A 70-year-old Thai street food seller who sells 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.
“I was excited from the very first step I made in here,” Jay Fai said 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 into the street, also sells rich, yellow crab curries.
Open daily in the old part of the Thai capital, the restaurant was one of just 17 awarded stars, decided by Michelin after months of secret inspections. The other awardees consisted mainly of French haute cuisine, 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, last year, the guide gave a star to a Singapore chicken rice hawker.
“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,” said Chawadee Nualkhair, a Bangkok-based street food blogger.
“I’m glad she’s finally getting some recognition,” she added.
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 the local food scene when it announced it 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 Bangkok guide has 28 street food eateries in it, although Michelin Guides’ international director, Michael Ellis, told the Guardian before the launch that only outlets with a physical address can 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,” he 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.
Other winners in Bangkok’s Michelin guide include:
Bo.Lan: one Michelin star
Chef-owners Duangporn Songvisava and Dylan Jones grow their own vegetables and serve them in a renovated Thai house that hopes to have a zero carbon footprint by 2018. All dishes, which change quarterly but have included locals favourite such as panang curry and spicy wing bean salad, are served at the same time.
Nahm: one Michelin star
Located in the Como Metropolitan hotel, Nahm is a Thai restaurant run by the Australian-born chef David Thompson. The dishes are authentic and do not shy away from the heavy doses of fresh chilli loved by Thais. Michelin said the flavours are “intense yet perfectly balanced”. Thompson’s London branch of Nahm was the first restaurant in the world to receive a Michelin star for cooking Thai food.
Suhring: one Michelin star
Cuisine: contemporary German
Run by twin chefs Thomas and Mathias Suhring, the first German fine dining restaurant in Bangkok gained recognition fast. The 12-course tasting menu is filled with homely German flavours and includes multiple wine pairings.
Gaggan: two Michelin stars
Cuisine: progressive Indian
Owned by Gaggan Anand, this is one of the most well-known restaurants in Bangkok, winning first place in the prestigious Asia’s 50 best restaurants list two years in a row. Gaggan has been praised for his playful food and culinary wit expressed in a 25-course tasting menu.