As the trend in sustainable, organic and farm-to-table restaurants spreads across Asia, here are some of the best and healthiest bites to find in Bangkok
Sustaina must be one of the few restaurants that stocks organic fruits and vegetables from its own rural farm; located a few hours away near Khao Yai National Park.
The menu here is heavy on Japanese favorites and Thai dishes given a Japanese twist, like the papaya salad served with wakkame seaweed. No beef or pork is served, and the chicken is free-range from Thailand. For seafood, they have a direct connection to a fishing trawler off the east-coast, ensuring they serve only the freshest catches.
Many of the teas and tonics come from the factory on the farm, set up by founder and president, Sho Oga. As a knowledgeable advocate for all things organic, he is deeply concerned about the plunging nutritional values of agricultural products farmed with heavy amounts of chemicals. “In the last 10 years the level of enzymes, vitamins and minerals in fruit and vegetables has dropped by 50 per cent,” he said. One reason, perhaps, why he has developed such innovative products as the Enzyme Drink, now the company’s second most popular product abroad; and its bestseller, Moroheiya Noodles, made from an Egyptian green known as the “Pharoah’s Vegetable.”
After the parent company, Harmony Life, became an international success, distributing its products in more than 10 countries and in some 300 branches of Whole Foods in the US, he set up the Bangkok restaurant in 2009, which contains a shop and a supermarket and also hosts workshops on organic food and farming. To pass on his knowledge about this kind of farming to other farmers, Sho Oga and his colleagues organize two-day workshops every month on the company farm for an average of 500 farmers from around Southeast Asia.
Tel: 02 258 7573 | www.harmonylife.co.th
The restaurant’s founders are a Thai-Australian couple, Duangporn ‘Bo’ Songvisava and Dylan Jones, who met while working in the kitchen of London’s Nahm—the first Thai restaurant to ever receive a Michelin star—under Chef David Thompson. After relocating to Thailand they became local purveyors of the Slow Food movement and started Bo.lan, the name based on an amalgamation of their names.
Bo.lan’s tagline is “essentially Thai.” This means that the menu is stuffed with different dishes from all over the kingdom, based on ancient recipes culled from yellowing cookbooks with contemporary flourishes. The menu changes with the seasons, as Dylan said, “We have to be adaptable. So if it’s sustainable, it’s also seasonal, which means you can’t sell something all year round. To understand sustainability you have to look at the bigger picture, which is nature itself.”
One of the essentials of the farm-to-table and organic movement is sourcing foods locally so they’re fresher and do not enlarge the restaurant’s carbon footprint. When Bo.lan began some six years ago, the only chemical-free staple they could easily get was rice from Raithong Organics.
“If you wanted organic lemongrass or Thai basil you had to buy a huge amount, like 50 kilos,” reflects Bo, who did a Masters Degree in Gastronomy in Australia and won the first award for Asia’s Best Female Chef at Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants awards in 2013. “These days it’s easier as many smaller farms have grouped together. So we can call the farmers directly to see what’s available rather than scouring local markets.”
The restaurant also serves as a nexus for the Slow Food, organic and sustainability movements, as the staff pass on their accrued wisdom through cooking classes and also serve as grocers for homemade organic products.
Tel: 02 260 2962 | www.bolan.co.th
The Oyster Bar Bangkok
Having studied marine biology and worked in the seafood business for much of his life, Billy Narinelli (pictured), the owner of The Oyster Bar Bangkok and a shellfish exporter, understands the high and low tides of this industry better than most. He has a preacher’s zeal for all things organic and sustainable and that means no endangered species and no farmed salmon, only organic produce and healthy GABA rice on the menu. It also means that all of the dressings are fresh: no MSG or other chemical additives to fret over.
Known as the “Oyster King,” Billy’s restaurant has an appetizing array delivered fresh from the US and Japan twice a week. For those new to this taste, the Kumamoto, a small oyster with a light flavour from Japan, is highly recommended. The restaurant also has a good selection of Atlantic specimens, from Blue Point, Duck Island, Delaware Bay, and Southampton in Long Island. The latter have been farmed by the Shinnicock Indians in what is the world’s first solar-powered oyster hatchery.
High-rollers with expensive tastes may wish to sample the Rolls Royce of oysters: the Iwagaki. These big beauties are from 10 to 20 years old. At B3,000 (US$100) per dozen, and are reserved for diners with deeper pockets. That said, the Oyster Bar Bangkok has plenty of mid-range fish dishes and reasonably priced Alaskan king crab, plus tasty ravioli served with healthy algae called spirulina.
Tel: 02 212 4809 | www.theoysterbarbangkok.com
A hybrid of restaurant-cum-gallery that is part architectural marvel and part glitzy cocktail bar, Eat Me is one of Bangkok’s top restaurants with a cuisine that’s described as “modern, international, regional.”
Executive chef Tim Butler, originally from Maine in the US, has designed an ever-shifting menu where diners can often see at first glance where their food comes from and in the case of the fish, how it’s been caught. He and his team source whatever they can from around the country, whether that’s produce from wet markets, night markets or rabbits from the Royal Project.
In Thailand, it’s not the consumers who are pushing this movement towards healthier fare, as they do in many Western countries, it’s mostly been the Western chefs like Tim who have taken it upon themselves to find the best produce possible. “It’s unthinkable for me to source the cheapest products out there,” say Tim. “I wouldn’t serve them in my home to my family or friends so I wouldn’t serve them in the restaurant.” For that reason, he wonders whether this movement should be called “ethical restaurants” or even “socially responsibly restaurants.” As he continues, “Calling them “organic” is not a promise that any restaurateur could completely guarantee.”
Tel: 02 238 0931 | www.eatmerestaurant.com
Another obstacle facing this whole revolution in healthy food is the price. How many of us working stiffs and desk jockeys can afford to shop for organic produce at the supermarket or go out for regular meals at such eateries?
That’s one of the selling points at May Veggie, an economical vegan restaurant within strolling distance of the Asok BTS station. It’s a cozy and unpretentious place, simply furnished with wooden chairs and tables and floral motifs on the walls and ceilings. At first glance, the menu yields a bounty of delightfully different surprises, like “vegetarian bacon,” fried rice that comes in a sawn-off pineapple, and a version of the savory Isaan staple nam dtok with mushrooms subbing in for meat. My favorite though, is the vegetarian chicken steak with pepper and basil leaves, which comes with mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables. To boost the mineral and nutrient count, I’d recommend washing it down with some fresh carrot or beetroot juice.
The friendly staff add to the serene vibe of this music-free restaurant, which has a small selection of organic products for sale, such as coconut oil and rice.
Tel: 02 118 2967 | www.mayveggiehome.com
By Jim Algie