It was just another day at the office when the good news came.
“I was at the restaurant prepping when I found out I was named Asia’s Best Female Chef 2018,” recalls Chef Bongkoch “Bee” Satongun of Paste, a one Michelin-star restaurant in Bangkok. She received the award during a ceremony held by Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants last March 27 in Macau.
“I was delighted. I really wasn’t expecting it at all.”
But her customers did. “We’ve been very fortunate to have always had the wonderful support of the Thai community,” observes Chef Bee, who opened Paste in 2013 with her husband, Chef Jason Bailey.
“Our diners always compliment us on our food philosophy, the refinement of our cuisine, and being able to create such complex flavors.”
So a visit to Paste means getting served a version of Thai food you’ve probably never had before. “There’s a general misconception that Thai food is only just for cheap takeaway,” she muses. It’s an impression she wants to change.
“Paste’s success comes from our extensive knowledge of historical Thai cuisine, and how we offer a completely fresh interpretation of traditional dishes,” explains the 41-year-old chef, who learned traditional cooking techniques – and “preparing things from scratch” – at a young age in her mum’s shop and kitchen.
“Our approach is to modernize about 20% and to keep 80%, of the original dish’s culture and heritage. What I find most challenging is how to retain uniquely Thai flavors whilst adapting the dish to a contemporary audience.”
This soft spot for tradition and local food has Chef Bee championing her favorite Thai dishes and eateries. Here are a few of her suggestions when you’re in Bangkok:
Sang Wa at Paste
Chef Bee: Made of lobster, kaffir lime and mandarin juice, buzz button flowers and crisp local seaweed, this dish is a nice one to try as it represents a sense of tradition and showcases Thai seasonal ingredients. Kaffir lime is used for its zesty flavor; but as its aroma can overpower the dish, it is mixed with mandarin juice to add sweetness and balance. At Paste, we use buzz button flowers. This unique flower is refreshing and perfect as a palate cleanser. We also add crispy fish skin and local seaweed for a crunchy texture.
Paste, 3rd Floor, Gaysorn, 999 Ploenchit Road, Lumpini, Bangkok; tel: +66 (0)2 656 1003, www.pastebangkok.com
Kanon Jeen Sao Nam at Klang Soi Restaurant
Chef Bee: This dish of rice noodles with pineapple, ginger, coconut milk and fish balls is definitely one of my comfort foods. It’s made by combining fish sauce, sugar, coconut milk and lime juice, and with condiments such as sliced ginger, pineapple, garlic, dried baby shrimp and bird’s eye chili. It’s actually simple but very difficult to perfect the flavor. It should be a perfect balance of salty, sweet, sour and creamy. What I really enjoy about this restaurant in Sukhumvit 49 is it still serves the dish with traditional hand-rolled fish balls not often found in most places.
Klang Soi Restaurant, 12/1 Soi Sukhumvit 49/9, Sukhumvit Road, Khlong Tan Neua, Wattana, Bangkok; tel: +66 (0)2 391 4988
Kaeng Kee Lek and Num Prik Long Rea at Suan Thip
Chef Bee: This restaurant in Nonthaburi (northern Bangkok) is a wonderful place to visit for excellent Thai dishes in a beautiful traditional setting. Set along the river, it is representative of historic Thai architecture and serves dishes that are quite hard to find, such as Kaeng Kee Lek, grilled pork curry with cassia leaves, and Num Prik Long Rea, shrimp paste relish served with fluffy catfish, caramelized pork and salted eggs.
Suan Thip, Changwattana Pak Kret 3 Road (Soi Wat Koo), Bangpood, Pak Kret, Nonthaburi; tel: +66 (0)2 583 3748, www.suanthip.com
Kao Chae and Kaeng Jued Look Rog at Sanguan Sri
Chef Bee: Sanguan Sri is a local gem that is very close to Phloen Chit in the city center. I love the array of traditional Thai dishes on offer at this restaurant; some of my favorites are Kao Chae and Kaeng Jued Look Rog. Kao Chae is a rice dish wherein the rice has been soaked in cold, jasmine-infused water. It is served with fresh jasmine flowers and a number of ingredients, including kapi ball (a fermented shrimp paste ball that’s deep-fried in a batter), stuffed shallots, stuffed sweet peppers, shredded sweet pork, chai po (stir-fried sweet pickled Chinese turnips with eggs), carved finger roots and cucumber. Kaeng Jued Look Rog is a clear soup with egg, pork intestine, and local sausages. These are all dishes that we grew up with but aren’t easily found in restaurants anymore, and it brings a sense of nostalgia for me.
Sanguan Sri, 59/1 Witthayu Road, Lumpini, Pathum Wan, Bangkok; tel: +66 (0)2 251 9378