Meet The 74-Year-Old Queen Of Bangkok Street Food Who Netted A Michelin Star : The Salt Chef Jay Fai cooks everything herself over two blazing charcoal fires in the alley, using only the highest-quality ingredients to serve customers who are willing to wait several hours to nab a table.
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Meet The 74-Year-Old Queen Of Bangkok Street Food Who Netted A Michelin Star

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Meet The 74-Year-Old Queen Of Bangkok Street Food Who Netted A Michelin Star

Meet The 74-Year-Old Queen Of Bangkok Street Food Who Netted A Michelin Star

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/732529154/736138142" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's go to Bangkok, Thailand, a city known for its street food. One vendor's street food is so good it has earned a Michelin star for the second year running and also earned her a starring role in the new Netflix documentary series called "Street Food." Her name is Supinya Jansuta, but everybody calls her Jay Fai, which is also the name of the restaurant. Here's Michael Sullivan.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Kashmira Velji, a tourist from Austin, Texas, wanted to eat at Jay Fai's bad after she saw the Netflix doc. How bad?

KASHMIRA VELJI: We got here at 7:30.

SULLIVAN: For a place that doesn't even open till 2 in the afternoon.

VELJI: Everybody we've talked to had told us that they had got here at 9 or they had got here at 10. They ended up being number 30 on the list, and they couldn't wait that long to get food. So I was like, well, we're showing up, and we're getting the table.

SULLIVAN: And she did. Seven hours later, they were biting into Jay Fai's signature crab omelet.

VELJI: I've never had anything like this before. Like, it's light and airy, but it's also hardy.

SULLIVAN: And then there was the dry tom yum, another Jay Fai specialty.

VELJI: So it's exactly the same flavors of the tom yum soup, but instead of, like, slurping it, I'm chewing it. And I'm eating it and I'm still getting all those sour, spicy flavors.

SULLIVAN: How can she do that?

VELJI: She's magic, man. I don't know. She's just - she's got special powers.

SULLIVAN: Her friend, Ana Wong, who'd been a little skeptical a little earlier, surrendered.

ANA WONG: It's amazing. Just delicious flavors, and they're not overpowering one another. You can taste each one of them and - impressive.

JAY FAI: (Foreign language spoken).

SULLIVAN: And part of the fun, they both say, was watching the dishes get made. The 74-year-old Jay Fai cooks everything herself over two blazing charcoal fires in the alley next to the street wearing a wool cap and huge bug eye safety goggles to ward off the heat and fire. Why won't she let anyone else cook?

FAI: (Through interpreter) They can't do it. This is very hard to do. It's not that I don't want them to do it. But even when they watch me, they can't remember anything.

SULLIVAN: Jay Fai says she learned to cook from her mom who sold noodle soup with pork or chicken, then got her own place and always - always, she says - she was watching others cook then trying to do it better.

FAI: (Through interpreter) I tried to cook every night after I closed the restaurant. I experimented until I got a dish right.

SULLIVAN: It worked, and then some. When she got her Michelin star, she says, she was blown away. And though she's grumbled about it a little since, about the crowds that have come with the fame, she says she's happy.

FAI: (Through interpreter) To be honest, it was the high point of my life. If I die now, if anything happens now, I'm happy.

SULLIVAN: Jay Fai says her daughter wants her to quit cooking soon. She's not sure she can. This is my passion, she says, and my art. And the thought of her hanging up her goggles and apron terrifies her Thai regulars.

SUPARAT TRETACHAYAKORN: Selfishly, I hope that she could go on and on. I don't know how many years, but I just hope as long as possible.

SULLIVAN: Suparat Tretachayakorn, a doctor, is here with a bunch of friends.

TRETACHAYAKORN: This is something that I cherish. I love street food, and this is, like, the quintessential street food of Bangkok.

SULLIVAN: But it ain't cheap. A three-dish meal here will set you back about $75 in a country where you can get a decent street meal for less than $2. Jay Fai has taken a little flak for that but doesn't much care. Oh, and you can make reservations to avoid waiting in line. You just have to book a month or so in advance.

For NPR News, I'm Michael Sullivan in Bangkok.

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