French yum woonsen a hit in Yaowarat | Bangkok Post: learning

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French yum woonsen a hit in Yaowarat

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A French national and his Thai wife are doing a good business selling Thai street food in Bangkok's Yaowarat district, drawing startled looks from passersby. 

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The sight of Frenchman Samuel Montassier cooking yum woonsen (spicy vermicelli salad) at his roadside stall in the Yaowarat area draws startled looks from passersby as well as many customers. Photos by Chumporn Sangvilert.


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Where East meets West

Chumporn Sangvilert

Amiable Frenchman turns heads as he serves up Thai street food with Gallic charm.

Samuel Montassier turns heads at the Chalerm Buri intersection in Yaowarat but it's not the yum woonsen, or spicy vermicelli salad, he sells that grabs the attention of passersby.

Rather, it's that a "farang" is selling the popular Thai street food.

French national Samuel and his Thai wife, Pornsuda "Maem" Samohom, push their cart out to the main Chinatown street every day in mid-afternoon.

The couple usually sells out their food by dusk, or within a few hours if there are many customers.

Samuel's calling out to prospective clients in three languages – Thai, English and French – often invites smiles from passersby. It's not uncommon for tourists to ask to take photos with the vivacious farang vendor while he busies himself poaching vegetables and seafood or mixing the ingredients into a spicy dish before serving.

His often-repeated phrase "phom rak mia" or "I love my wife" endears him to local customers.

The 42-year-old Frenchman has lived in Thailand for more than 20 years and took many jobs before he ended up as the farang yum woonsen vendor of Yaowarat.

"I came to Thailand 20 years ago. I went everywhere, to the North, South, Hua Hin, Surat Thani and Ayutthaya.

But now I stay with my wife and work – khai yum woonsen," said Samuel, who calls himself Sam.

He was first engaged in a business taking clothes from Thailand for resale in France. Eight years ago, however, he met his future wife, Maem, at a karaoke bar. He decided to settle down and help his wife earn a living in Thailand.

It was not all smiles and merriment. At first, Samuel worked as a receptionist at a Chinese restaurant in Yaowarat. His ability to speak some Thai was an asset. But his wife wanted to go back to her home in Isan. He went along with her.

"I helped her grow tapioca in Khon Kaen. It was tough. Where I stayed, there was no electricity or tap water. There were few people and not much food. I could adjust. I could eat frogs, rats and bugs. I could carry water from a canal for a bath. I could have lived there but I thought we would do better if we returned to Yaowarat where we used to live," Samuel said.

The couple spent some time thinking about what to do to earn a living. Since Samuel has some skills in cooking French food, and a Thai spicy salad vending cart which usually occupied a spot on the Chalerm Buri intersection did not show up for a long while, Samuel and Maem thought they could try their hands at yum woonsen. The couple's neighbour, a rice-and-curry vendor, helped with a recipe and preparing the dish. At first, Maem was the one who did the cooking.

"I sold the yum myself at first. There were only a few customers," Maem said. "Then, Sam wanted to give it a try. I didn't teach him. He just learned by watching what I did," Maem said.

After Sam took over, they sold very well and often finished off all their daily supplies.

It's probably because the sight of a farang selling a local yum is a strange one, Maem remarked. Also, Sam is good with customers. He catches their attention and often jokes with them.

Another element of his charm is that Sam always performs a wai with the Thai words for "thank you" or "khob khun krub" to all his customers, whether they are Thai or foreigners.

"I have come to Thailand many times but this is the first time I tasted his yum. It's very good," a Singaporean tourist said.

Samuel said 80% of his customers are Thai, most of them from the Yaowarat area. But there are many also who come from other places –  Khao San, Silom and Hua Lamphong, he said.

Samuel's dream is to save enough money to have a child.

"I love Thailand. And I love my wife very much," said the farang vendor who has made a home in Bangkok.

stall – a large table or a small building  (or in this case, a cart) that is open at the front, used for selling things (or for giving people information) รถ หรือแผงขายของ
draw – to attract or interest somebody ดึงดูด
startled – to be suddenly very surprised in a way that slightly shocks or frightens you ผวา, ขวัญหาย
passersby – people who are going past somebody, a place, an event, etc.  ผู้คนผ่านไปมาตามถนน
amiable – pleasant; friendly and easy to like  เป็นมิตร, เป็นกันเอง
turn heads – to catch people’s attention, especially by surprising them; to cause to notice something ดึงดูดความสนใจ
Gallic – connected with or considered typical of France or its people เกี่ยวกับฝรั่งเศส
charm – a feature or quality that is pleasing or attractive ความดึงดูดใจ,ความจับใจ
intersection – a place where roads, lines, etc., join or cross each other สี่แยก
grab attention – to catch people’s interest; to cause them to notice something ดึงดูดความสนใจ
(push) cart – a small vehicle with two or four wheels that you push to transport large or heavy objects on รถเข็น
dusk –  the time before night when it is not yet dark เวลาเย็นก่อนค่ำ
prospective – expected to do something or to become something ที่คาดหวังไว้, ที่มุ่งหวัง
client – a customer or someone who receives services ลูกค้า
vivacious – having a lively, attractive personality มีชีวิตชีวา, คล่องแคล่ว, สนุกสนาน
vendor – someone who sells something, but not in a shop พ่อค้าแม่ค้าแผงลอย
poach – to cook food gently in a small amount of liquid เคี่ยวอาหาร,  ต้ม
ingredients – foods that are used with other foods in the preparation of a particular dish ส่วนประกอบ
endear – to make somebody/yourself popular ทำให้เป็นที่รักใคร่, ทำให้ได้รับความชื่นชอบ
local – in or related to the area that you live, or to the particular area that you are talking about  ท้องถิ่น
engaged in – taking part in a particular activity  มีส่วนร่วมใน
settle down – to start to have a quieter way of life, living in one place, often by getting married ตั้งถิ่นฐาน
merriment – happy talk, enjoyment and the sound of people laughing ความสนุกสนาน, ความรื่นเริง, ความครึกครื้น
receptionist – a person whose job is to deal with people arriving at or telephoning a hotel, an office building, a doctor's surgery, etc. พนักงานต้อนรับ
asset – a thing of value สิ่งที่มีคุณค่า
tapioca (cassava) – a tropical plant with roots that can be cooked and eaten or made into flour มันสำปะหลัง
tough – difficult to do or to deal with ยาก  ยากลำบาก
tap water – water that is sent through pipes into building น้ำประปา
occupy – to use a place for period of time ครอง
spot – the particular place where someone or something is  ที่, สถานที่
recipe – a set of instructions for cooking or preparing a particular food วิธีปรุง, ตำรากับข้าว
supplies – the things that are needed to do a particular activity สิ่งที่จัดหาให้, เสบียง
element – an important basic part of something องค์ประกอบ, ส่วนประกอบ

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