Bangkok’s street food queen, Che Fai, as she is popularly known as, as in ‘che’ meaning older sister in Chinese and ‘fai’ referring to the prominent moles scattered over her face – wins the prestigious Icon Award — Asia 2021 at Asia’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards, which was held virtually on March 25.
Yet again, eight restaurants in Bangkok have made Thailand proud by making it to the second half of top 100. Five of them are the first-timers of the 50 Best family, which are Samrub for Thai (No. 59), Jay Fai (No. 62), Le Normandie (No. 74), Baan Tepa (No. 79), Nahm (No. 80), and Quince (No. 97).
Jay Fai has been cooking at her open-air shophouse for more 40 years, turning her modest restaurant into a coveted destination for gourmets, chefs, celebrities and VIPS from within Thailand and across the world. Jay Fai honours Bangkok’s much-admired street food culture by sourcing only premium ingredients for her dishes and applying cooking techniques she has developed over the decades.
The late Bangkok Post food critic Ung Aang Talay once noted that she has the ability to “transform very ordinary, lunchtime-at-the-market dishes into masterpieces of local cuisine”. The 76-year-old’s celebrity status was reinforced in 2019 when Netflix launched its Street Food: Asia series and devoted its premiere episode to the veteran cook.
Che Fai has never written down a recipe – she does not intend to pass on the business as she does not wish her children to continue with the hard work since it has earned enough.
The Must-Try Dishes at Jay Fai as per Michelin Guide:
Roadside hawker Supinya Junsuta, better known as Jay Fai, found fame for receiving a Michelin star two years in a row, but the 76-year-old still personally cooks every dish to perfection at her Bangkok stall.
1. Crab Omelette called ‘khai-cheo-poo’ in Thai
2. Stir-fried Noodles with seafood called ‘phad-khee-mao-thaley’.
Flat rice noodles stir-fried with a hot and spicy sauce, basil leaves, shredded fingerroots, unripe green peppercorns, fresh chili, crisp hearts of coconut palm and fresh seafood like huge whole prawns, tender rings of squid and cuttlefish.
3. Tom Yum Soup
Spicy, tart and fragrant with bruised galangal, kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass, this ‘tom yum kung’ features shelled jumbo prawns, chunks of fish, squid and mushrooms swimming in a deceptively clear, heady broth. A soup bearing natural medicinal properties to bring you out of a cold.
4. Yellow Crab Curry – ‘poo phad phong curry’ in Thai
Features the same generous hunks of deshelled lump crab meat as those in her famous crab omelette, stir-fried with eggs and onions in a fragrant and thick creamy yellow curry sauce.
Jay Fai’s restaurant occupies a shophouse on Maha Chai Road, in the neighbourhood known as Samran Rat or Pratu Phi in Bangkok’s Phra Nakhon District. It is open-air and sparsely decorated, with green tiled walls and simple tables and stools for seating. Cooking takes place at the side of the shop, where the walls open onto a small alley, using two charcoal braziers. Che Fai herself works six days a week as the restaurant’s sole chef, wearing her signature ski goggles (to protect her eyes) while she cooks, with the exception of Sundays when she rests and the shop is closed.
Jay Fai procures ingredients, especially seafood, directly from several sources, placing an emphasis on quality. This is reflected in her prices, which are much higher than regular street fare. One of her more famous dishes, for example, is a crab-meat omelette which costs upwards of 1,000 baht (over US$30).