Khunnai Chang Madame Elephant Thai Cuisine

by Mijune on March 1, 2011 · 14 comments

in $10-20,authentic,Downtown Vancouver,Food 4.5,Thai,Vegetarian

Post image for Khunnai Chang Madame Elephant Thai Cuisine

Restaurant: Khunnai Chang Thai Cuisine
Cuisine: Thai
Last visited: February 22, 2011
Location: Vancouver, BC (Robson/West End)
Address: 835 Denman St
Price Range:

1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: Tres Excellent!!

Food: 4.5
Service: 5
Ambiance: 3.5
Overall: 4.5
Additional comments:

  • Authentic Thai cuisine
  • Home cooked
  • Thai cooks
  • Made upon order/fresh
  • Spicy upon request
  • Good variety/menu
  • Cozy/small
  • Affordable
  • Vegetarian friendly
  • Husband and wife team
  • Friendly service
  • Cash/Visa/MC/Debit
  • Dine in/Take-out
  • Mon-Sat 11:30-3pm, 5-10pm
  • Sun 12-3pm, 5-10pm

**Recommendations: Tom Yam Khung, Lap Gai, Pad Thai, Gaeng Panang… I just listed everything I ordered so that might not help… it was all good!

Thai food was the craving, and after three failed attempts of Thai and Malaysian restaurants that only served lunch, we ended up at Khunnai Chang Madame Elephant Thai Cuisine. Not a bad place to end up at too! I had come here for dinner a few years ago, before I started blogging, and I remembered making a big dent in the menu and being very pleased with the food. So it was about time for a re-visit and an official FMF blog post.

It’s a small restaurant located in the touristy part of downtown Vancouver, BC on Denman street and it’s one of those places I would think is only for tourists. The prices don’t suggest “tourist”, but the ambiance does. What I mean by that is that I’m the type of person that doesn’t prefer to see a room full of non-Thai people when I’m going out for Thai food. In fact, that’s how I feel about all ethnic cuisines. I like to be the only non-Indian at an Indian restaurant and only non-African at an African restaurant… except being in Vancouver we don’t have much of an African population, so the later is a reasonable exception.

Anyways I definitely questioned the authenticity of the Thai food here since every time I walk by this place it’s usually full of tourists or non-Thai people. However both times now I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the quality of the food and the effort to keep it authentic Thai. The portions are good, the food is fresh, home cooked, and made upon order and it’s good value for downtown. They use authentic herbs and spices and the spiciness can be adjusted, however at times I found the dishes leaning a bit too much on the sweet side of things, even after taking into consideration that Thai food is about savoury, sweet, tangy and spicy. If you’re looking for something a bit more formal and modern you can also try Tangthai Cuisine of Thailand just a block away on Robson – see my post here.

Khunnai Chang Madame Elephant Thai Cuisine is one of my favourite types of operations, a husband and wife team. I always find them so cute. In this case the husband runs the front end of the restaurant and his wife does all the cooking in the back. I was really excited coming in and saw the staff preparing things on the back table. I pretty much ran over and asked what they were preparing so I could order it, and to my surprise they were actually just chopping broccoli… and a brilliant job of that they were doing! Hey at least we know the ingredients and vegetables are all fresh!

On the table:

**Tom Yam Khung – 5/6

  • Hot and sour prawn soup $5.95 ($16.95 for pot)
  • This was excellent! The soup is enough for 2 people and it’s full of great ingredients and lots of authentic Thai ingredients.
  • It was packed with fresh cut herbs like loads of lemongrass slivers, galangal (Thai ginger) and whole Thai basil and Kaffir lime leaves.
  • It has a strong lemongrass flavour and it’s incredibly aromatic. It almost seems like there’s some cardamom in it and that floral flavour comes form the galangal. It has a sweeter and milder flavour than ginger root and it comes off tasting like sweet pickled ginger in this soup, so even if you’re not keen on ginger you might like this.
  • It’s savoury, sweet, tangy and quite spicy but very homemade with fresh ingredients.
  • The prawn is thrown in last minute so it doesn’t have a seafood flavour in the broth, but there is some fish sauce in it which gives it a nice savoury flavour that isn’t actually fishy tasting.
  • The balance of hot and sour was well played and the broth is thinner but bolder than Chinese style hot and sour soups.
  • This version was definitely on the sweet side, and sweeter than normal from perhaps the palm sugar, but it was still great with a balance of tang from the tomato and lime broth.
  • There were about 4 prawns and sliced button mushrooms with cilantro and green onions sprinkled on top to brighten things up.

