Chiang Mai’s Blackitch unlocks the amazing potential of Thai produce
This teeny-tiny restaurant goes big on local ingredients and sustainability.
The buzz: Through TEDx talks, TV appearances and, above all, amazing food, chef Phanuphon “Black” Bulsuwan, 35, has forged a reputation as a master of fermentation techniques and champion of sustainable causes. His five-year-old restaurant in Chiang Mai, Blackitch Artisan Kitchen, seats a maximum 18 diners, requires advance booking and offers hyper-local, hyper-seasonal ingredients twinned with expert curing methods.
The vibe: Nestled on the second floor above Gelabar gelato cafe, Blackitch makes you work for your meal. Our recent visit required squeezing down the narrow hallway past a troupe of swing dancers in training. Unassuming and homey, the three-table dining room twists the omnipresent industrial cafe culture: dangling lightbulbs and whitewashed walls, yes; but also shelves that groan under the weight of jars and jars of fermentation experiments and books bearing the titles of luminaries Noma and Sepia. Wall murals capture engineer-turned-chef Black’s fascination with Japanese culinary tradition, one explaining the anatomy of bluefin tuna, another bearing what could well be Blackitch’s motto: “Even rotten sea bream is still sea bream.” Twinkly jazz acts as backdrop for a meal where chef Black hops from table to table semi-sermonizing on the origins and importance of each ingredient.
The food: The B1,800 dinner gets you around nine courses made with 100-percent local ingredients. Chef Black’s Asia-traversing food doesn’t stick to any rulebook, drawing on family experience (makers of shrimp paste, fish sauce and vinegar in Rayong), countless research trips to Japan and local know-how. One constant is a northern Thai-indebted starter to set the tone; for us, a silky take on nam prik ong made, unusually, with blue crab from the south (“because, why not?”) and fermented-bean mayo on crunchy sourdough. You might also taste the Royal Projects’ first batch of buckwheat flour combined with tofu in soba noodles topped with soy sauce-cured tuna and ponzu-ginger mayo, or Khon Kaen duck in a consomme with crunchy river prawn ball and bitter melon that’s brimming with Isaan herbiness. Chiang Mai river clams, available only three months of the year, come in a lip-smackingly umami tonkotsu chowder spiked with sato (a northern Thai rice wine). Dessert from Black’s pastry-chef wife may mean a sticky date and jujube apple pudding with coconut sugar sauce and ginger tea ice cream.
The drinks: A small selection of bottled Thai craft beers hover around the B200 mark, including on our visit some five unnamed brews by the chef himself—one, described as like a weizen, burst with sticky rice and mulberry freshness. Splash out B290 for a house-made umeshu (plum wine) or, better yet, the slightly effervescent persimmon wine.
Why you should care: A meal this creative is a steal at sub-B2,000, while your host is a friendly wealth of knowledge—no surprise, then, that some of Bangkok’s top restaurants send their trainees up here. Fans of 80/20, Gaa and the like—visiting here is a must.
Blackitch. Nimmanhemin Soi 7, 092-587-9979. Open daily 11am-2pm, 6-10pm. Advance reservations are essential. www.fb.com/blackitch