By Brian Martin for star2.com
A friend recommended a Thai-Chinese restaurant in Bangkok, figuring that as a frequent traveller to the Thai capital, I would be game for something fusion or at least, not traditionally Thai.
Boy, was I glad he told me about Je Ngor. That was four years ago, and I’ve been going back to the restaurant on Sukhumvit 20 every year since then. I’ve even become friends with the owner’s husband, Niphon Sajjavudh.
“Je Ngor is named after my wife’s best friend’s mother. She is a fabulous cook and when my wife and her buddy decided to open a restaurant, they used her recipes and named it after her,” Niphon told me.
The restaurant has two dishes listed in Bangkok’s Michelin Guide (as of 2017). The original branch in Bangkok’s Chinatown was opened 20 years ago, and there are now 11 branches in suburbs around Bangkok. The main one, however, is at Sukhumvit 20, opened 14 years ago.
So what makes this restaurant unique? Well, for starters, Mrs Je Ngor was of Teochew descent and the majority of dishes served here are Teochew. The other unique part of this eatery is the fact that 80 percent of its clientele are from Hong Kong!
“You’ve been here a number of times, haven’t you realised this?” Niphon chided me, adding that the rest of his customers are locals, mainland Chinese, Singaporeans and Malaysians.
For the purpose of this review, Niphon, a retired advertising bigwig, insisted we order the two Michelin recommended dishes – stir-fried shredded morning glory and stir-fried crab with black pepper.
First, the morning glory or better known as kangkung in Malaysia. All I can say is, wow! Actually, double wow! It was unlike any kangkung dish I have tried, yet relatively simple in its preparation. The chef, who’s been with the restaurant since its opening, uses only the stems of the morning glory and stir-fries it with lots of garlic. This was a great appetizer.
As for the crab, it was super fresh and had liberal doses of pepper – a little bit too much for my liking though.
Niphon explained that the restaurant gets all the seafood, meat and vegetables they use every morning. They do not keep anything for the next day. “We’ve been doing this since day one,” he said.
Our next dish was the deep-fried minced seafood spring ball. These are traditional Teochew-style dumplings that have minced pork and shrimp mixed together. We gave them the thumbs up for their crunchy exterior and juicy interior.
An interesting side to the dishes were… the sides! There were so many dips, we counted at least eight, sour, sweet, spicy, etc., and they all went with specific dishes or you could have them all on your table and try each one.
Just to prove that Je Ngor does traditional Thai too, the chef brought out the Som Tam or papaya salad. Yes, you can’t get more Thai than this. The difference was that the server asks you beforehand what level of spiciness you want for the dish: extra spicy, spicy or mild. This is to suit the foreign palate as Thais mostly like it super spicy.
Speaking of super spicy, Je Ngor’s tom yum is the bomb! A few mouthfuls of either the seafood or chicken variety, and you’ll find yourself sweating profusely. But if you really can’t take the spice, I would suggest you skip this soupy dish as the heat and various spices are really what keep it together.
To end the meal (before dessert), we had the fried rice. And it wasn’t just any fried rice. The chef uses salted and oven-baked salmon in the dish and this gives it that extra oomph. Despite being full, I greedily enjoyed a second bowl.
Finally, the dessert. The menu indicates a wide variety, but we chose the mango sticky rice (when in Thailand, right?) and the traditional Teochew ningow or fried taro sprinkled with fine powdery icing sugar. Both were excellent and a fitting end to a truly enjoyable meal.
Dinner for two at Je Ngor, with an appetiser, two mains and dessert plus drinks, should set you back 1,500 to 2,000 baht. It’s a bit pricey, but I would still recommend the restaurant for its ambience, service and quality of food.
68/2 Soi Sukhumvit 20
Tel: +66 2-258 8008
Open daily, 11.30am-11.30 pm