Street Food (2019) s01e01 Episode Script

Bangkok, Thailand

[Fai, in Thai] My restaurant's quite small.
And I still cook outside.
However, no one comes to Jay Fai's place for the ambiance.
They come here for the taste.
They come because the food is delicious.
[Chow, in English] When people think of Bangkok, they may think of a hot, steamy city, full of tuktuks, and endless traffic.
But above all, they think of street food.
Street food is one of the most important aspects of life in Bangkok.
Street food is something that people can talk over, discuss.
"This is my favorite place.
" "Oh, you're crazy.
That's my favorite place.
" Everyone can join in.
Always like a feeling, like there's a party going on.
It's a kind of unifier.
One of the most democratic parts of Thai life.
And then a time when class lines are getting more widened, and everyone's on their phone, and kind of in their own world already.
Street food is like one of the few things left that glues people together.
They want noodles on the way home, or, like, take away curry.
But a couple of years ago, the government decreed that street food would be restricted.
They said the vendors were encroaching on taxpayer's space, and called the vendors "leeches.
" But the vendors are there because the people want them there.
So, it's funny that, at the same time, that government is trying to say, "Vendors are just these parasites on society.
" There's somebody like Jay Fai.
Jay Fai is probably the most famous street food chef in the world.
And she has long been the Queen of Street Food on the Thai scene.
She takes these common street food dishes, and elevates them into something that they weren't before.
People line up to try her tom yum, drunken noodles, and, especially, crab omelette.
In fact, she's known as "The Omelette Lady" among some people.
[wok sizzling] She's a 73-year-old woman who manages to grind it out day after day.
People are not doing her a favor by allowing her to take up the sidewalk.
She is doing people a favor by cooking for them.
[chuckles] [Fai, in Thai] Even as a kid, I wake up thinking about work.
I'd do it every day if I could.
Every day, I wake up at 10:30 in the morning.
My staff arrives around noon to help.
I'm old, but I always remind them.
"You may be younger, but I am stronger.
" By 2:30 in the afternoon, I start preparing myself.
When I walk into my station, I have to be focused.
I am meticulous about every dish that I serve.
Everything must be flawless.
No matter how tired I am, no matter what's going on, I cook every dish myself.
I want it to be the best, because I'm not just a street cook I'm a chef.
[engines revving] [Chow, in English] Bangkok is, sort of, at the crossroads.
It's poised to become more modern.
So, the city is trying to clear the sidewalks.
Street food vendors in a lot of neighborhoods are getting told to move elsewhere.
[Chow] This is, kind of, rupturing an ecosystem that has been in place for decades.
[Khun, in Thai] My older brother was the first one to open a noodle stall on Sukhumvit 38 Road.
Back then, over 30 years ago, the place was surrounded by bars.
After the partygoers were finished very late at night, they would come to eat.
We would sell until 4 or 5 in the morning.
Last year, the landlord suddenly shut us down.
[rain splashing] [Khun] Most of our fellow vendors quit and moved back to their hometowns.
But our customers kept calling.
"Hello, hello? Where are you? Will you start selling again?" My brother suggested reopening the stall near my house, so it'd be convenient.
Our customers missed us so much that they took taxis just to see us.
Noodles cost 60 baht, while a taxi fare costs over 300 baht! [laughing] They were so happy to come out here and eat.
We were so happy to see them.
[Chow, in English] They used to serve egg noodles with crab claw, but the new clientele can't afford the crab.
Now, it is deep-fried and barbecued pork.
And the egg noodles were silky and buttery, with wontons and greens, and it's still delicious.
They would be considered the lucky ones.
Their customers overcame every possible obstacle to get them to cook for them again.
[Fai, in Thai] I grew up in a slum.
In a bad neighborhood behind a market.
Mom sold rice porridge and chicken noodles at the market.
She had to sell a lot of it.
My dad was an opium addict.
Sometimes he ran away.
We didn't know where he was.
So I became a seamstress.
I cut fabric all day, rolled them up, and sewed dresses all night.
I made sure we had food on the table.
I spent ten years as a seamstress.
