood served over kanom jeen rice noodles.

Menu at Han Jao Nua, Union Mall

11am-9pm daily; you’re better arriving around midday, as Union Mall takes a while to get going after its official opening time.
Han Jao Nua, Union Mall 4th Floor; 02 939 3146; www.facebook.com/hanjaonua
Ride the MRT to Phaholyothin station and take exit 5.

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