One of those little-known gems which abound in Bangkok, our featured restaurant this month is called Benyathip Khao Khaeng, although locals know it as the ‘Queen of Nam Prik’s restaurant’. You’ll find it in a shop house not far from the mouth of Sukhumvit Soi 93 (a short walk from the Bangchak BTS station). I went. I sat. I ate. And I nearly cried for joy! This is food from the heart.
The Queen of Nam Prik (nam prik being a traditional fiery chili paste dish) is actually a friendly aunty who flits between bubbling woks and presides over a kaleidoscopic array of dishes laid out in neat lines for customers to choose from. The sensory excitement of her multi-colored, multiflavored offerings contrasts with her ramshackled yet atmospheric restaurant where bare bulbs hang overhead and the walls, crammed with shrines and photos, have
turned yellow and black, layered with grease and grime accumulated over the 40 years the restaurant has been open.
But like so many of Thailand’s hidden gastronomic gems, the décor is of little importance. It’s all about the food and among a dizzying range of traditional Thai dishes, the stars of the show here are undoubtedly the nam prik offerings, the metaphorical jewels in the owner’s crown.
She could hardly contain her enthusiasm as she delivered bowls of spicy nam prik makham (young tamarind), nam prik pla yang (grilled fish) and nam prik ta daeng (meaning ‘red eye’ because large dried red chilies are the main ingredient) to my table. They were all delicious, lip-smackingly good in fact, illustrating that the charm of the Queen of Nam Prik’s cuisine lies in its simplicity, the flavors alive and real, as in the best of hearty home cooking.