Have you ever heard of ‘Creative Social Impact Café’ before? Neither have Bangkok Foodies. We paid a visit to Na Café at Bangkok 1899 a café in Bangkok, self-proclaimed as a ‘creative social impact café’ situated in Bangkok 1899 at Ban Chao Phraya Thammasakmontri to find out what this really means. This historic Gingerbread style building which was once the home to Father of Thai Modern Education Chao Phraya Thammasakmontri is now a headquarter of Creative Migration, a women-led, international arts organisation based in Los Angeles and Bangkok, with a mission to advance cultural diplomacy through the three pillars; art, public engagement and sustainability. 

Na Café joined this initiative in order to connect, inspire and create social impact through educating and giving refugees jobs to do while staying in Bangkok. “This place (Na Cafe) is a platform for vocational training programmes for at-risk youth; training and workshops for urban refugees to become baristas and cooks.” Said Saksorn “Saks” Rouypirom, one of the owners of the café who also founded SATI Foundation, a non-profit platform focused on healthcare and education for children.

The food at this café in Bangkok has 2 parts; the Chef-in-Residence’s menu and homestyle menu which both use local ingredients. 

The homestyle menu is created by Chef Thatchapong “Nu” Konthong, but don’t expect the dishes to be bland or basic in appearance. He put some twist in his creations too.

“Some of the refugees have their skills but what they lack is management. One Pakistani family, the mother is a good cook so I taught her about restaurant management and now she opened her own restaurant in Canada.” Saks told us. “We accommodate refugees from all over the world before they are sent to their new homes  in Canada, Sweden — the first world countries that welcome them.”

This café also practices zero-waste principle and passes that to their trainees before they could start a new life. “We also hold a natural dye workshop regularly, and food waste is very useful eg. we use fruit waste to feed indigo or use mangosteen peel to make natural purple dye.” Diloklarp “Him” Janthachotbutr, said Co-owner of Na Café

After discussing the history and the principle that the Cafe practices, Bangkok Foodies took the opportunity to try out some of their dishes. Saks recommended starting with Chef Nu’s creations. The Fish Sauce Fried Chicken Wings (135THB), fried chicken wings glazed with caramelised fish sauce, was a little sticky but packed loads of sweet and salty flavours. You’ll be wanting to order a second plate.

The following vegetarian-and gluten-free dish, Rak-Sa Rice Noodle with Coconut Sauce (145THB) with it’s sweet and sour taste is complemented by the refreshing taste of coconut sauce. Ideal for those looking for a healthy treats and that’s dissimilar in taste to Khanom Chin Nam Prik

The last dish, Thai Holy Basil Crispy Chicken with Rice and Fried Egg (135THB) comes with chunks of chicken breast covered with the batter which is deep-fried before being thrown into a frying pan with a dozen zesty Thai spices. The chicken finished by being tossed in a big bowl of jasmine rice and topped with a fried duck egg. Break the yolk and you’ll see the wonderfully creamy and rich effect this has on the savoury flavours.

That’s a wrap for the first part of Na Café’s menu. In the second part, Chef-in-Residence’s menu is another programme which Na Café invites chefs from abroad to collaborate. It’s a cultural exchange programme for foreign chefs who share the same goal. Chef Santiago Fernández Muñoz from Lima, Peru has joined the programme since September 2019, bringing Latino taste to this wonderful place.

We recommend you start with Ceviche (220THB), a fresh wild barramundi from the Thai coast marinated in citrus juice and served with corn, yam with red onion and chilli on top. Chef Santiago uses uncooked fish because he wants to show that Peru is a mix-cultured country with Japanese influences. You must take each component in each bite to complete the experiences. 

For the main course try the Arroz con Pollo (160THB). Imagine an Indian biryani but in Peruvian version and instead of eating this with raita, this goes together with thick yellow chilli sauce. Never fear, it won’t scorch your tongue. The Chef removes the part with capsaicin. 

Then there’s the special dish which is served only on weekends is a former-slaves’ dish, now a Peruvian street food, Anticucho de Corazón (260THB). The word ‘Corazon’ is there so, yes, it’s a heart, a Thai Wagyu Heart to be precise. We expected it to be chewing and gamy but actual the texture feels similar to eating a sirloin steak. Chef carefully removes the surface of the heart to avoid making it chewy before grilling it and cutting it into fine pieces. The final step is to dip it into the chef’s homemade chilli sauce. Mmmmm…this dish won our hearts! 

Since COVID19 restrictions in Thailand, the recent Chef Santiago is unable to fly back to his home but he will continue working with the café, to serve up his national food. We suggest Bangkok foodies take this opportunity to try and become acquainted with homestyle Peruvian cuisine, the best way to experience it without leaving the country. Plus you will be supporting such incredibly good initiatives. 

Saks also mentioned it’s not only the Chefs who may be stranded but the café trainees as well, “Many of our refugees who were promised to be sent to their new home are stuck here. During the lockdown, it was very difficult for us all. Every restaurant in Thailand had to temporarily close for 3 months and our trainees were unable to work. Now, we’re glad that we’re back in but not so many people are coming. Well, we are far-flung from hype districts too so drawing customers here is a challenge.”

Other than serving regular menus from Chef Nu and Chef-in-Residence, they also arrange many activities such as Farmer’s Market 2 times a month on weekends where there are booths of organic produces and craft products on the building’s front and back lawn; then there’s Sunday Brunch with Chef Nu’s interpretation of Bahn Mi and Indochina Pan-Fried Egg with Toppings and the Chef-in-Residence’s Menu where you can try Chef Santiago’s signature Tamales and few other comfort dishes. 

And lastly, starting from 11:00 am – 03:00 pm.; are Urban Refugee Kitchen on Fridays. Urban Refugee Kitchen is the major programme that encourages refugees and a platform for them to practice running a restaurant before moving to their new home and have some savings for their new life. It’s a programme where you can taste Afghan food, Vietnamese food and even Somalian food!

At the end of the day, with trying to do something good, Saks, Him and Chef Nu don’t want to be one of those organisations that only send refugees money, blankets and food, they aim to help these people to get on their feet sustainably by giving them the tools to educate themselves and feed themselves and others in the long term. That securing the future is what is greatly needed and all foodies out there are welcome to support!

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Author: Wariya.I
Wariya has a strong passion for cocktails,
and you may have met her several times
but she likes to keep it casual and low-profile.
She also enjoys quality tea, especially
Japanese green tea