This morning, my editor Joanna Sciarrino sent me a frenetic video: A goggled woman stands at the helm of two giant woks, their undersides palmed by aggressive orange flames. She vigorously flips vegetables with a metal spoon with one hand while jolting the wok with another. The whole scene has a slightly Mad Max in the kitchen kind of effect and I’m in awe. Her command of the ingredients, the flames, the cookware, is masterful. (This video, though not Joanna's original, gives a sense of what I witnessed.)
The woman in the video is Jay Fai, a street food vendor who runs a small kitchen and eatery in Bangkok. A month ago Michelin awarded her restaurant Raan Jay Fai a star.
In early December, Michelin, the restaurant rating and city guide service, released their first review of Bangkok, Thailand. Of the 17 restaurants that made the cut, Fai’s is the only street food eatery included in the selection. Her inclusion is a nod to the vibrant and extensive outdoor scene that characterizes Bangkok’s culinary landscape. Fai, who is 72, owns and runs the simply decorated restaurant from 1 in the afternoon to 1 in the morning. She patrols the woks, doling out her specialty: khai jeaw poo, a crab omelette.
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The shop was always renowned, a favorite among locals and visitors to the city, but since Michelin’s designation, Raan Jay Fai has seen an unprecedented popularity. Curious tourists gather to flash shutters rather than order; journalists lean in to launch ask questions over the sizzle of noodles; a line snakes further down the street than it ever has. Joanna visited Fai in the summer of 2016, before even the faintest whisper of a Michelin star floated through Bangkok’s Old Town. She’d heard about the restaurant through Lucky Peach, where she used to work, after they published an article about the spot. She can’t remember exactly what it was she ate—the meal lost amidst a cacophony of Thai flavors, but she can conclude that whatever she tasted was “very good.”
Only two other street food vendors have ever won stars and it was in in Singapore in 2016. As the spot’s reputation continues to grow, Jay Fai maintains a commitment to the recipes and the customers that undergird Raan Jay Fai and its success. She has yet to raise the price since earning her Michelin star.
Have you visited Bangkok? Eaten at Raan Jay Fai? Let us know what you thought in the comments.
Valerio is a freelance food writer, editor, researcher and cook. He grew up in his parent's Italian restaurants covered in pizza flour and drinking a Shirley Temple a day. Since, he's worked as a cheesemonger in New York City and a paella instructor in Barcelona. He now lives in Berlin, Germany where he's most likely to be found eating shawarma.
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