**Lap Gai – 4/6

  • Ground chicken salad with tomato, onion, mint and peanuts $12.95
  • As a dish I would give it 6/6, but here I found it was a 4/6 because I’ve had better versions, although this one was still very good. If it’s your first time, you’ll be an instant fan.
  • This is pretty much the Thai version of lettuce wraps.
  • Lap Gai, or Larb Gai, is a must order at any Thai restaurant for me. It’s easily overlooked because it’s under “Salads”, but it’s excellent. This is what my Thai friends order and it’s a very typical Thai dish.
  • I asked for it medium and I could have gone hot because it wasn’t as well seasoned as I expect for larb gai.
  • It is a bit pricey for larb gai, but I like it. I don’t necessarily recommend the one here, but I do recommend trying it as a dish.
  • It’s a warm salad of  crumbled up minced chicken, shallots, garlic, and onions seasoned with lime juice, fish sauce, sugar and ground chili.
  • It’s spicy, sweet, savoury and tangy and the mint and lime combination just makes the dish come alive.
  • It’s a very bright and light yet meaty salad that is flavoured with a tangy and savoury vinaigrette which sank to the bottom of the bowl.
  • It’s also cooked with lots of finely ground toasted rice so it’s incredibly nutty and almost a bit crunchy throughout the crumbled chicken mixture.
  • My only complaint is that the chicken was very dry and it really needed the vinaigrette.
  • There was an absence of tomatoes and peanuts, but those aren’t often found in Larb Gai anyways.
  • The green leaves the ground chicken sits on are meant to be eaten. It is NOT a garnish. The leaves are your lettuce wraps so you eat it together, but make sure you spoon the sauce at the bottom into the wrap. That sauce is salty, savoury, sweet and spicy and good enough to drink alone.
  • I’ve made lap gai once at a Thai cooking class at Urban Thai Bistro, and the best one I’ve had was from Tuk Tuk Thai Restaurant in Hong Kong – see here. I know, that was a bit unfair, but take a look at the post to see a photo of the best larb gai I’ve had.

**Pad Thai - 4.5/6

  • Stir fried rice noodles with chicken or pork $12.95
  • Any pad Thai with ketchup is not authentic Thai. This one is made with tangy Tamarind, but I kind of question if there may have been a little accent of ketchup mixed in. It was noticeably sweet again, and it had a reddish tint rather than completely brown tint, however it may have been from the chili paste.
  • This was hot and fresh and the noodles were a bit soft, but incredibly well flavoured and sauced which meant they were also very slippery, but not greasy either.
  • I got this with pork and it was a bit dry, but there was a decent amount of slices which were well flavoured as well.
  • I loved the generous amount of firm tofu cubes, peanuts, and bean sprouts, but it was lacking some scrambled egg.
  • It was a great balance of veggies, pork and noodles and maybe even more ingredients than noodles, and every strand of noodle had a coating of sauce.
  • I felt like there was oyster sauce in it because it was so sweet and savoury but it was very good overall and I would order it again.

**Gaeng Panang Nuea/Gai/Khung – 4.5/6

  • Panang Curry with beef, chicken, prawn $12.95
  • This is a sweeter curry and I ordered it with chicken. I was told that many people order it with beef for a stronger flavour, but I actually like it with chicken.
  • It’s not a very strong curry, but it’s very sweet, rich, indulgent and one of the creamiest Thai curries because it’s made with coconut cream and not coconut milk.
  • The curry paste was homemade and you could tell from the grittiness of the sauce which probably had a good amount of fresh pureed lemongrass. It still tastes ultra creamy and velvety smooth though. The paste is dry fried in coconut cream and it almost intensifies all the herbs used to make the paste. It’s much more textured than other Thai curries.
  • I was hit with the aromatic lemongrass which was very strong, followed my sweet coconut cream and maybe some coconut milk too, and then the tang of some lime juice and savouriness of fish sauce.
  • It was actually incredibly nutty and reminded me of a sweet peanut butter lemongrass curry sauce especially with the paste like texture.
  • It was extra sweet from the red and green bell peppers and I think there was some fresh lemon grass leaves used to bring out an even stronger lemongrass flavour. I only wish it had more fresh basil and lime leaves as well as some peas, which are traditional.
  • The chicken was tender boneless white meat and they did give you quite a bit. It’s definitely a sauce more so than a soupy curry and you can be bolder with the level of spiciness since it’s already quite sweet.

Jasmine Rice

  • $2.50
  • I didn’t get a picture, but it was really wet, mushy, soggy and incredibly overcooked. I hope it was just a bad day and it was the only part of the meal that really went wrong.

