Posted: Dec 07, 2017
A 70 year old Thai street food seller who makes wok-fired dishes has been awarded a Michelin star at the launch of Bangkok’s first guide.
Jay Fai, or Auntie Fai, is known for her scorching portions of noodles with prawns and crab, cooked over charcoal fires. The eccentric chef wears ski goggles to protect her eyes from the hot oil sloshing around giant woks in her tiny shophouse.
Jay Fai in Bangkok's old town
A dish at Jay Fai in Bangkok’s old town. Photograph: Chawadee Nualkhair
“I was excited from the very first step I made in here,” said Jay Fai as she accepted the award on Wednesday at the five-star Grand Hyatt hotel, dressed in a white chef’s outfit. Her restaurant, an open kitchen with tiled walls and metal stools that spill out into the street, also sells rich, yellow crab curries.
Open daily in the old part of the Thai capital, the restaurant was one of 17 awarded stars, decided by Michelin after months of secret inspections. The other awardees consisted mainly of French haute cuisine restaurants, such as Le Normandie, where a jacket is “compulsory for gentlemen during dinner”, as well as upscale Thai restaurants.
While Michelin has a reputation for fine dining, it claims it is not all white tablecloths and silver cutlery. In 2010, a Hong Kong dim sum hole-in-the-wall was awarded a star and the guide gave a star to a Singapore chicken rice hawker last year.
Chawadee Nualkhair, a Bangkok-based street food blogger, said: “Jay Fai is like the queen of Thai street food. She could have done anything with her fame: chain restaurants, street food branches, a fancy secondary location, but she didn’t. She stayed at her open-air shophouse with her two woks. I’m glad she’s finally getting some recognition.”
The prices are, however, not in keeping with street food, which locals put down to her large portions. A Jay Fai favourite is her browned, thick crab omelette for which she charges about £20.
The much-anticipated Bangkok guide comes months after authorities angered members of the local food scene by announcing they would ban street stalls from the capital’s main roads in the interests of “order and hygiene”. The plan was partially reversed following the outcry.
The guide has 28 street food locations in it, although Michelin Guides’ international director, Michael Ellis, told the Guardian before the launch that only outlets with a physical address could be included, which excludes Bangkok’s thousands of wheeled food carts. No restaurants achieved the coveted top Michelin accolade of three stars.
While Jay Fai was the only street food vendor with a star, 18 were placed in the “Bib Gourmand” category, introduced in 1955 to recognise establishments providing stellar meals for a moderate price. One is a pad thai noodle shop, Baan Yai Phad Thai, which sells the dish for about £1.
“You can find the entire encyclopaedia of Thai food in street food. It’s omnipresent. We realised that street food in Thailand is not just a meal like lunch or dinner. It’s really all day long,” Ellis said.
The Thai capital joins Singapore, Shanghai, Seoul, Hong Kong, Kyoto and Osaka, and Tokyo as Asian food hubs deemed worthy of the French tire company’s famed red guide, first released for motorists in 1900.
By Oliver Holmes
December 6, 2017
Source: The Guardian
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