Old-school Thai cuisine that withstands the test of time
A collection of antique Thai kitchenware and pottery, sepia photographs of neighbourhoods, and furnishings spreads across the main hallway of the restaurant like a tiny museum. Each piece has a history, as Chef Tanaporn (Kan) Markawat narrates, tracing back to the origins of his parents and grandparents from Trang and Ratchaburi provinces. Treating his grandmother’s old four-legged wooden stove with love and respect, he honours the way that the previous generations cooked and ate.
What makes The Local “local” is deeply rooted in more than the use of local ingredients. It is the old recipes passed down to form the restaurant’s current identity: the embedded cultural aspects that represent Thainess, the simplicity of traditional Thai way of life, the subtle art of Thai cooking, and the act of learning through tasting. A brief background of each dish can be read in the menu upon ordering.
Before The Local, Oamthong restaurant was born in Phahonyothin Soi 11. Chef Kan recalls his mother’s tuk tuk trips to the market in the morning for grocery shopping. The least he could do back then was carry ice buckets back and forth and witness the dedicated searches for rare components such as a particular type of coconut shells and tamarind leaves. This routine formed a pursuit of mastering everything hands-on including experimenting with edible and inedible vegetation.
Chef Kan has grown up and accustomed to Thai cookery, furthering his knowledge and skill set by learning from some of the Thai cooking masters Khun Srisamorn Kongpun as well as local professionals from southern Thai villages. He also studied restaurant management at French Culinary Institute (FCI) in New York before returning to Bangkok to superintend The Local by Oamthong Thai Cuisine. However, he prefers implementing regional supplies to imported foreign goods. He thinks that many uncommon plants with medicinal benefits deserve to be recognised and introduced to diners, for instance, the aromatic Kayang leaf can help ease the stomach, skin, fever, and bloating. Chef Kan organically matches it with savoury fish broth for a full, round taste, and balance out the fishy odour.
Education may lead to a bigger picture, but food is memory. His personal experience in hand picking side road plants and flowers plays a part in developing menus and recipes served at his restaurant. “We cook with local foodstuffs as a real and ongoing formality, not as a trend.” Chef Kan continues, “Each person’s definition of authenticity varies, so we create our family’s own version based on the gurus’ classic recipes.”
The Local aims to keep unpretentious homestyle dishes the way they were originally represented. Chef Kan initially noticed the scarcity of decent kao gang (savoury sides served on top of rice) in Sukhumvit area, therefore, he fostered a place where urbanites can enjoy that. When the line between food evidence and wisdom is blurred, the kitchen team here revives old-fashioned cooking methods relying on today’s practicality. Behind the kitchen doors, the art of Thai cookery is led by small details that matter. Traditional granite mortars are still utilised to make chili paste although blenders are known to be a more realistic method when serving a larger group of clients during peak hours.
The first recommended dish is Gaeng Run Chuan Pork, an ancient recipe curry from King Rama V period (B240). Khun Kan has been practicing and improving The Local’s own recipe for over eight years. He explains, the flavour profile needs to be a blend of piquant, sweet, and sharp, hence spicy, in order to complete the charm of Gaeng Run Chuan. Each piece of aromatic garnish, herb, and spice is precisely and uniformly cut in proportions that give just enough mouthfeel, the pork is tenderly marinated, and the liquid consistency does not split even in room temperature after resting on the table for a while. Overall when eaten alongside warm rice, the heat soothes with a gripping aftertaste.
Ox Tongue Stewed Overnight in Homemade Massaman Curry, a true delight and special recipe from King Rama II era (B450) follows. Needless to say that it was diligently stewed for many hours, it definitely tastes that way. The meat is juicy and the curry texture also lasts in the original condition as time passes, without excessive oil or fat.
Last but not least, Mom’s Recipe Spicy Southern Fried Fish presents whole sea bass stir-fried until crispy then mixed and rolled in a hot wok with homemade Southern yellow curry paste and Thai herbs or kua kling (B580). The crispiness of every fish cube is thoroughly coated with hot umami character, accompanied by Thai stink beans that are actually more ripe and succulent than pungent and chewy.