When I arrived at Raan Jay Fai on a balmy Friday afternoon, the shophouse eatery was mostly empty save for three curious travelers lounging on the plastic chairs outside.
My excitement from having arrived before the opening time of 2:30 p.m. quickly dissipated when I realized that the reservation list was already half-filled by savvy patrons who’d emailed in ahead of time.
Hurriedly, I scribbled my name on the walk-in list and proceeded to wait patiently.
While long queues are par for the course when it comes to popular street food in Bangkok, Raan Jay Fai isn’t your average roadside stall.
As the only street food eatery to be awarded a Michelin Star in the inaugural Bangkok Michelin Guide 2018, the no-frills venue has since catapulted to culinary fame for its 1,000-baht khai jeaw poo (crab omelet).
Those familiar with the prices of street food in Bangkok would know that 1,000 baht is far more lavish than what one would expect to pay for in a humble setting of plastic chairs, florescent lights, and rickety fans.
Yet, judging by the sheer number of culinary awards plastered on the green tiled walls, Raan Jay Fai is a force to be reckoned with.
Led by a 72-year old lady called Jay Fai (a nickname that loosely translates to “sister mole”), the eponymous restaurant was started nearly 40 years ago.
When asked about the hefty prices, she admitted that many people have told her that she was “crazy” as the dishes were too expensive.
However, she prides herself on paying her staff well and using the best ingredients in order to justify the prices. She said: “We should value Thai cuisine as much as other cultures. If diners don’t like my prices, they can go elsewhere.”
In the kitchen, it’s mostly a one-woman show, which explains the long wait for each table’s orders. Donning her signature black ski mask, which prevents oil from splattering into her eyes, Jay Fai deftly prepares the restaurant’s signature dishes. Her staff fusses around her, helping to assemble the ingredients and preparing the charcoal.
I notice as she grabs fistfuls of freshly shelled crab meat, dropping them into a sizzling wok atop red-hot coal, before pouring in the egg mixture.
With a wry smile, she gently pats the omelet into a plum shape reminiscent of a small rugby ball.
When my orders were served a good three hours later, I was famished. Yet, excitement filled me as I sliced apart the crab omelet to find a thin and crispy layer of egg enveloping generous lashings of crab meat. Despite the amount of oil used in the frying process, the omelet didn’t taste greasy, a testimony to Jay Fai’s culinary skills.
In short, I’d found the crab omelet of my dreams.
Another popular dish on the menu is the kee mao talay (drunken noodles with seafood). Laden with charred fragrance or wok hei (wok’s breath) and large in portion, the noodles were flavorful and delicious.
By then, it was 5 p.m. and the restaurant had already amassed crowds of passersby whipping out their cameras to catch Jay Fai in action.
As for me, I was thankful that I’d gotten a taste of her impeccable cooking. Was it worth the time and price? Absolutely.
After all, it’s hard to tell if the eatery will still be around in the next few decades, as Jay Fai says that she currently has no intentions of passing on the business.
327 Mahachai Road (at intersection with Samranrat Road) Bangkok, Thailand.
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