It was down a dimly-lit, dilapidated alley in Chinatown that six of us walked, careful to avoid stepping on the cockroaches scuttling across the floor and breathing sharp intakes of the fishy odors that permeated the neighborhood. A couple of turns later, a glass-fronted, fluorescent-lit shop house greeted us. There was no signage to indicate that this was a restaurant, but we saw two families clustered around two red-cloth-draped circular tables laden with food. “Very old school, just like a traditional Chinese banquet,” I thought, as we were ushered into the shop house–restaurant.
A month earlier, a friend called me up to invite my husband and I to join him and three others at Jok’s Kitchen, the legendary private kitchen helmed by crab vendor turned chef Somchai Tangsinpoolchai (nicknamed Jok). A Thai of Chinese–Teochew descent, Jok was originally running his family seafood exporting business and only indulged in cooking for close friends in his free time. Words of his culinary finesse soon spread and friends of friends started requesting to sample his specialties, prompting him to set up his own home kitchen: Jok’s Kitchen.
Dining at Jok’s Kitchen, however, comes with certain caveats: Chef Jok only serves a maximum of four tables at any one time (it used to be two); a table reservation requires a minimal of six diners and booking made at least a month in advance; plus there’s no fixed menu—Jok calls the shots and decides on the dishes for the day. These factors combine to make Jok’s Kitchen one of Bangkok’s most coveted tables, with a long list of renowned figures as its past patrons. Intrigued by the hype, we accepted the dinner offer.
Back at the dinner table, six expectant faces—and hungry tummies—eagerly awaited the meal that was to come. First to come was a plate of shrimp dumplings generously topped with fried shallot and mini garlic cloves. I picked up one with my chopsticks and dipped it into vinegar before popping it into my mouth. The filling was thick and the wonton skin thin, while the garlic morsels accentuated the texture and flavor of the dumplings.
Next up was Jok’s signature steamed crabs. Oversize, fat ones they were, with plump pincers cooked to a tantalizing crimson-orange hue and the meat delicate and sweet. However, I was a tad disappointed with this crustacean dish; I was expecting it to be the pièce de résistance but it turned out to be just tasty in a rather underwhelming way.
The braised goose feet and noodles was one praiseworthy dish. The noodles were al dente and springy, while the tender meat slipped off the bones effortlessly and seemed to melt upon contact with my mouth. The soup was also a perk-me-up: a rich, peppery broth with slivers of grouper fish meat and preserved Szechuan vegetables. We couldn’t stop slurping the addictive stock.
The final dish was or nee, a traditional yam pudding dessert of Teochew provenance. I didn’t particularly take to Jok’s version though. The addition of dates and water chestnuts overshadowed the creamy yam paste while the sticky rice made this dessert a tad heavy to end a meal. But that’s just my personal take of this dish.
Overall, it was a tasty and satisfying dinner, with each of us having our own personal favorite among the seven dishes. The seven-course dinner came to be 5,040 Thai baht, which wasn’t exceedingly expensive, although I think meals of comparable standards could be had at similar prices elsewhere. But then again, Jok Kitchen is a hidden gem and one of the few places in Bangkok that serves homemade, top-quality Thai–Chinese cuisine. Besides, it’s just too hard to turn down a delicious meal, isn’t it?
Jok’s Kitchen (also known in Thai as Khrua Hia Jok)
Address: 23 Soi Issaranuphap, Phlap Phla Chai Road, Pom Prap Sattru Phi District, Bangkok, Thailand
Telephone: +66 2 221 4075 or +66 2 623 3921