A Taste of the Country – The Steak Baan Tung Restaurant in Amphoe Phen, Udon Thani
Occasionally rural Thailand can throw up a surprise or two and a chance visit to the Steak Baan Tung restaurant in Udon Thani’s countryside was the source for one of those eye-opening moments for me.
The restaurant is 40 kilometres from Udon Thani city and in a place I would hardly have expected to find a brick-built eatery of such high standards. The Steak Baan Tung restaurant is a couple of kilometres outside the rural town of Phen and its pleasant but innocuous appearance from the outside shields a very stylish and roomy restaurant inside.
The restaurant has ample parking space and its doors open early as our mid morning arrival proved. The doors were open but no-one was about as the owner, who is also the chef, had popped out to stock up on vegetables.
That was the message relayed to us and when the owner did arrive a good 20 minutes later, our group of hungry brunch-ers were ready, waiting and absolutely starving. And by that time the four of us had already selected what we wanted from the menu. Not that her smile wasn’t worth waiting for.
The restaurant had a very stylish fan-cooled interior design which from my experience was very different to most rural restaurants I’d dined in. Maybe ‘dined in’ is dressing up some of the country eating houses my memory recalls. This restaurant whispered in your ear, ‘get me out of here and take me to the city where I belong’.
The second surprise of the morning arrived on a plate. My pork steak and sweetcorn was served before Wonderful Wi’s meal and that was a rare occurrence from my recollection of the scores of restaurant meals we’ve eaten together. My food normally drops anchor a long time after Wilai’s.
Wilai and one of her cousins, Mae, opted for a kind of omelette served in a pan. I’m sure those are green garden peas in the picture. I didn’t realise Thais ate them. Are they peas?
Cousin Goon chose a kind of Thai suki hotpot and each dish was served with a sauce, one of which looked the spicy sort you wouldn’t want to dip your finger into. I tend to avoid Thai sauces and dips unless it’s got a bloody big red tomato on the bottle.
Pictured right is one of the Steak Baan Tung’s menu cards and as you can see the dishes are very sensibly priced (click photograph to enlarge).
A 10 ounce (275g) T-Bone Steak is only 179 baht and my large Creole Pork Chop weighed in at just 79 baht. The total bill, which included two coffees, was a mere 230 baht (US$7.50/UK£4.60). That’s a very modest bill for an extremely stylish country restaurant and its menu is one I intend to visit again and again. I’m already eyeing the Grilled Salmon (149 baht) for next time.
I usually find (yes, I’m generalising) Thai rural restaurants to be cute looking but modestly furnished meat-and-rice type of places. They’re very homely, but limited in a culinary sense to a no-nonsense western tongue. The Steak Baan Tung restaurant near Amphoe Phen is different, at least for me, it’s a city style restaurant in boonie-land and one which I highly recommend. And the best thing of all…. it’s a bumpy but bare 25 kilometres from our village home…. Bring on the salmon.
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Martyn, I really like the look of the round tables in that restaurant. Old style suits my style 🙂
In my experience, the timing of food arrival in Thailand is that whatever is cooked first arrives first. There is no “this is an appetiser so therefor it has priority”. In saying that… rice, silverware and plates often arrive after the first round of food appears (and sometimes it takes a lot of jumping up and down to get rice and plates before the food cools). Dessert though, usually arrive last. And the check? Lickety-split.
Your banner: the photo intrigues me (I prefer it to the last one you had) but I’m not comfortable with how your site name is presented. It appears off balance, sliding off the graphic. But that’s just me.
Catherine – You’re quick off the mark with this one. The print is still wet on the post.
My food always arrives after Wilai’s, no matter what I order. Although quite often it is western food. They probably have to go out and rustle up some potatoes.
Thanks for the header input, your view has been taken onboard. I can change the sliding graphics any time but for the moment I’ll suck it and see. I quite like the picture too. Thanks, much appreciated.
Hi Martyn: They don’t look like peas to me, but sliced green onion. The nearest thing to a pea here is Makua thet, or pea aubergine, but it tastes nothing like a pea and is usually a little larger. I doubt they would put that in an omelette though.
Your food takes longer because it is frozen. That’s why you should always eat the fresh Thai food. Your food came first this time because they wrestled it back from the soi dog before it had time to finish it.
I like the new photo but the title is obscuring the figure which I find annoying as the eye is always drawn to the human figure.
Dan – That Amphoe Phen soi dog is getting some good food, at least when he can keep hold of it. The pork steak was very tasty indeed.
I thought it a bit strange they might be peas but didn’t know what else they might be. They sure as hell look like peas.
That’s two votes for the photo but two thumbs down on the title placement. I’m listening, I really am.
Dan – I’ve zoomed in on the green bits in the omelette and they look like sliced spring onion. You are right. Not the kind of thing a soi dog would go after. However, the question is still unanswered. Do Thais eat garden peas?
I’ve now taken yours and Catherine’s advice and moved the title over.
Ploy likes peas but I am unaware of a Thai dish with them in. But there is a vegetable that looks like a huge pea pod, I forget its name, but it smells somewhat off. It is a bean though, not a pea.
Thumbs up for the title movement.
Dan – Thanks for the ‘pea’ update. I thought about asking Wilai but in the deepest parts of rural Isaan a garden pea is just that. It saves one from trekking to the toilet.
I did notice peas with your Cottage Pie. Ploy must enjoy that.
Hi Martyn, same as for my site, your email alerts arrive a day after your post goes live so when I see your twitter/fb alerts, I jump on it.
I didn’t think about western food (especially steak) being frozen, but Dan nailed it. It’s a relief really. Frozen gives a better chance of being fresh. Something like that.
Catherine – Your words… Frozen gives a better chance of being fresh…. they’re a strange mix but reFRESHingly true.
I should use Twitter more, I keep saying that but I don’t follow it up. I must try harder because there’s a lot of good posts and thing-ies that get tweeted. My posts are automatically tweeted.
Facebook is a social tool I’m using more and more. I get quite a few hits from it and I’m trying to build my BTMJ page ‘Likes’. Not much success so far but slowly, slowly catch monkey.
Hi Martyn. I have never come across peas i Ubon too except for the frozen section of the supermarket. I think the bean that Dan is referring to is the petai or “stink bean” ( I got this from wiki) Eat enough petai and it has the same effects of excessive garlic, it is an acquired taste. I am sure Wi can find you some to sample on your next trip.
How – Thanks for the information but anything with ‘stink’ attached to it won’t be popping into my mouth. Thailand has many weird food smells and I tend to avoid getting them on the end or in my fork or spoon.
Thanks for this nice piece of information.
Would it be possible to be a bit more specific as to where I can find this place ?
Hans – Try this:
Take the Nong Khai highway out of Udon and turn off at the first Phen U-turn (opposite the old-looking petrol station). The restaurant is along the Phen country road, about two kilometres before you hit the town. Look out for the restaurant on your right. Lookout for a red sign parked on the grass by the road.