A firm favorite since it opened in 2013, Chachawan is a haven of spicy, citrusy Thai dishes served up in casual, colorful surrounds. Currently running the kitchen is husband and wife duo Rungroj Chang and Narisara Somboon, who boast 40 years of combined experience between them. Before joining the founding team at Chachawan, they worked in other Thai restaurants throughout Hong Kong, focusing on cuisine from the Isaan region of Thailand. We spoke to them about their culinary journey and inspirations.
Chang: I grew up in a family closely related to food. I followed my mother to wet markets and helped prepare meals for the workers in the family’s sugar cane factory. I was attracted by all the ingredients in the wet markets and started exploring the best way to cook them. This is how I started cooking professionally.
Narisara: Similar to many traditional Thai women, I learned to cook from my mother when I was young. I realized that cooking is something I truly enjoy, therefore I said yes to a chef opportunity when I had the chance.
Chang: I studied architecture and Narisara was a human resources major. Neither of us went through professional training. It was more like learning on the go.
Narisara: We were married in Thailand before coming to Hong Kong. Chang’s mother decided to move here, Chang decided to move with his mother, and I followed them.
Chang: As the head chef, I am in charge of designing the dishes, but I always rely on Narisara as my trusted tongue — to taste the dishes, give comments, and brainstorm together on how to improve. She also helps me to manage the kitchen routine.
Chang: Isaan is in the northeastern part of Thailand. It is not a rich region, so the food is therefore quite simple, mainly salads and grilled items. There are a lot of farms growing glutinous rice, which is why sticky rice is a big part of Isaan cuisine. The flavors are sharp and spicy — a symphony of sour, sweet, savory and hot.
Narisara: At Chachawan, we keep the authentic taste of Isaan cuisine. It is casual, fun, buzzy and friendly.
Chang: My mother is my role model as a chef. I am inspired by how she put those who eat her dishes in first place. She always thinks about the kids, who she cooks for, when cooking. It is not about only how well you can cook, but also about how you think your guests will enjoy the food. Put on the customer’s hat and consider what would be the best for your diners. I believe this is very important.
Narisara: Passion is important. Working in the kitchen is tough — you have to be very passionate to stay in the kitchen and keep motivated. I found my passion in customer satisfaction. Every “thanks” from the guests is the greatest gift that motivates me to do better.
Chang: My mother. I am still following her ways of using the freshest ingredients available to create the best dishes.
Narisara: I would say my mother as well. She was my first culinary teacher. She taught me a lot about choosing the best ingredients, the best ways to cook, and wisely using what I have on hand.
Chang: Lemongrass. It smells amazing and is relaxing. It can be used in salads, drinks, desserts, soups… there are a lot of varieties to play with.
Narisara: Chili. It’s punchy and gives energy to the dish.
Chang: Any roasted duck rice in Hong Kong. The meat is very flavorful and tender. It is very different from the duck dishes in Thailand. I am so addicted.
Narisara: Duddell’s dim sum! It’s freshly made, bite size, easy to eat, and delicious. It is my all-time favorite.
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