Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Power plant

Kina Kind Cuisine is all about the vegan diet and homemade gut-friendly dishes.

The Meaty Beginning

Piyarat Mukura and her husband Sakorn Sae Wong became vegan three years ago.

Raising two daughters, a five-year-old and a three-month-old, the couple today run Kina Kind Cuisine, a full-scale plant-based restaurant near Muang Pattaya in Chon Buri province.

Kina’s menu is strictly vegan, meaning the food is free from animal products, whether it be meat, seafood, dairy or even honey.

Yet it wouldn’t be far from the truth to say their compassionate culinary project was built from a very fleshy foundation.

Piyarat is the third generation of a family-owned 40-year-old eatery where Chinese-style roast duck and BBQ pork were the popular specialities.

Piyarat Mukura and her husband Sakorn Sae Wong.

After graduating with an art degree from Australia in 2012, Piyarat returned to her home in Chon Buri to help care for the family business.

“I noticed that many of our customers, most of whom I had seen since I was a child, weren’t looking as healthy as they should,” she recalled.

“Some looked much older than their age. A few arrived in wheelchairs seemingly paralysed. We even had a long-time customer who suffered from high cholesterol vow that he loved our crispy pork so much he would eat it the last day of his life.

“The declining health of customers was not a nice thing to see. I began doubting if this was what I wanted to continue.”

That and various family health issues including diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure led to Piyarat’s enthusiasm for a healthier diet.

“Twenty years ago, my mother was diagnosed with heart disease. For her health’s sake, she quit red meat and later expanded to seafood. Her health improved and she was able to stop taking medication.”

Piyarat said that her mother then tried to persuade everyone in the family to stop consuming meat. At that time, Piyarat was not ready so she told her mother she would become vegetarian when she turned 30.

A few years ago, on her 30th birthday, Piyarat completely stopped eating any kind of meat and seafood as promised.

The Covid-19 pandemic, which cause her family’s roast duck shop to temporarily shut, contributed to a thoughtful transformation.

“My mum and I were discussing whether we would reopen the shop. We didn’t see any good in continuing a business that’s not healthy for customers. So we decided to come up with a new restaurant project that, instead, serves healthy food.”

Word of Mouth

Kina Kind Cuisine was launched in October 2022 in the family’s residential compound surrounded by lush green vegetable plantations.

Even though the location is a 90-minute drive from Bangkok, the serene gastronomic sanctuary seems to need no advertising.

On the drizzling weekday I visited, the restaurant enjoyed an international mix of cheerful clientele. There were faithful regulars and first-timers from the neighbourhood as well as determined gourmands from out of town.

Piyarat’s husband Sakorn and her mother Suwannee Mukura direct the kitchen.

Sakorn, a lab technician by training, entered the world of vegan diets with systematic enthusiasm.

He has looked into many scientific studies on veganism and done various culinary tests and trials.

It was also the passionate foodie in him as well as his palate that made him a good chef.

His cuisine is an earnest blend of R&D results, popular Western recipes and new inspirations. Almost all of the ingredients, from cooking cream to seasonings, are concocted in-house from scratch.

Kina’s Thai menu is crafted by Suwannee, also an old pro in cookery. Many of her dishes are adaptations of her mother’s recipes. The tastes are pungent and authentically Thai.

Highly recommended are yum naem hed, or a sour and spicy salad of crispy rice, fermented mushroom and assorted vegetables; phad Thai with tofu and crispy mushroom; drunken spaghetti with shiitake chilli garlic paste and basil; and deep-fried tofu-skin hoi jor dumplings with taro and chestnut and mushroom filling.

Those fancying contemporary Western tastes must go for rice nachos with pumpkin-butternut squash cheese dip; raw zucchini lasagna with pesto, almond cheese and tomato marinara; Kina lentil meatball in miso sauce with mashed potato and homemade peach jam; and the extraordinarily airy and flaky mille feuille with cacao butter and passionfruit cream.

“We want to prove that vegan dishes can be well-rounded and flavourful without any meat or animal by-product. It can be a joyful experience without a forceful feeling, yet with better health as a bonus,” Piyarat said.

She is now working on convincing her father to convert to a plant-based diet.

“Plant-based cuisine is trending and we truly believe in its glory.

“Every week when my father came home [from his work in Bangkok], we would present him with new studies, new pieces of evidence and new dishes to try. Each one approved by my dad boosted our confidence and helped confirm that we are going in the right direction.”

Piyarat’s father is no other than chef Vichit Mukura, a Michelin-starred cooking master and Thailand’s most prominent authority in Thai cuisine.

Happiness Starts in Your Gut

A combination of concerns about the environment, health, animal welfare and food security has led people worldwide to become vegan.

But for Piyarat, the health benefit alone is pivotal enough. Solidifying her belief in veganism was a class on gut microbiome she took a few years earlier.

“I got to learn that the human body is host to trillions of microorganisms and that our health truly depends on the well-being of the bacteria and microbes that live in our intestines,” she said.

“Genetics and DNA don’t even play as great a role in our health as these microorganisms. They have a crucial impact on health functions whether it’s the digestive system, immune system, brain or even mental wellness. Up to 90% of serotonin, our happy hormone, also comes from our gut.”

According to Piyarat, the intestinal microbes feed on fibre and not meat. Thus, insufficient intake of fibre will impair their function and lead to health issues.

“Most of our health problems — physical and mental — are not caused by an inadequacy of protein, or lack of exercise or the overconsumption of fat, but mainly the lack of fibre, which can be adjusted simply by eating a plant-based diet,” she said.

The 33-year-old said that she had experienced the benefits of plant-based diets, especially during pregnancy.

“I was still eating meat when I had my first child. My regular diet would consist of fried chicken and rice because I had no appetite for any other food. Severe constipation, hot tempers and exhaustion seemed common issues during that time, which I thought was very normal for a pregnant woman.”

The second pregnancy, after she became an all-out vegan, was totally different.

“My skin was nice and glowing, my bowel movements were fine and my mood very calm. I felt like a happily active self just with a big tummy,” she recalled.

“When your body feels good, it allows you to understand your mental state and more appreciate things around you,” said Sakorn, her husband.

“At the same time, your receptive sensors, from your tongue to fingertips, become more active and refined,” he added.

“I think the inflammation from eating meat makes the body uncomfortable and you forget to look after the well-being of your mind,” Piyarat concurred.

When asked about plant-based protein that comes in the form of mock meat and ready-to-eat products, Piyarat said that they are a good transition option for people starting to adopt a plant-based diet.

“But you cannot feed on these products in the long run. They are processed food, no different from any food products that contain preservatives and additives. Preservatives would impair the function of microbes in our intestines. For convenience, it is okay once in a while. But, ultimately, your body needs whole food.”

Piyarat suggested that the easiest way for those wishing to begin a plant-based diet is to increase fibre from whole food in their meal as much as they can.

“Try to eat 30-40 different types of fruit, vegetable or cereal, preferably in natural and chewable states, per week. Green vegetables are best consumed by chewing.”

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