Raan Jay Fai, Bangkok
When 76-year-old Supinya Junsuta began cooking on hawker stalls 50 years ago as a means to feed her family, she would have unlikely fathomed the success her wok and innate business acumen would bring. From humble beginnings on Bangkok's streets, she has become a recognisable face in world gastronomy and this year she is deservedly honoured with the Icon Award – Asia.
Better known by the nickname that also gives her restaurant its name, Jay Fai, or ‘Sister Mole’ – referencing the birthmark to the right of her nose – opened her street food stall in the early 1980s. After being told by her mother that she did not have the skill nor palate to follow in her footsteps as a chef, she applied a methodical learning process to master the art of cooking.
Jay Fai viewed her mother’s words as a challenge and set about dissecting dishes with scientific accuracy, looking at the composition of each ingredient and how it responded to heat and fat, before coming up with her own twists on the recipes she had always eaten.
What resulted were innovative takes on traditional Thai street food. She invented a dry tom yum dish, imbued with all the flavours and fragrance associated with the iconic soup, but without the broth. Her pad kee mao talay (drunken noodles with seafood) are dry fried and made crispy with very little oil, and her khai jiao poo (crab omelette) borrows from the Japanese tamagoyaki omelette-making technique to provide the texture she desires. These dishes gave Jay Fai a point of difference to the neighbouring market traders, but her real success began when she started to embrace luxury ingredients.
After investing two months’ profit to buy king prawns to serve as part of her own version of pad Thai, she started to see a different kind of customer. Her rival traders scoffed at the pricing – around 10 times the cost of their own dishes – but when nearby gambling houses started to buy up the majority of her stock day after day, her decision became justified. After saving for two years, she was able to purchase a seven-table shophouse, where Jay Fai still resides today.
Forty years on, Jay Fai works the same stretch of Maha Chai Road she always has. Although she now allows herself an extra day off per week and one short vacation each year, she has the same steely determination and dedication to producing delicious food for her loyal customers, who have been with her for nearly half a century. A cook who puts produce first and relies on backbreaking technique to produce the quality of dish that she insists on, Supinya ‘Jay Fai’ Junsuta is a worthy winner of the Icon Award for Asia 2021.
To discover more about Jay Fai, read the article on 50 Best Stories and watch the video:
The Icon Award is voted for by the 300-plus members of the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants Academy and honours culinary icons who have made an outstanding contribution to the restaurant industry.