In the fourth episode of international chefs in Kyoto, we feature Chef Sontaya who is very popular at Pakuchi, a Thai restaurant in Karasuma Marutamachi and introduce his carrier in Thailand and after coming to Japan, including the meeting with the owner couple of Pakuchi, which made him decide to work at the restaurant.
I was just working hard when I was in Thailand.
I was born and raised in a fishing port of Thailand. My father was a fisher and I had been helping his job ever since I can remember. I think that was until I was about 9 years old. I had even worked at a steel mill with my brother since I was 15 years old. I became a chef after I got married. My wife's brother was working at a hotel and he asked me to work at a restaurant in the hotel. I had worked as a chef at several restaurants and leant different cuisine such as Italian and Thai.
However, I've never got a raise even when I worked hard as a chef in Thailand. On the other hand, I could get a better salary overseas. I thought that it is wise to be qualified to have a resident status abroad if I'm going to work as a chef. Therefore, I worked at a Thai restaurant for 10 years and I got a job at a Thai restaurant in Australia. During that time, I was asked to work in Japan by someone who I knew. So, I came to Japan. I decided to work in Japan as a migrant worker because I sought better working conditions rather than I wanted to go to Japan. In order to support my family and save money for opening my restaurant, working abroad is the best way even now.
From a Thai restaurant in Sannomiya to Pakuchi in Kyoto
I first worked at a Thai restaurant in Sannomiya. One day, I heard from one of my colleagues who joined the restaurant earlier than me that a Thai restaurant in Kyoto was looking for a chef. Since the owner of the restaurant decided to close the restaurant and I was interested in working in Kyoto, I decided to apply for the job.
When I visited Pakuchi, I felt that the restaurant's atmosphere was like an old town in Bangkok. There is a food stall in the restaurant and the restaurant uses ingredients from Thailand as much as possible.
Mr. and Ms. Kikuoka, the owner couple, love Thailand and are very understanding of it. Miki, the owner's wife, is very good at Thai so I can communicate with her well. I was interested in the owner's keeping on trying new ideas too. He asks me for advice for everything. So, our relationship becomes closer and closer. 5 years has passed since I started working here in 2014. I felt that time flew so fast.
Brief information about Pakuchi
Pakuchi is a Thai restaurant opened in August, 2009. The restaurant is operated by Mr. Nobuyoshi and Ms. Miki Kikuoka, a couple who love traveling. When Miki studied in Bangkok, she was attracted by Thai cuisine. After returning to Japan, she worked at several places including a Thai restaurant in Osaka. She wanted to run a restaurant that is similar to a cozy restaurant in Thailand that offers delicious food for student-friendly prices, so the couple decided to open Pakuchi in Kyoto.
There is a reason why Mr. and Ms. Kikuoka decided to open a restaurant. Miki said, "Since Japan is a wealthy country, Japanese people can freely travel around the world. However, there are many poor countries where people are hard to make a living. Although it might be presumptuous of us to say that, we want to support children in such poor countries."
They thought that they wanted to earn money for building a school at poor villages in Asia where children can't get an education. They have built two elementary schools in villages in Laos for about 10 years since 2009. During that time, they opened two more Pakuchi in Sanjo and Shijo too.
Their goal is to help poor countries rather than to expand their business. They said," We don't have any children. Therefore, we want to focus on supporting children in poor countries."
What is like working at such a restaurant for me?
Kyoto people are really kind to me. Just a moment ago, a student looked up Thai phrases on the smartphone and said to me "It was so delicious. I will come back soon!" in Thai. Of course, making money is important for me, but this is not the only reason why I have been working here for a long time. I like Kyoto more and more. Kyoto has both rivers and mountains nearby, as well as temples. I visit temples by bicycle when I'm off work.
What has made me happiest here is that I could invite my family in Kyoto when I had a vacation for two weeks. We wore kimono, visited temples, and enjoyed Japanese food. My family was filled with joy. Although I live away from my family, I can see their faces through my smartphone. Therefore, I have never felt lonely.
I make sure to offer authentic Thai taste at Pakuchi.
What dishes do I make at the restaurant? Of course, as I am a Thai chef who was born and raised in Thailand, I make dishes with authentic Thai flavors. Since some ingredients and seasonings that I use here are different from those in my country, my dishes offer slightly different flavors from those in my country. However, I haven't changed their cooking methods at all.
Please try Gapao rice that you can see in the photo. This is rice with stir-fried Thai basil (Gapao), and minced pork and chicken on top. Splitting a fried egg served on top and eating it together with this spicy rice makes the dish mild. This is one of Thai soul foods.
I'm challenging new flavors too!
There is another thing that makes me happy since I started working at the restaurant. That is that I learned about Vietnamese food. The restaurant decided to serve Vietnamese dishes other than Thai dishes. The owner who is very knowledgeable in Vietnamese food taught me how to cook classic Vietnamese dishes including Pho, Vietnamese-style soup with rice noodles, and Bun, Vietnamese rice noodle bowl with grilled pork. Since there are many differences between Thai and Vietnamese food such as ingredients and how to make broth, I learned a lot. I can use these knowledge and skills after I return to Thailand too.
My dream is to open a restaurant in Thailand.
I want to return to my country, Thailand and to open a restaurant together with my family someday. On the other hand, I am very comfortable and enjoy working here at the moment. I still have a lot of things to learn here too. Therefore, I want to stay Japan a little longer.
My favorite Japanese words are "diligent and patient". When you think of patient, you may feel that I'm enduring something. That is not what I like about this word. I like these words because I learned these sprits after I came to Japan. If you keep something steadily and seriously, you can always master it in the end. Japanese people are all very serious and hard-workers. When seeing Mr. and Ms. Kikuoka working hard to help others, I started thinking that you cannot get anything accomplished unless you work hard to achieve it.
It might be time to return to my country and to open a restaurant when I can truly understand the meaning of "patient"
■ Thai Kitchen Pakuchi Marutamachi
Rolex Tamura 1F, 374 Masuyacho, Kawaramachi Marutamachi-dori Agaru, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto
11：30-14：30（L.O14：00）and 18：00-22：00（L.O21：30）on Mon-Fri and 17:00-22：00（L.O21：30）on Sat, Sun, and Public holiday
*Reservations are available only for dinner.