Grandmum’s home away from home
I’ve been going to Banya for so long that I’ve seen the place move from Sukhumvit to the suburbs. But even though it’s a little far from home now, in the Tiwanon area of Nonthaburi, I always make time to visit when I know what I want.
Banya is one of my favourite Thai restaurants, bar none. When I have serious eaters in town, this is where we go. The setting of the restaurant looks almost exactly the same as it did before it packed up and moved locations. Set in a lovely two-story house, nothing is overdone, from interior to exterior. The upstairs is the family room while the ground floor is the foodie heaven, although it retains the homey feel with colonial-style tiles and vintage furniture. As soon as I stepped in, I was greeted by the sweet, gentle sounds of old Thai music, luk krung, bringing me back to my childhood. It was as if I were part of the family.
I’ve eaten at Banya many times in the past, and several times since the move. The challenge is always getting out of my comfort zone of familiar tastes. But this time, I succeeded. I ordered khao chae (the traditional fragrant rice with cold, perfumed water eaten around Songkran) and khaeng keiw wan luk chin pla krai (green curry with fish meatballs) with roti. I also ordered a couple of items that were new to me, even though they were some of Banya’s original dishes, mee kati and khanom cheen namprik.
Mee kati is a familiar dish from older times, something you would have had on the side of the street as a quick savoury snack. It normally has a pink colour and looks something like a younger sister of pad thai. But once I had the first bite, I flipped—this was no relative of pad thai, not even close! This angel-hair like noodle was divine. There was a complexity to it, a deeper dimension in taste. The sauce had been prepared before it was stirred in the dish, so the flavour didn’t come from nam pla (fish sauce) or anything you could pull from the shelf and pour in as seasoning. It had the creamy taste of coconut milk, the tang of tamarind juice, the sweetness of palm sugar, and the bite of tao jiew khao (fermented whole soybeans), which provided a flavour similar to miso paste.
The khanom cheen namprik was an equally stunning combination of flavours, with rice noodles, fresh vegetables, lightly fried leaves, boiled egg, and the namprik sauce. The beauty in the sauce was the harmony of sweet and sour notes with the crusted peanut sauce. A hint of kaffir lime took it to the next level. I took a first bite with a little bit of each element and couldn’t peel the smile off my face.
Banya’s recipes have been passed down the generations, carrying on the family’s distinctive flavours and style. Go with a group and plan to spend long time lounging after the meal, chatting over one of the many desserts with a glass of herbal tea or coffee.
Banya is located at 64/51 mu 1 Tiwanon Road, Nonthaburi 10110. It’s next to Soi Rewadee closer to the intersection with Khae Lai Road. Take the expressway from town to Ngamwongwan. It’s open for lunch and dinner and closed every third Monday of the month. Call 0 2591 0315 for more information.