Vanda Asapahu is second-generation owner and chef of Ayara Thai in Los Angeles. Vanda worked with non-profit organizations and the United Nations in Thailand. Living in Thailand allowed Vanda to revive old family recipes and travel through the different regions to discover new tastes and inspirations. Vanda brings her individual experiences back to their family restaurant to push the boundaries of Thai cuisine — by adopting her parents’ recipes, creating new flavors inspired by her families experience as first-generation Thai-Americans, and sourcing environmentally-conscious ingredients. Vanda is committed to infusing contemporary values with the Thai culinary heritage that she and her siblings have inherited from their parents.
Please share an off-menu family recipe (or description) or a personal intergenerational food story
Khai Palo is a classic comfort food for many Thai-Chinese families including ours. I’ve come to understand that every family has a slightly different recipe. My family makes it by caramelizing pork belly and hard boiled egg with palm sugar and black soy, and seasoning it with Thai soy, fish sauce, Chinese five-spice, garlic and cilantro roots. This recipe was developed by my Chinese grandmother, who sold this dish out of her curry stall off the banks of the Chao Phaya River as a means to support her eight kids. My father tweaked his mother’s recipe when he moved to California in the early 80’s by adding tofu (nutritious, yet economical) and pairing it with a chili garlic sauce (yes, he made nam jim for it). I can only imagine my grandmother rolling in her grave at the sound of that; these are the exact words I tell my father when he learned of how my siblings and I have adjusted to the recipe. Instead of a hard boiled egg, we opted for a soft boiled egg which is still caramelized and flavorful. And rather than stewing the pork belly in a pot for hours on end (sometimes overnight), we’ve pressure cooked it (saving on time, without compromising the flavor). Food, like language and culture, changes with time – and I’m excited to share my family’s Thai-Chinese-American version of Khai Palo.
What does participation at LUCKYRICE signify to you?
LUCKYRICE is a curation of the Asian-American food scene of the city it is hosting. And often a gathering of chefs/restauranteurs with similar experiences and struggles. To me, its a reunion of familiar faces. I often do not get much time outside of the restaurant, and events like LuckyRice allows me to catch-up with old friends over delicious food and tasty drinks.
What do you think of the Asian food moment right now?
As a restaurant kid, I love seeing so many of us leaving the corporate world to cook our version of what we grew up eating.
Catch Chef Vanda and the Ayara Thai team at the #LUCKYRICE18 Breaking Bao Intergenerational Feast: Los Angeles on July 26th.