July 29, 2012 00:00 By Khetsirin Pholdhampalit
Chiang Mai artists collective Yonyang sets up a cafe in Bangkok's Culture Centre
The Bangkok Art and Culture Centre has decided its food for thought was leaving bellies growling, so now there’s actual food on offer. It is not performance art – it’s edible food, and quite yummy too.
Chiang Mai artists collective Yonyang: Retracing Aesthetics and Friends has opened a funky bistro named Krua Khun Kan in the centre’s shopping area on the second floor. It’s part of the Hof Art Gallery, now renamed Hof Eat and Art.
It’s probably something to do with Hof Art’s Aesthetic Business Art Project. Yonyang certainly takes its food seriously, from making the dishes appealing to turning a profit – not that the food is expensive, though.
Meet the chefs: Silwat “Jung” Ramyananda and Vichcha “Kan” Chanchalerm are the founders of Yonyang.
Jung, a Chiang Mai University graduate in art, is half-Thai, half-Japanese. He and his younger brother have for 13 years served Thai food at their bistro Hatena in Osaka, Japan. Jung’s Hatena branch on Chiang Mai’s Nimmanhemin Road, on the other hand, serves Japanese food, but he’s selling the popular artists’ hangout and moving to Bangkok.
“I’d never thought of spending my life in an art centre – it’s a new thing for me,” he says. “But I’m enjoying the new space and communicating with people I’ve never met.
“Food,” he declares, “is created with great attention to detail to get the right balance of ingredients, flavours and textures. To me it’s not art, but life.”
In business for just three weeks, Krua Khun Kan has a street-dining feel to it. Jung and Kan take turns riding around the wooden tables and chairs on a noodle vendor’s tricycle stocked with sashimi and sauces. The trike has a plastic ice tank on the back and the hand-written menus hanging off it.
They chat with diners like a chef assessing how his cuisine is being enjoyed. On the walls are Jung’s squiggly and illegible handwriting and wild props that Yongyang has used in its performances, at a comedy club and in a musical band – a bright yellow gas tank, a bicycle, a guitar and superhero helmets.
Jung picked up Japanese cooking during his decade in Japan.
“Hatena in Osaka is in Shinsabashi district, the main shopping area, and our regular customers are Japanese artists and even several of the chefs from the hit TV show ‘Iron Chef’.
“I taught them Thai cooking and they suggested some recipes for me, particularly salad sauces – but I learned how to slice sashimi from YouTube!” he laughs.
“Thai cooking requires skills and intricate techniques, whereas Japanese normally leans toward natural tastes and fresh ingredients. If you can cook Thai food, you can do any kind of cuisine.”
The menu is a brief survey of Japanese street food in generous portions at reasonable prices. The favours are tantalising, so it’s great value for money. The Bt180 Aesthetic Salad is a big bowl of diced tomatoes, cucumber, red cabbage and lettuce with sashimi, all topped with dried bonito and nori. The sauce is shoyu mixed with sesame oil, mayonnaise and a dab of wasabi.
Another pleasing dish is Chirashi Sushi (Bt350), a bowl of rice topped with sashimi including salmon, tuna, tako (octopus), dashimaki (omelette) and shime saba (vinegar-pickled mackerel). It has the same topping.
Then there’s Oyakodon (Bt120), which is “comfort food” of the sort a mother would make for her child. Chicken, egg and needle mushrooms are simmered in a sauce and served over rice. Curry rice with pork (also Bt120) is another good option for true fans of the Japanese variation’s mild taste.
<< Krua Khun Kan by Yonyang is at Hof Eat and Art on the second floor of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre opposite MBK mall.
<< It’s open daily except Monday from noon to 8.30pm.