Try tasty alternatives at Theera Healthy Bake Room
Thai food is diverse, cheap, and downright delicious. The only downside: it isn’t always the healthiest of foods. Deep-fried, sugar-laden, excessively meaty, and laced with MSG, some of the most commonly loved foods are actually quite terrible for health and well-being. And that’s without even taking food allergies or intolerances into account. In response to these dining dangers, Theeta “Uang” Hotrakitya opened Theera Healthy Bake Room, where she offers gluten- and dairy-free versions of desserts and breads, as well as wholesome meals.
Uang was trained at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu Dusit cooking school and started selling desserts via Facebook. But her path quickly changed when she discovered her son was intolerant to gluten and dairy. Good mother that she is, Uang began to experiment in her kitchen, trying to perfect “normal” recipes without using dairy or gluten and then selling the most successful of these products on Facebook. Her audience—mostly Thai people struggling with food allergies—expanded to the point where opening her first shop on Soi Sukhumvit 42 wasn’t just a good business decision, but rather a necessity. Now, Uang runs another two branches: one in Siam Paragon and the other in the new Central Eastville.
While health food long ago became trendy in the West, it’s only starting to find its footing in Thailand. Replicating dishes isn’t so easy where certain ingredients just don’t exist. “I’ve done a lot of research on Western websites and blogs. However, I still need to adjust my recipes, [because] here it’s either not easy to find ingredients or it’s too expensive to use imported gluten-free flours,” explains Uang, who nevertheless claims that her biggest hurdle is creating gluten-free or vegan versions of pre-existing and widely loved dishes. Whenever possible, she sources ingredients from local suppliers to mitigate costs while supporting Thai businesses, especially those who specialize in hard-to-find items, like coconut yoghurt. Some other rare goods she creates from scratch, including her soy-based ice-cream.
Though health-conscious, Uang herself is relaxed about food and admits to eating nearly everything. The key, she says, is to always opt for the healthiest choice available, and, if none exists, to keep indulgences in moderation. She usually eats gluten-free bread with nut butter, non-fried meat with steamed veggies, salads, and snacks from Theera Healthy Bake Room.
Considering Theera’s success and its growing number of Thai customers, it seems health food is finally on the forefront of peoples’ minds here. “A lot of typical Thai dishes will always include ingredients such as MSG, but I think there is already a wider range of healthier choices available and that that market will continue to grow,” says Uang. She just might be on to something. The recent launch of her online shop, as well as several retailers stocking Theera products, including Broccoli Revolution and the Bangkok Farmers Market, seem to suggest as much. For as tasty as her treats may be, though, Uang’s greatest achievement might be the access to wholesome and healthy goods she has given to locals.
Recently, Uang has taken up a new project called “Steps with Theera.” In a new branch in Ekamai Soi 10, the programme offers a vocational training centre for young adults with special educational needs. Uang has previously offered work experience opportunities with young adults with special needs, an area she is particularly passionate about, since her son has autism. “I saw the positive outcomes for both the students and for my cafe and decided to collaborate with a special needs teacher to open our own vocational training centre and coffee shop,” she explains. The vocational programme focuses on life skills and transition to employment, teaching areas such as money management, baking, cleaning, and organisation. For more information, visit stepswiththeera.com and theerahealthybakeroom.com.