Deliciousness renders you speechless with every bite of Phad Thai served up, tasty and affordable, at Baan Yai Pad Thai or, as it is known around Inthamara 47, Silent Pad Thai. Almost every cook and server is hearing impaired, but that hasn’t stopped foodies from following the enticing savoury aromas from the charcoal-fired kitchen. The queue has only gotten longer now that the street food joint received a MICHELIN Bib Gourmand in the MICHELIN Guide Thailand 2020. But a one- to three-hour wait hasn’t discouraged anyone.
“This restaurant wasn’t established to hire only the disabled. I’m just the only non-disabled person working at a restaurant owned by a disabled person.”
Kittichai “On” Chuenyam begins the story before his older brother, Somjet “Ae” Chuenyam, opened the famous Phad Thai shop in Inthamara 47 in Bangkok. Ae has a congenital hearing defect since birth, but he never lets his impairment handicap him. Instead, Ae did the opposite, making a living like everyone else. One of the main lines of work for the handicapped in Thailand is selling lottery tickets. But when the policy for lottery sales changed, the disabled population was the most affected.
“About seven or eight years ago, the government lowered lottery ticket prices to 80 baht each, but the cost to sell them was more than that. Ae had to look for a new job because he had a family to support. He couldn’t give up. So, he thought about what he could do, and cooking came to mind. At the time he was already making meals at home, so he decided to open a shop and prepare dishes to order. Unfortunately, that didn’t go so well, but he didn’t want to give up. He had to figure out a way to make this work.”
On continued, “Ae loves Phad Thai, but the Phad Thai today wasn’t like what he knew as a kid. It all comes ready-made or pre-packaged. Thus, he tried to make Phad Thai that tasted like what he remembered. It took Ae months to get the flavours right, with friends and relatives to taste test, to help out. Finally, he changed over to only selling Phad Thai.”
“Silent Pad Thai” didn’t start off in a shophouse similar to where it is now. Ae began with a small push cart that had one stove, one wok, and his wife, who is also hearing impaired, helping him. Ae distinguishes his dishes by reintroducing flavours from his childhood to people to enjoy. He uses a charcoal-fired stove to carefully stir-fry each order as well as to slow cook his sauce from fresh tamarind juice. The tantalising aromas from the rendered pork fat hints at his signature touch -- a pork crackling topping. That crispiness perfectly complements the tender noodles. Diners must be as patient as the cook as it takes some time to delicately create each serving of Phad Thai.
“Before the MICHELIN award, we were just a small pushcart street vendor. We only had one pan, so sometimes people had to wait an hour. But after the award, people have to queue for a long time, sometimes for three hours. So, Ae started thinking about changing things. We went from one wok at one heat level to two woks set at two heat levels. Now, we have three woks. The first is for Ae to stir-fry and add seasonings. The second wok is for dry roasting, where we start the eggs, tofu, and other ingredients. The third wok is set at the lowest heat level. I help out with adding the vegetables and the crackling, which is our signature. If you come here, you have to try the crackling; we fry up a fresh batch every day. The oil that is rendered from it smells so lovely, and that’s what we use to make our Phad Thai.”
After expanding from a pushcart with two tables to a shophouse with five tables, as well as online ordering for regular customers, Silent Pad Thai needed to hire more help, who all turned out to be hearing impaired. On is the only employee without hearing problems. But this is not a problem because writing is the main form of communication, along with sign language, which On calls the “family language”.
“If I try to communicate with other deaf people, we may not understand each other well. But with Ae, we use a language that “the family” knows. I’m not fluent in sign language because I never studied it. Working here, we all understand each other, and if I’m not around, customers can still communicate with everyone.” On finished by saying, “A disability isn’t an obstacle if you’re truly determined to communicate with your heart.”
What to order once you are here? Different types of Phad Thai, of course. Starting with pork crackling Phad Thai with thin noodles, Ae’s first and most famous menu item. You can also choose spiciness levels from not spicy to the original recipe, which is rather hot. If you’re not too hungry, the special serving isn’t recommended because a regular order is a generous portion as it is. There are also other variations and extras such as glass vermicelli, squid, shrimp, and cashew nuts. But the stand-out winner without a sound will always be the delectable pork crackling.
Their takeaway service is also just a phone call away.
This is one of the best places for Phad Thai – piping hot noodles cooked to perfection, boldly flavoured and with a distinctive smokiness from the charcoal stove. Expect to wait in line. Come with a local since you have to write in Thai to make an order.
Photos: © Saranyu Nokkaew / MICHELIN Guide Thailand