One of the must-haves for any gourmand visiting Bangkok in the 80s/90s must be Jay Fai’s “sen yai pad kee mao” (“sen yai” is the Thai term for Cantonese “hor fun” or Hokkien “kway teow” - flat, wide rice noodles) and “kee mao” or “drunken” refers to the cooking method. It’s a spicier rendition compared to other types of Chinese-inspired Thai noodle dishes).
The owner-chef, Supinya “Jay Fai” Junsuta’s shop, Raan Jay Fai, is located at Thanon Mahachai, a couple of doors away from the hyper-popular Thipsamai.
Raan Jay Fai still does very well today, and the crowd builds up towards the later part of the evenings.
“Jay Fai” or “Big Sister Mole” is a 70-year-old lady who cooked up a storm on her woks over hot charcoal braziers with leaping flames. These days, she’s always clad in long sleeves, a large apron and a pair of oversized black goggles (pinched off her motorcyclist husband) which she rarely remove.
Jay Fai learnt to cook from an early age to help her mother sell food at a market (her father was an opium addict who later abandoned his family).
Along the way, this self-taught cook improved and upgraded her family heirloom dishes to become their world-famous versions we know today. She still cooked everything single-handedly herself.
Even her own daughter, Yuwadee Junsuta, who gave up her corporate career to assist her mom in managing the eatery, does not know the recipes yet.
- Jay Fai’s sen yai pad kee mao these days seemed to have progressed to a luxe version, with humongous, very fresh prawns, lump crabmeat, squid, baby corn, egg, khanaeng (Chinese kale) and chillis. I loved the ingredients, but wished there were more “sen yai” and less of those other stuff. Tastewise, the dish did not differ from any of the ordinary versions and still require the pickled chillis, sugar & fish sauce condiments.
Stir-fried seafood dry rice congee (“choke talay”). This is normal thick, gluey Chinese rice congee, but transformed by a stir-frying process into a wonderful new dish which tasted simply sensational (to me). It’s also replete with luxurious seafood items buried by the rice porridge at the bottom of the bowl. It’s topped with julienned ginger, Chinese parsley and “pathongko” (Thai-style crisps). The flavours of the porridge were assertive and suits my (Chinese-Chaozhou) taste preference to a ‘t’. Turned out it was the best dish I had that evening.
The piece de resistance, and Jay Fai’s claim-to-fame these days, is a ginormous fresh lump crabmeat omelette (“kai jeaw poo”). It’s so huge, you need 4 persons to finish one portion of this, which sells for THB1000 (nearly US$30). It was truly delicious, though, and worth every cent of it.
- The last dish we had was pretty superfluous, really: deep-fried giant wantons (“kaew”), filled with large prawns and coated with eggs. It was another exercise in over-dressing an otherwise simple street food in luxurious ingredients, perhaps to justify the sky-high prices charged there. THB500 (US$15) for the dish.
Still, Jay Fai’s main clientele are the Bangkok-Thais themselves, albeit the middle-class ones. This, in itself, speaks for the authenticity of the food it offers.
Be forewarned - there’s not much of an ambience here in the old shophouse.
The only time I saw Jay Fai without her goggles was when she obliged Martha Stewart for a photo-op. She has a large mole on the right side of her face, which explains her nickname.
Raan Jay Fai ( เจ๊ไฝ)
327 Thanon Mahachai, Khwaeng Samran Rat, Bangkok 10200, Thailand
Reservations via email: email@example.com (you will receive a confirmation email in return).
Opening hours: 3pm to 1am (Mon-Sat, closed Sundays).