Time flew by when I did this sort of work.
I was content.
However, one day, I was sewing and cutting [explosion] Boom! A stairway near me collapsed.
Fire erupted.
Everyone shouted, "Run!" I ran outside, looked back and everything was gone.
I had nothing left.
[rain rattling] [Fai] After everything burned down, all I had were the pajamas on my back.
My sewing machine and my tools were all gone.
I was in my twenties.
I didn't know what to do.
["Fai Yen" by Ream Daranoi playing] [Fai] After that, I started watching my mom sell noodles across the market.
I helped her out back then.
One day, I noticed how slowly she cooked with my sister.
There were only four or five customers standing there, waiting for their food.
I was frustrated.
I told her I wanted to cook.
She told me I couldn't do it.
"Okay, you don't think I can do this?" That night, I grabbed the wok, I started stir-frying noodles.
I practiced by myself every night, ate that food every night.
At one point, I poured oil into a wok and forgot about it.
When I saw the oil burning, I dumped it all out.
I got so mad, I threw noodles into the pan, and stirred them furiously.
The heat alone browned them nicely.
I didn't need any oil.
They had a wonderful taste and aroma.
The next day, I asked Mom for her wok.
She let me have it.
It was all up to me.
When I started to cook, the customers saw I had talent.
Right then, I began to see my path.
- [Fai] Are these my rice noodles? - [vendor] Yes.
Weigh them again.
I need one kilo.
This is nearly two.
These mushrooms are quite small.
Just cut them into two pieces, not three.
[indistinct chatter] [Fai] I love every dish that I cook.
I have no preference or prejudice.
You have to love them to cook them properly, down to every little detail.
Especially, tom yum.
The stock must be rich and tasty, that's very important.
You start with lots of bones to make the broth.
And you just keep adding bones, bird's eye chilies, fish sauce, and lime juice.
Do you know how delicious it is? - Yes.
- [woman 1] Can you recommend another dish? What about drunken noodles or tom yum? [woman 1] All right.
Let's have tom yum, then.
[in English] Tom yum is this wonderful mix of fresh herbs and natural acidity, I feel like you haven't really had Thai food until you've had tom yum because that's the quintessential Thai dish.
It's spicy, it's salty, it's tart.
And Jay Fai's tom yum is one of the best in Thailand.
It's got fist-sized prawns, juicy cuttlefish, and it's pretty amazing.
But what makes it quite different is that she doesn't just make great tom yum soup, she goes even further.
Jay Fai came out with dry tom yum, which is basically the tom yum without the broth, but with all the aromatics infused with the tom yum flavor.
The first time I had it was the first time I went to Jay Fai and it blew my mind.
It had never been done before.
She takes food that you find on every street corner and she makes it into something really unique.
[Fai, in Thai] Selling street food is not that complicated.
[Fai] They're just out there cooking late into the night.
Just like me when I didn't have a permanent shophouse.
By the time I was in my 30s, I was responsible for my whole family.
I was right on the street.
Chicken noodles, that's all I sold.
We cooked a lot.
Sometimes I cooked until 4:00 or 5:00 a.
and went to bed at dawn.
Life was very hard.
I had to put all my tables out on the sidewalk.
Sometimes, the authorities would chase us off.
On nights when it rained or when didn't let us put out tables, we were doomed.
I was trying hard to make money, but I was facing a dead end.
I realized I had to do something.
So, I took a risk.
I borrowed some money, and bought some prawns.
Very fresh tiger prawns.
I set the price at 120 baht.
One guy said, "Oh, it's just pad thai.
" I told him, "The prawns are totally different.
" Don't compare them to anyone else's.
He ate them once.
And when he kept coming back, he never ordered chicken again.
I knew the dish was a success.
I started to look into expensive things like seafood.
Higher quality ingredients meant higher prices.
That's how I got the money to rent my shophouse.
That's it.
[Chow, in English] In Bangkok, curry is essential.
It's a staple.
It's something that everybody has their own recipe for.
[indistinct chatter] [Chow] Out on the street, everyone's eating it.
And it's like the perfect comfort food.