Thai Chili Powder

  • Hot damn! I started ordering medium and then with every dish I kept asking to make it hotter like authentic Thai food usually is… they gave me this… and it sure shut me up.
  • The Thai chili powder condiment here is spicy! It’s homemade and it’s definitely spicier than any packaged stuff you’ll find at the store.
  • It’s very smoky and almost a bit bitter from the roasted Thai chilies. I love spicy, but a sprinkle of this on anything will get my nose runny.

[geotag]

Khunnai Chang Thai Cuisine on Urbanspoon




{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Linda March 1, 2011 at 9:46 am

mmm i love penang curry! and i also order it with chicken – i find the beef to be too overpowering sometimes and i find that chicken braised in curry sauce is always so tender and so moist :) that bowl of tom yam khung looks huge! and definitely a steal for only $5.95.. i can only imagine how big the pot would be lol

i’m like you in the sense that i like going to places that non-tourists like to frequent – more like something only the locals know about – i know we don’t have too many places like this in vancouver and it’s definitely a shame

2 KimHo March 1, 2011 at 11:02 am

I have been here several times and their lunch menu is quite bang for the buck. Comparison between this place and Tang Thai will hands down go to Khunnai Chang: Most of the “complains” I have had about Tang Thai is that it is too showy, flavours are a bit lack luster and, worst of all, salty. (I have experienced the saltiness issue myself).

But, back to Khunnai Chang, looking at your picture plus my pictures, I don’t see much, if any, hint of red colouring from their Pad Thai. Also, when I have had it, it had a light hint of sweetness jsut to contrast the savouryness of the fish sauce. I won’t necessarily use colour as an issue here, unless it is, as you mentioned, that catsup-y red…

Linda, as for other places, try Bob Likes Thai Food (similar Pad Thai but, on the day I went, something felt short), Talay Thai (heard interesting things, in my to-visit list) or Chada Thai. There are places, just that you must know how to distinguish them.

3 Linda March 1, 2011 at 12:03 pm

Thanks Kim! I will definitely scope those places out – its really hard to find authentic places in vancouver for mexican, thai, malaysian and african cuisine – i hope that changes soon

4 Mijune March 1, 2011 at 12:05 pm

@Linda – Hi Linda! Thanks for your comment! I’m glad we’re on the same page with the chicken! Yes try the Penang curry here and let me know what you think. It’s not a curry I order very often so I don’t have a huge selection to compare too, but you can tell the paste is homemade and it’s very good! Yes this place is surprisingly located in a very touristy location so I hope locals give it a chance. Oh yes, and the soup is HUGE, I ordered a full size one before and it comes in a giant metal ring pot. It can feed 6-8 easily lol.

@KimHo – Well Tangthai and Khunnai Chung are completely different in style. However my experience wasn’t that bad, although I haven’t been since the opening, so I guess I need to try it again… or not try it again?

I still found my pad thai noticeable sweeter, but it is personal palate so maybe YOU have the sweet tooth… lol… no the pad thai was still great regardless.

Thank you Kim for giving Linda so many recommendations! What a great reader you are ;)

5 Mijune March 1, 2011 at 12:51 pm

@ Linda – try Mamak CAfe and Seri Malaysian for Malaysian.. I have a post on Seri!
Thai – try Sawasdee Thai

6 Linda March 1, 2011 at 2:35 pm

mmm i heard about sawasdee and seri malaysian is up a couple of blocks from work – my coworker loves it and she was so glad to hear that it is no longer planning to close – thanks mijune! :)

7 Julie March 1, 2011 at 3:52 pm

Yay Mijune–finally this one’s in my ‘hood. Thanks for the tip-off!

8 Mijune March 1, 2011 at 11:39 pm

@Linda & @Julie – that’s what I’m here for! :)

9 Erin March 4, 2011 at 9:37 pm

Without a doubt the best Thai place I’ve found so far in this city. Thai is my fave food, and I was so happy to find this gem (thx to my BF!). The service is second to none as well.

Do you have a fave Thai restaurant?

10 Erin March 4, 2011 at 9:40 pm

Oh, and if I can add to Kim- Thai Tang was AWFUL! Worst Thai I’ve had. And way overpriced. Chang Madame’s prices (esp. lunch) are so reasonable!

11 Mijune March 5, 2011 at 2:01 am

@Erin – I think you should try Sawasdee Thai – that’s where my Thai friends go :)

I haven’t been to Tangthai since it opened so I think I better go back and try again because when I went when it first opened it was actually very good. Hmmm that’s sad if it isn’t anymore.

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