I’m breaking a promise; the promise that I made to my friends that I wouldn’t tell anybody about eating at our secret beloved restaurant. The promise didn’t come from my being selfish, and wanting to keep this woman’s graceful cooking and service to myself alone, but rather because I don’t want her to get too popular and have to work too hard, because she is so sacred to me.
Jay Fai is the woman in question, and she makes me feel like I am the luckiest person in the world. She is a ballerina of fire. She is a rare master, and is still cooking her food with charcoal. At her cooking station in the alleyway, on the side of her shophouse, she has two charcoal braziers that are constantly aflame. She controls the fire with a fan, and her four accompanying woks are on stand-by. With each dish she prepares, and each movement she makes, it seems like she is in a trance! And when Jay Fai has her workman’s goggles on it means she is ready for some real action!
Any dish she makes comes with a lovely “wokky” smell, the smell of the bottom of a well-seasoned wok. Her renowned crab curry, puu pad pongkari, is the best in the universe and it is on the top of my list. The fresh chunks of crab meat, big as a farang’s thumb, lay in the orange curry egg-creamy sauce alongside the crescent-moon shapes of crunchy sweet onions. It looks like orange lava over edible rocks! No friend of mine who has sampled Jay Fai’s food well will bother with any dinner table conversation before tossing the first bite into their mouths. Their complete attention on the fullness of flavour, and the textures and aromas.
I told my close friends that if I could choose the last dish of my life it would be Jay Fai’s tom yum haeng (dry tom yum). It’s like tom yum soup in an enhanced dimension. All the tom yum ingredients are fresh cut, for the aroma to release its strongest fragrance. Then, instead of cooking a normal tum yum soup in the wok, she cooks the soup down until it’s almost gone before adding giant shrimps, squid, and fresh fish fillets for the final seconds of full heat. To me, the difference between tom yum soup and tom yum haeng is like the difference of cologne versus perfume. This tom yum haeng version is more aromatic, but delicately so, and more nuanced in its taste. Seriously, I feel that this dish is in love with itself—it’s like consuming an impressive piece of art in which your taste buds keep discovering layer after layer of the beauty of taste.
In fact, it’s not an exaggeration to say that Jay Fai IS an artist. She cooks every single dish by herself. No matter who you are, she will treat you with grace, and with great food. The love she puts into her food makes me just simply love her all the more in return. And you know what… this is only the beginning of what she has to offer (but I have to stop this column somewhere).
Address: Jay Fai is on Mahachai Road, the same street as Padthai Thipsamai, about 20 meters south of the giant queue for padthai. It’s a shophouse, with a little alleyway on the side, where you will see fiery flames dancing all the time. She’s open from 3pm till 2am, every day except Sunday.