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What’s cooking?

Words: Mimi Grachangnetara
Photographs: Withoon Premsri
Feb 14, 2020

What’s cooking?

Words: Mimi Grachangnetara
Photographs: Withoon Premsri
Feb 14, 2020

REMEMBER THE WARMTH AND SENTIMENTAL VALUE OF A “COOK SHOP” MEAL? WE JUST GUESSED HOW OLD YOU ARE.

It was the constant stream of westerners that trickled into Shanghai and Hong Kong during the 1920s and 1930s that had transformed these cities into the “Paris of the East”. Ambitious Chinese workers soon flocked there in search of work, with those coming from Hainan, reputed for their cooking skills, duly got jobs in the kitchen. There, they were trained to rustle up western dishes such as beef salads and ox-tongue stew to keep their expatriate employers happy.

It wasn’t long before western diplomats and merchants made their way to Siam (Thailand’s former name) and, worried that they may not be able to stomach Thai food, they decided to bring their well-trained Chinese chefs in tow. But without the necessary ingredients, the chefs were forced to adjust the recipes of western dishes to suit their Chinese palates. Thus was the beginning of what was probably the first fusion movement in the culinary world triggered by these chefs, or “cooks” as Thais prefer to call them. Cook shops soon became a household name and was a place where deep-pocketed westerns and locals would dine. Today, only a handful remain in business.

AGAVE (FU MUI KEE)

This is the reincarnation of the original 80-year-old cook shop on Surawong Road known as AGAVE. Although the classic wooden diner seats have been replaced by wooden Chinese Chippendale chairs, the Euro Chinese menu at Agave, located on Rama 9 Soi 7, is still impressive and the creations still follow the same cooking techniques as the original Fu Mui Kee. For a taste of history, order the spare ribs, the beef salad and the lengua (beef tongue) served with mashed potato and peas. A dash of Gai Nguang Worcester Sauce is imperative.

 

One of Agave Fu Mui Kee’s signature dishes, the lengua “beef tongue” served with potatoes and peas.

CHAIROTE

This spacious, 50-year-old cook shop run by a stoic old couple partially owes its existence to the location opposite Santiratbamroong School and just a few steps from Phyathai BTS skytrain station. With walls painted in pastel green with matching green tables, the soothing interior is the ideal place with which to tuck into old-school favourites such as nua san pad prik kee noo (beef stir-fried in bird’s eye chilli), stew lin wua (ox-tongue stew) or the salad nua san (beef salad). We guarantee you a hearty meal at just under 500 baht.

MITR KO YUAN

Serving up Bangkok’s all-time favourite Thai and Hainanese dishes since the reign of King Rama V, this little restaurant is located within walking distance from the Giant Swing. It gets really crowded during peak hours so best to grab a seat way before the lunch and dinner crowds descend. Star dishes include the mee krob ror haa (meek krob since reign of King Rama V), ox-tongue stew, shrimps/chicken/beef/pork salad.

TONG LEE

If you’ve a soft spot for moo pad kapi (pork in krill paste), liver stir-fried in garlic or Hainanese fried chicken, this is the place to be. Perhaps the only remaining cook shop in the area, Tong Lee on Sukhumvit Soi 20 still seems well ahead of the game, providing delivery service available through LINEMAN. If you’re ordering the fried chicken, it’s best to grab a table here to savour the crispy, golden skin fresh from the fire.

Tong Lee is tucked away in Sukhumvit soi 20.

The famous Tong Lee fried-chicken that won’t break the bank.

TRAIPORN POCHANA

From a small stall selling gruel on the streets, this decades-old, award-winning place now boasts branches in Prachachuen, Ramkhamhaeng and Theparak areas offering comfort Thai-Chinese fare. Their signature dishes include the pla jaramet tod (fried pomfret) and dtab pad yeera (liver stir-fried in caraway).

Liver stir-fried in caraway at Traiporn Pochana.

MENG LEE

Step inside this shophouse and you’ll feel as if you’ve entered a time warp back to the 1930s. Located right opposite the Grand Palace, this classic cook shop boasts antique wooden tables, elaborate tiled floors and classic swing doors that certainly add to the vintage experience. Order dishes that have been served since the reign of King Rama V such as the tom yum kaa moo (pork trotters in spicy tom yum soup), roast pork or the mee krob (crispy noodles) that still remain true to their roots.

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