Bangkok’s dining scene has been in the throes of a nostalgic Thai trend, starting at the top with Nahm and Bo.lan and trickling down to mid-range establishments like The Local and modest ones like Supanniga Eating Room. All serve well-researched old Thai recipes that have elevated the scene beyond stir-fries and quick curries.
In this revivalist milieu, the ambiguously named new restaurant Paste is both going with the flow and against the grain. While the name staunchly states an affinity with Thai cuisine’s essential building block—the Australian-Thai chef-couple Jason Bailey and Bongkoch Satongun (Bee) are fluent in Royal Thai cuisine, and the restaurant is wallpapered with pages from old, yellowing recipe books—the restaurant aims to push for new preparations based on traditional flavour profiles. Jason says, ‘It’s modern Thai food, not fusion.’
The dishes at Paste are painstakingly made and often involve unusual combinations of northern and central Thai, and Thai-Chinese cooking. Take the master stock pork neck salad (420 THB). As familiar as a yam, the dish nevertheless surprises with the Chinese spice-based stock used to prepare the pork neck and the addition of Thai flowers and a green chilli sambal. The duck salad (380 THB) with banana flower and lychee features meat oven-roasted in Shaoxing wine and a Chinese spice mix. The earthy but zesty dressing is made with tamarind, sesame oil, lime juice and chilli. More classic dishes include the Northern gaeng hang lay (380 THB), made at Paste with a stronger, drier spice mix and with beef cheek instead of pork.
Preempting the usual criticisms about messing with tradition, Bailey points to the culinary culture of Thailand in the nineteenth century: ‘Thai food was very vogue. Women got prestige for new dishes and adapting what was around.’ Thai culinary scholars have pointed to this time as one of innovation, with new recipes involving Chinese olives, Persian rice, and Indian dry spice mixes. Bee, too, shares Jason’s passion for the invention and progress of her native cuisine. ‘It’s about adding value to our food, not looking at it as just something on the street.’