Review: Free Style Cafe (now closed)

Go back a few years to 2009… Mick and I first decided to pack our bags and head to Thailand  in search of an adventure, and to volunteer at an organisation who worked with Burmese refugees (specifically Shan) who were in Chiang Mai. This was an incredible, challenging and at times very hard assignment but I don’t regret a minute of it (well…maybe a few ha!). Anywho the education centre we worked at had a school AND a cafe that was started to support the work of the school and help pay the bills. The girl in charge of running and cooking at the cafe was Nong.

Nong was/is awesome and an inspiration. This sweet gal came from a difficult situation – she was not only a refugee who had fled Myanmar, but she was the sole carer for her Mum who had suffered from a stroke and was paralyzed down one half of her body. She worked hard, really hard. 6 days a week in the cafe and 5 days a week she studied English and Thai at night when the cafe was closed. She managed to support herself and her Mum to be able to live in Chiang Mai. Quite impressive and humbling.

Fast forward to 2012 and Nong has now opened her own cafe selling Thai food and Shan food here in Chiang Mai! We heard about it through the internet grapevine and also from bumping into another ex-teacher from the NGO.  Very happy for her that she has pulled her resources and skills together and got her own little business going. She sells some bits n pieces (like a lot of places do in Thailand) plus scrummy food from a small restaurant. Its located  in Santitham area which is one of Mick and my favourite areas. We visited her cafe today and it’s a cute little hole-in-the-wall place that serves up nice big dishes that are super fresh. Its also got the added bonus of serving Burmese food that isn’t so easy to find here in Chiang Mai (strange, I know!).

Burmese food like tea leaf salad can be done poorly or done well and Nong does it really well. Today I chowed down on a favourite dish of mine, Shan tofu noodle soup. This is a thick, creamy tofu that is actually made from chickpeas not soybeans and is served over thin rice noodles and topped with seeds, garlic and coriander. I first came across this dish when we were volunteering and have been mad about it ever since. I’ve had it here in Chiang Mai, in Mae Hong Son and in Burma and loved every one of them.  Mick had prawns with basil leaf which also had some crunchy long beans chopped into it and a mound of rice. We also had some fruit shakes (watermelon and pineapple) and left totally satisfied and it only cost us 115 baht! Bargain!. Another very important point to note is that Nong has 2 super cute cats at the restaurant – a definite selling point for me. We will definitely be going back again and again. It’s really a wonderful spot to eat here and to support an ex-student who has now successfully opened her own business feels great. Great work!

Free Style Cafe
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