Friday 17 December 2010

Sweets For My Sweet, Sugar For My Honey ...

That's Mee the master cook in the white apron.
Anticipation was high, the expectation great. After all, a French friend of mine -- a chef in a Michelin-rated restaurant in Paris and Australia -- had been raving about Sweet Mae Salong cafe:

"Oh, you must try their creme brulee, it is the best one outside of Paris!"

Really? A place in the boondocks of northern Thailand dishing up gourmet desserts?

I found myself in the mountains of Doi Mae Salong recently, and so naturally had to check out this place. On the lower part of the town, Sweet Mae Salong is perfectly charming from the outside with its wood and bamboo cladding.

Then once inside, cool jazz tunes sweep over you, and your eyes are drawn to the valley outside. The cafe hangs over a stunning piece of countryside, with terraced tea plantations opposite. Cast your eyes around and you can hardly believe you're in some little mountain town; it feels as cool as anywhere in downtown Sukhumvit Road. Magazines in any number of languages, arty photographs of the area, and a certain designery chic.

Sooo out of place ...

Sweet Mae Salong is the 'baby' of Ton and Mee, a lovely young couple from Bangkok who decided to pursue their dream. "My family ran a traditional Thai restaurant, very primitive," she laughs. "But I love baking, not really cooking."

Oh, so she studied dessert making under some renowned chef or something? "No, I studied international business in Melbourne," she laughs. "And I studied photography," chimes in the affable Ton. "Spend lots of money to study in Melbourne, now serve coffee and bake cakes!" 

They serve up a splendid breakfast; a mountain of scrambled eggs, bacon, and sausage with slices of the best home-made wholemeal bread thick as hard-cover novels. Ton's tertiary education was not wasted -- his coffee is spot on.

Other guests shuffle into the tiny cafe, rugged up against the morning chill which can get down to about 5 or 10 degrees on a wintry morning. Everyone wants to sit on the balcony and be thawed by the morning son that stream across those tables.

We chat between cups of coffee. Why Doi Mae Salong? "It's a balance between nature, culture and money," says the artistically slim Ton. "And Mae Salong is interesting. We have tradition and we have the internet." A Mac computer sits wired nearby. "But it's quiet versus Bangkok and Mee loves the weather."

Over a period of a few days of dropping in here, we feel a sense of homeliness, a compliment to the couple. Our group samples a number of items from Mee's 30-dessert repertoire (she bakes around 3 or 4 of those different items each day). The raspberry tart is wicked, and the creme brulee is, indeed, the best this side of Paris.Or maybe the best including Paris, jing jing.

For someone who doesn't have a sweet tooth, I amazingly find myself hankering to get back there. And, like my French friend, I too have been raving about this great little cafe in the mountains of Mae Salong ...

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