In the bustling streets of Phnom Penh, people are taken to Thailand by the spicy aroma of original Thai food served in Yosaya restaurant.
Wanapa Sumanus, one of the owners of Yosaya Thai Food, has been serving authentic Thai dishes to people in Cambodia for almost six years. A family business, the restaurant has two branches – on Street 105 and Street 432.
Sumanus proudly told Khmer Times that the secret for why people are loving their dishes is because of their home-made recipes. They import ingredients from Thailand in order to achieve the best results.
“We import our ingredients from Thailand. We don’t use the ingredients here because they’re different. We also use fresh vegetables everyday which we get from the local market here,” said Sumanus.
She said that they do not like to stock too much in the restaurant for cooking, like the vegetables, because they want their customers to get the best taste. She said she, her family and relatives have come to love Cambodia. Aside from being close to their homeland, they also find that it is easy to make connections in Cambodia and the language is easy to learn.
“Our language is similar to their language here. It only takes four months to learn,” she added. She said that her local employees are happy to teach her to speak Khmer.
“When I learn a new word, I try to keep practicing it every day. When I talk to customers (in Khmer), they also converse with me. I now speak Khmer, Thai and English. I have learned a lot here. I can also answer questions in Khmer.”
Her staff are all Cambodians except the chefs. They specifically chose a Thai chef to make sure that their food tastes 100 percent authentic. Right now, they have six chefs, three in each branch. According to Sumanus, it is a satisfying to hear customers say: “I feel like I’m in Thailand.”
She also has foreign customers and most of them have been to Thailand. Although she changes some of her recipes like the level of spiciness, customers still claim that the taste is similar. Some like a little spice while others request for the super-hot and spicy.
They have specific levels of spiciness. For Thai people, they normally use three or four chillies while for Khmer customers they only use one. Most of the other foreign customers (not Thai) also request for three to four chillies in their orders.
Sumanus said that chilli is part of her family’s life. They use it a lot. She started to eat spicy food when she was five years old and now she normally consumes seven to ten chillies.
The most popular chili used in Thai food is prik kee noo suan. Then English translation is “mouse shit chilli” because it is tiny and known as the spiciest chilli in Thailand. Among the 100 Thai dishes in Yosaya restaurant, Tom Yum and Pad Thai are the best sellers.
Sumanus happily told Khmer Times that by next year, there will be more dishes for Khmer people.
“We live in Cambodia. We try some of the Khmer food. We adapt some to our style (of cooking) because we want to cook our own signature style of food,” she said.
She described Khmer’s sauce as unique and they also wanted to mix and match it to their Thai cuisine to create a new dish.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the restaurant’s supply chain. They get their fresh vegetables in the local market daily after closing for the night. Although the vegetables they get in Cambodia are of good quality, Sumanus says she still could taste the difference especially with the herbs. Herbs in Thailand like galangal are stronger compared to Cambodia. It is closely related to the common ginger.
The restaurant prefers importing their ingredients from Thailand including herbs and spices. However, border crossing is difficult right now because of COVID-19 so they alternatively use Khmer products. In times that the needed ingredients are not available in Cambodia, they have to tap to their transportation connection in Thailand to ferry the goods at an extra cost.
Sumanus and her family normally go back to Thailand twice a year, during long holidays. But because of COVID-19, it has already been nine months since they last went home. When the pandemic hit Cambodia in April, they lost 80 percent of their sales. Now, they are able to slowly get back to normal but business is still 20 to 30 percent down.
“We tried making the chilli paste here by ourselves using local supplies in the market, but it is really hard to find the ingredients that match ours,” Sumanus added.
Despite how COVID-19 has affected their business, she and the family are still standing strong in providing the authentic Thai cuisine in the capital of Cambodia. They also have learned to love not only the people but the country itself.
“What I like most in Cambodia is the lifestyle of the people because I am from Bangkok (Thailand). I have seen that everything is a rush there. Here, it is calm. Even though traffic jams are also a problem here, it is better compared to being stuck in the middle of the traffic in Bangkok,” said Sumanus.