A corner of Asia in the Western CountryReading Time: 5 minute
Most times we hear of Romanian chefs leaving for different corners of the world. It is less common for a foreign chef to come and stay in Romania. There are also such surprising and interesting stories, such as the story of the Thai chef Nissara Buntos, who lives Arad, where she opened her own restaurant, Nissara.
How did you get to open a restaurant all the way to Arad?
I was born in Yasothon, in Thailand, 36 years ago, but I grew up in Bangkok from the age of 14. During my childhood I started to cook for my brother and my family, as so many young girls do in my country, by I made the first steps towards professional cooking when I started to work at the restaurant of my aunt. It was a traditional Thai restaurant, very crowded at lunch and dinner times. I remember even now of the high pressure I felt after cooking for many hours. Then, I had more food experiences in different hotels, and in 2011 I moved to Romania with my Italian partner, with whom I have two children, who were born here, in Arad.
Before getting to Romania, I spent a long period of time in Piemont, Italy, a recognized food destination of UNESCO, where my life partner was born and where I learned the language, but also to cook different dishes specific to this incredible area. In Arad, I met my extraordinary friend Alice Asandei, who is my second chef now and works with me since I got here. After many collaborations, I opened my opened restaurant, which goes very well.
How was the last year for you?
The pandemic hit very strong the HoReCa sector, so many restaurants in Romania, but also worldwide had to reinvent themselves, otherwise they had to close for good. All kinds of strategies were thought, such as meals in open air, warmed igloos or home delivery services. In the lockdown period, fortunately for us, we could develop and rapidly implement takeaway menus and home deliveries, because we had previous experiences at festivals or live cooking events. Because we are a small restaurant with reduced costs and small staff, we managed to go well over these months. Since we closed the restaurant, in March 2020, we have not reopened it for the public and we cooked only for home deliveries and take-away. I miss very much the human contact. At the restaurant, Alice and I served clients, and many of them became our friends because we loved to spoil them and talk to them over a glass of wine. I hope that soon we can do it again.
Which is your cooking philosophy?
Nissara is a casual restaurant inspired by the Italian osteria, with reasonable prices, cool music and friendly atmosphere. Our menu changes daily and is focused on foods that make you feel good. We cook Thai, Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese food, but also many homemade pasta, focaccia, other slow cooked dishes and recipes from Piemont and Liguria.
Where do you get the inspiration from to create these dishes?
In fact, many dishes we serve are traditional recipes, with specific ingredients and cooking methods, that were passed on from one generation to another. I try not to adapt or make compromises. The world does not need my method to make a classical carbonara, rather my understanding and respect for the original recipe, for the method of cooking it and the genuine ingredients used. That is why I think many of the traditional recipes have an anthropological food value, being an important cultural heritage, many generations contributed to. That is why I try to prepare these recipes with all my respect and passion, because they are a source of inspiration and life that deserves to be expresses and savoured in the most genuine way.
I know you cook with the Shan’shi foods in the Maresi portfolio. Tell me more about this collaboration.
I started in fact by chance. I have already used some of their products, when a common friend, who is also a local wine producer introduced me to Liliana Bock, the marketing manager of Maresi. At that time, Maresi was looking for a local chef who prepares Asian recipes with Shan’shi products. When we met, we connected immediately and we already got to the third year of our collaboration, with many live cooking events and video tutorials. With their help I had the opportunity to cook and travel in many professional kitchens in Romania. I think it is a very important experience of learning and I cannot wait to resume these opportunities.
Why did you choose their products?
As I was saying, I was already using the brand before we started to collaborate. 10 years ago, when I got to Romania, it was not easy to find Asian products in the shops, especially in cities like Arad. When Shan’shi and other brands came on the shelves, I started to use and compare them. Shan’shi and Maresi do a fantastic job in promoting the Asian products and Asian kitchen, in general, which I think is very important.
Why are the Shan’shi products so special?
The purchase of some Asian ingredients in the great food networks can be a disappointing experience, especially when you are used to the original taste. Such as the purchase of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, camembert cheese and buffalo mozzarella. Because most often the taste of artisan products cannot compare to what you find in the supermarkets, especially if it is away from their origin country. Shan’shi, like any other market brands, provides a full range of instant products, which can be the perfect introduction to the Asian kitchen at home, but which, at the same time, also offers genuine products that make the difference. I am thinking here of their rice pasta, the red curry or the bamboo sticks and their coconut milk, by far the best that can be found in the supermarkets in this part of the world.
Which do you think are the cooking trends this year?
Like last year, the focus will be headed towards the foods that make us feel good, because more and more people cook and eat at home.
We see an increase of the popularity of the healthy vegetarian and vegan products. Home deliveries will continue to grow due to the current restrictions on the entire European territory. At the same time, I think people wait to come back in the restaurants for the special occasions and for memorable dining experiences.
Which are the challenges you are dealing with now?
We open a Nissara restaurant in Timișoara. It is a new adventure we took on our shoulders, together with Alice Asandei and Bogdan Vraja and we are very delighted about it.
Which are the lessons you have learned in the pandemic?
A positive note of this pandemic was the reconnection with my family, I could spend more time with my children and my colleagues. In the lockdown months, we decided to isolate at the restaurant, which brought us all closer, more than a team, it made us get closer as a family.
Translation Supported by AB Traduceri