Owner and chef Nanta Jawpliphon and assistant manager/bartender Kate Kiatsiri are opening up one of the only Isan Thai restaurants in town toward the end of the month.
Isan-inspired Thai food coming to Ballard with Pestle Rock
Ballard is about to be home to one of the few (if only) Thai restaurants in Seattle that serve Isan ethnic Thai food.
Co-Owner and Chef of Jhanjay Vegetarian Thai Cuisine (on Ballard Ave), Nanta Jawpliphon, along with her business partners, brothers Pricha and Sutha, will be opening the doors of the new restaurant, Pestle Rock (2305 NW Market), toward the end of September.
Ballardites will know the location of the new Thai spot as the place where Snoose Juction used to be on Market Street. Jawpliphon said the renovations took close to two months and explained that the space is the perfect size. She said she hopes, with the addition of a bar, that the restaurant will appeal to both vegetarians and meat eaters.
Now that the space is almost all ready, Japwpliphon is busy perfecting her recipes and waiting for her brother, Sutha, to arrive from Thailand.
“We are waiting for my brother and his wife to get here so that they can be a part of the opening and so we can get their opinion on everything,” Jawpliphon said.
The relatives will be arriving from Thailand later in September, before the opening. Jawpliphon said that her brother Sutha helped her come up with the concept of opening an Isan cuisine restaurant.
“No one is serving this food in Seattle, so we thought it would be a great idea ... we are using all natural meats and fresh wild caught fish and staying very close to Isan traditions,” Japliphon said.
Japliphon, who leads the kitchen at Jhanjay, said it is traditional for women to learn how to cook in Thailand and that she has been cooking all her life. Moreover, her family owns a fertilizer company and vegetable farm in Thailand where her mother cooked for the hired hands on the farm.
“I have been with vegetable all my life,” Japliphon said laughing.
Sutha’s wife Rewadee, will be the sous chef in the kitchen, assisting Nanta, who will be focusing on cooking at Pestle Rock rather than Jhanjay Vegetarian Thai Cuisine.
“In Thailand, they are meat eaters as much as vegetable eaters, so growing up there I learned recipes that use meats too ... we are just finishing the final ingredients to our dishes, everything else is ready to go,” Japliphon said.
During the interview, Japliphon let BNT sample the Curry lamb. The lamb was tender and she made sure it was served over rice, an Isan practice. She said that she will perfect the recipe with toasted coconut before adding it to the menu.
The Thai inspiration does not stop in the kitchen. On the drink menu there are Thai twisted drinks, such as mango mojitos; Lychee Martinis; pomegranate margaritas; and Tom Yum cosmopolitans, inspired by the hot and sour soup.
Kate Kiatsiri, assistant manager and bartender, said that Isan is slang in Thailand for “Northeast Thailand.” She explained that much of the Thai food served in Seattle is the kind you would find in Bangkok, like Phad Thai and Green Curry.
“Isan people have a different language and culture, and a different style of cooking than the rest of Thailand. Much of their cuisine is spicy and served with sticky rice ... most of the dishes use herbs, fish sauce, and limejuice,” Kiatsiri said.
She pointed out the pestle and the rock and how that iconic tool is very important to the Isan people, used for pulverizing spices and an iconic image of the connection to the earth.
During the interview, Chef Japliphon served a few distinctly Islan dishes, including Tom Ma-Ra, which is a bitter melon soup. She explained that the melon has to cook for two hours in order to get the bitterness out of the flesh of the melon. Stuffed in the melon is a ground pork mix with garlic, noodles, and herbs. The melon rests in a savory broth along with shitake mushrooms, cilantro, peppercorn and more garlic. There are only faint notes of the bitterness of the melon that play nicely with the spice of the peppercorn and umami flavor of the pork, broth and shitake combination.
“We want the food close to the Isan people and they cook with love and from the earth," Japliphon said. "When you cook with love, it’s always good. And it's healthy for you too.”