[Chia, in Thai] No matter where we go, the journey begins with curry.
[water splashing] [Chia] Jek Pui was my father.
He learned how to make curry when he came here from China.
After my father learned how to cook curry, his relatives told him to bring his family to Thailand and start a new life.
We've been here for over 70 years.
He worked hard developing his recipe.
Sometimes he got it right, sometimes wrong, At 13, I started helping him out.
My father only sold pork and beef curries.
I created our other dishes myself.
We've added green curry with meatballs or chicken, and pork Panang.
If customers loved them, that meant the recipes were right.
[Chow, in English] Jek Pui makes a really comforting, mild curry.
It has garlic, shallots, chili.
Very few people make it from scratch anymore because it is labor intensive.
That cart, it's a really important part of the community.
There's usually a line of people sitting on red stools, with these bowls of rice and curry perched precariously on their lap.
For everyone who lives in the neighborhood, Jek Pui makes people think of childhood.
Everyone loves that curry on the corner.
[Fai, in Thai] Back when I moved into my restaurant I still called myself a street cook.
I opened my shop in the evenings.
My customers came from bars and gambling joints.
The ones who really loved to eat would gather around to watch me cook.
I saw an opportunity.
Anyone could stir-fry pad thai, I wanted to do something great.
I’d like to cook crab omelettes, but with that dish, I wanted to make something different, too.
So, I taught myself to make Japanese omelettes.
I added a lot of crabs, nearly a pound.
I flattened and rolled them.
When I took my first bite, oh! Oh, it was so beautiful.
I'd done it.
Now, I had something special to sell.
[in English] The people are surprised by how important omelettes are to Thai food, but it's a staple dish.
Jay Fai makes it into something that is fantastic and expensive.
With technique, the woks are volcanically hot.
So, if the omelettes are really light, stuffed, full to bursting with chunks of crab meat.
[in Thai] People started to talk about my food.
They're coming by.
The gambling houses started calling in lots of orders, dozens at once.
We're serving so many omelettes, sometimes we ran out of eggs.
Is Khun Da here? Please come in.
[Fai] From that point on, I started to build a whole new menu.
New dishes just came to me.
[inaudible] [Fai] Big shots and politicians started to turn up.
They would ask for special things.
There are definitely over a hundred dishes.
We have a lot on the menu.
I'm proud of my boldness and I never regretted it.
[Chow, in English] At some point, she became known as the best street food cook in the city.
She created destination food from common dishes.
- [clinking] - [munching] [Fai, in Thai] For 40 years, I worked almost every day.
And then, one day, I got a call.
Somebody was hosting a gala dinner.
I don't like to close my restaurant for anything.
But I took the day off for the party.
All of a sudden, my daughter said, "Mom, they called your name.
" - [Fai] I won the award.
- [applause] The Michelin star.
Right then, it seemed like I couldn't breathe.
[audience applauding] I was happy.
The happiest.
The next day, there was a big crowd in front of my restaurant.
Everyone wanted to take my picture.
People had to start reserving tables.
My daughter quit her job to help me manage it all.
[Chow, in English] She didn't need the star.
She knew herself that her food was the best.
The Michelin Star showed the rest of the world what a great, wonderful chef she was.
[in Thai] When chefs started coming to my shop to eat, they called me "Chef.
" Wow, I am a chef.
Me? I can't describe how proud I was.
[in English] Jay Fai represents a possible outcome for some street food vendors.
If you're good enough, you can bring people to your place, on your terms.
That success surprised the government because they continuously underplay how important street food is.
Not just to Thai people, but in Thailand's image.
Street food is for everyone.
Something purely Thai, purely Bangkok, and purely our own.
[Fai, in Thai] Put the bigger chunks in here.
Don't torture the customers.
[clinking] [sizzling] [Fai] I've been cooking for a long time.
Whenever anyone asks, I say I'm not tired.
I know my strength.
I have faith in charcoal fires and iron woks.
They taught me to be clever.
They taught me to be brave.
So, if I still have the strength, I will continue cooking.
This is me.
[closing theme music] Subtitle translation by Chanamporn Ngoensrisit