Satisfying a craving, far away from home

Update: March, 16/2015 - 19:28

You never appreciate what you have until you do not have it, they say. Khieu Thanh Ha realises the truth of this saying in Bangkok. Fortunately, she finds good Vietnamese food in a small alley.

Eating with relish: Vietnamese tourists enjoy a bowl of sweet and sour soup at Jeraporn Restaurant.

I had always confessed to my friends that I am not a fan of Vietnamese cuisine and have never craved for it at any time or in any place.

Recently I found this to be untrue when I took a trip to Thailand for five days. In the land-of-smiles, I tasted almost all local specialities - from seafood and street food to the local fruits - which was really satisfactory until one day, I felt deprived.

"It is definitely Vietnamese food," my friend told me, when I described the feeling to her.

In a small alley in Bangkok, we found a restaurant specialising in Viet Nam's cuisine. We arrived at Jeraporn at around 7.30pm and were told that we seemed to be the last customers. I was very surprised to hear this since it is rare in Bangkok, which is known as a sleepless city.

A staff member told us that this was because they had worked very hard all day, serving numerous clients and now must rest for the next day's shift.

She said that if we had not booked in advance, they would have to scramble to find food for us at that time.

This was the first time that I recognised the advantage of dining in a group as we could not pay much, but could enjoy different dishes.

Our eight-member group really enjoyed the 12-course set menu, which was delicious and full of Vietnamese style.

Knowing that we were all hungry, all the dishes were served at the same time. The one that I liked the most was a bowl of sweet and sour soup with shrimp and sliced green spring onions and other herbs.

House special: Fried spring rolls of fish (instead of the traditional pork) is a dish that has to be booked in advance.

For a person, who travels a lot during a day, there is nothing better than this kind of a soup, which quickly helps dispel all tiredness and allows you to regain your energy.

It seemed that other members in our group were also having the same thought as me as they all finished the soup first.

Another dish that I liked was grilled pork rolled in rice paper with slices of cucumber, pineapple, green banana and herbs.

As wraps and rolls have been an all-time favourite of mine, I turned to them first, my hands busy picking ingredients, arranging them and rolling them.

In my opinion the one element that makes a delicious wrap or roll is the dipping sauce. And I was satisfied with what the Jeraporn Restaurant offered us.

The sauce was prepared with a fine amalgamation of different tastes: sweet from sugar, sour from lime juice, hot from pepper and chillies, salt and water. It also looked really delectable with pieces of garlic and chillies floating on the surface of the bowl. For me, the sensation of soaking the roll in the dip was like tasting the whole world in one bite.

The two other dishes were also so seductive that there was no way for me but to taste them, although I was trying to follow a low-carb diet.

They were banh xeo (crisp yellow pancake) and banh hoi thit heo (steamed rolls made of rice-flour and served with pork).

These was also a kind of wrap-and-roll, that made me busy again until the end of the meal.

Hot stuff: A Vietnamese staff prepares chillies at the Jeraporn restaurant in Bangkok. — VNS Photos Khieu Thanh Ha

These dishes were accompanied with different dipping sauces. Although, the ingredients were nearly the same, the cooks had been able to achieve different tastes that matched with the food.

Throughout the meal I tried to compare and look for something that was not Vietnamese, but it was a mission impossible.

I finally found the reason for this, when I suddenly heard a man speaking Vietnamese: the owner and some staff member there were my fellow-country people.

Chirawath Tepsiri, whose Vietnamese name is Quy, looked younger than her 60 years. She said her parents had migrated to Thailand many years ago and opened this restaurant.

She has taken charge of running the business and has also been the chef there for nearly four decades, as her parents grew older and passed on all their secret cooking recipes to her.

Jeraporn Restaurant

Add: 1352, Sutthi San Road, Huai Khwang, Bangkok, Sam Sen Nok

Tel: +66 227 782 36 Open from 10.30am onwards

Comment: Good food at reasonable prices, starting from $4.5; friendly and fast service, which includes take away and delivery.

Quy works in the restaurant almost daily and is efficiently helped by her 89-year-old mother and some assistants. She said she had to make sure all the dishes served to the customers would be nice and delicious.

"Most of the ingredients are imported from Viet Nam. Those that we cannot import, we try to make it as similar as possible and strictly follow the original recipes," said Quy.

"Of course, there is no way to make all the dishes 100 per cent authentic. We still have some exceptional cases when we change the recipe a little bit to serve an order from the customers, such as add more chillies or some local herbs," she added.

"Our people love to eat Vietnamese food, which is famous in Thailand. It is quite nice and there are a lot of vegetables. It brings good heath," my friend Chutathip Chareonlarp whispered me.

Quy said her restaurant is also a destination for not only Vietnamese tourists, but local Thai residents, Japanese, French and Filipinos.

"They all love my cooking. The most in demand here are pancakes sugarcane skewers, sour and spicy pork salad and fresh spring roll with shrimp," said Quy, but revealed that her speciality was dishes using fish, for which customers had to book in advance.

Recently, Jeraporn opened another branch nearby as Quy's oldest son wanted to tap into the growing demand for Vietnamese cuisine. The new restaurant also receives as many gourmands every day. — VNS