Knokke-Heist, BELGIUM — Five women from the northeastern region of Thailand won a global recognition earlier this week for their commitment to serving authentic Thai cuisine in Belgium.
Their restaurant, Boo Raan, in the town of Knokke-Heist was awarded a Michelin Star on Monday, an achievement head chef Dokkoon Kapueak attributed to the team’s dedication to stay true to the recipes she learned during her childhood in rural Ubon Ratchathani – and the refusal to dial down the spice level.
“Honestly, I came from a poor family. While my parents worked, I lived with relatives. They taught us how to cook kaeng curries, jaew sauce, and omelettes to feed everyone, so my food is 100 percent Thai,” Dokkoon, 38, said by phone Wednesday.
“There’s absolutely no making the taste abbeaw for farang,” she said using a term that means to “make cute” or “dumb down.”
The Michelin Guide announced their new stars for Belgium on Monday. Boo Raan was one of 10 new one-star additions, with the Guide calling it “the best Thai restaurant in Benelux.”
“Dokkoon Kapueak prepares authentic dishes in the open kitchen to order,” the guide reads. “A festival of fresh ingredients, spices, unctuosity and manifold flavours explain why Boo Raan is such a benchmark locally and nationally.”
Dokkoon’s all-female, all-Isaan-born team consists of Nittaya Yokma, 37, from Kalasin; Somporn Roobroeck, 30, from Si Saket; Yuwadee Spriet, 36, from Buriram; and Nognoot Nakinchart, 39, from Nakhon Ratchasima.
Their head chef, Dokkoon, has lived in Belgium for 12 years.
Boo Raan (the name means “ancient” or “traditional” in Thai – nothing to do with the one-star Bo.lan in Bangkok) was founded in Nov. 2016 at the urging of business partner Patrick Eigenaar, even though Dokkoon insisted that she didn’t know how to run a restaurant.
What she did know – was how to cook.
The star dishes of Boo Raan are ones that Thailand’s residents would find ubiquitous and normal: chicken satay, kaeng kai chicken curry, beef larb naamtok, som tum, and so on. The ingredients are imported from Thailand every week.
“They’re very basic dishes, but with classic taste. Normally Thais think farangs will be interested in tom yum, but it’s actually super normal dishes like these that are interesting too,” Dokkoon said.
“At first, 20 percent of the feedback was about the food being too spicy. But we stood firm and wanted to present the real taste.”
Soon enough, foreign tongues got used to the heat, and regulars kept coming back. Eight months after the restaurant opened, they won the Gault & Millau restaurant guide’s “Asian Restaurant of the Year” in 2017. The prestigious guide awarded the Boo Raan a 13.5 out of 20 on their rating scale.
The restaurant now requires a reservation one or two weeks in advance, Dokkoon said.
Boo Raan is located in Knokke-Heist, a municipality of Belgium along the North Sea known as a seaside resort. The restaurant is located about 10 kilometers away from the border with the Netherlands, and is open Wednesdays through Sundays from 6:30 to midnight.