Restaurants, chef’s tables and supper clubs serving dishes that were popular back in the day has been a trend for a couple of years. However, while most are just dishes adapted for present day palates, few places focus on serving the dishes how they were meant to be served.
Once upon a time or Jirakaan is dedicated to reviving and preserving the rich traditions of Thai cuisine. “We embarked on a journey to explore old books about the origins and evolution of Thai gastronomy, particularly those cherished in the royal palaces and elite households during the Rattanakosin era. Our mission is to uncover forgotten recipes that have stood the test of time, ensuring their resurrection in the form of premium Thai dishes, and in fact we have several dishes that cannot be found in any other restaurant,” says co-owner Tripradap “Pui” Wangwongwiwat.
What sets Jirakaan apart from other Thai restaurants is that it is halal certified, probably one of the first in the Sukhumvit area serving Thai food. The menu is vast and includes some 20+ vegetarian dishes, including curries and plant-based meats. Of course, pork is not on the menu. “This is because my husband co-owner is Muslim,” explains Pui.
The restaurant, which is off the main Sukhumvit 49 strip, moved a few months ago and is in a two-storeyed house. It seats about 60 people indoors or outdoors, though it is not cramped. The vintage Thai-colonial inspired aesthetics, creates an atmosphere that reflects the menu and the concept of Jirakaan. Do take a peek at all the old recipe books in the bookcases, some first editions.
“For ingredients that are no longer available or hard to find, given the number of years that have passed since these recipes have been cooked, we’ve used a lot of replacements. We don’t use pork even though a lot of the recipes use it as we are halal. So those dishes have been swapped for beef or chicken,” says Pui, of the menu.
If the a la carte menu is overwhelming, Jirakaan has narrowed it down with two set menus. The Rattanakosin Dishes We Missed 1 (B2,490++ for three or four people) offers plenty. Four types of Thai snacks followed by Nam phrik long ruea, one of my favourite Thai chilli pastes, which is a hot shrimp paste mid grilled with sweet chicken served with sun-dried fried beef and vegetables. The story behind this dish, according to Pui, is, “Once Upon A Time, when a group of royal children were playing in palace lake, one of King Rama V’s wives were worried they wouldn’t eat on time. So she rushed to the kitchen and grabbed everything the kitchen had. She added rice on the platter, along with a few vegetables. Since then the dish became popular among the elite and translates as ‘Chilli paste on the boat’.”
It is uncommon to find cowslip creepers in most Thai restaurants, here it is served in a soup with royal shrimp balls. Stewed beef belly and eggs in brown soup is the pork belly palo and is followed by Shrimp wrapped in rice paper and served with a shrimp totally plum sauce. What’s not to love?!
A Green chilli turmeric curry with beef shank is paired with Shrimp paste fried rice and grilled beef belly. Though you can also eat the curry with jasmine rice. The Lon plara pla buu or fermented coconut dip with sand marble goby fish is also delicious and very unusual.
The Rattanakosin Dishes We Missed 2 (B2,590++ is for four or five people) and includes dishes like Sago balls stuffed with salted egg yolk in chicken soup (rather comforting!), Acacia pennate omelette roll stuffed shrimp and black mushrooms, Deep fried chicken wings covered with gaeng som powder and Masamman curry. Gaeng masamman, according to Pui’s research, is a curry made with beef, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and a regular Thai curry paste. It was brought to Bangkok around 1809 by Muslim officials employed by the Harbour Department.
If you’re brave enough to solider through the menu, order the Kratong Thong Lon Gai or golden krathong with chicken, which is much like a chicken in white sauce tartlet. Do not be fooled by the Khao khluk kapi ham as it contains beef ham and is delicious. Though I prefer beef to pork. The dish is inspired by a dish eaten by His Majesty King Rama V during his visit to Europe. He wanted to eat something Thai and this dish was created by his cook.
If you’re into Thai desserts, then Jirakaan serves the cream of the crop. Think Thapthim krop served with a crunchy Thai wafer or chestnuts in coconut milk, Long chong or rice pandan noodles in sweet coconut milk and Glass black jelly with syrup. Do try the Ice cream with egg yolk or the Sweet fish sauce dip served with seasonal fruits.