Finding joy in helping others
Two years ago, Banjerd Nualiem opened his first khao kaeng (curry and rice) shop in Nakhon Pathom's Kamphaeng Saen district to offer self-service meals.
The price was very minimal, almost as good as free.
At 10 baht, his customers could fill and refill a big plate of rice as many times as they liked.
He named his restaurant "Im Jung Khao Kaeng", meaning I'm full [with] rice topped with curry or other side dishes. The stall is also known among its customers as "Khao Kaeng Buffet: Im La Sib Baht", meaning a self-service meal at 10 baht.
Choices of food at Im Jung Khao Kaeng.
Although the price is low, it serves good quality food including white rice mixed with unpolished dark purple rice, known as riceberry, and a variety of about 10 kab khao or side dishes to eat with rice. Samples include khai phalo (egg and braised pork belly in sweet brown broth), which is the shop's best-seller, kaeng khieo wan kai (chicken green curry), chicken massaman and ho mok pla (steamed spicy fish cake).
Each side dish looks presentable. You can see chicken meat or chicken drumsticks in curries, shrimp or sliced fish in kaeng som (spicy and sour soup) or take deep-fried mackerel served with spicy chilli dip and vegetables. The quality of food is much higher than the price you pay.
"My goal is not to make money or earn a profit. I want to share what we have with those who are in need," said Banjerd, 58, a former banker.
The 10 baht price is not much for anyone to pay. If a customer is short of money, Banjerd is willing to offer the food for free. They can even ask for packed food for their loved ones waiting at home.
Im Jung Khao Kaeng restaurant offers food in a buffet style at 10 baht.
"I was born in a hand-to-mouth family. I understand well how difficult life is when there is nothing left in the kitchen. Now I have a chance to help others, so why not?"
In his restaurant, Banjerd hangs a big vinyl sign showing his motto which reads "loss is profit". You may think it does not make sense but wait until you hear his explanation.
"My profit is not my earnings. Rather, it is the act of giving that counts as it brings happiness and that is immeasurable," he said.
He and his friends self-funded the first Im Jung Khao Kaeng streetside restaurant. Fortunately, he also has support from the Dhamma Isara Foundation of Suwit Thongprasert, formerly known as Luang Pu Buddha Isara, the former abbot of Wat Onoi in Nakhon Pathom.
The idea started after he and his friends volunteered to help the Dhamma Isara Foundation cook and offer food and drinks to countless mourners at Sanam Luang during the 337 days of national grief after King Bhumibol Adulyadej the Great passed away four years ago.
"We were there every day to offer free food. Although I was exhausted, this could not compare to what the king did for our country. The charity service inspired me to open the Im Jung project. It is what I can do to show my gratitude to the motherland and to pay back to society," he said.
Following in the king's footsteps, he opened his first outlet at the front of Rong Chae Ho Khunnatham Fah (a vegetarian hall) of the Dhamma Isara Foundation in Kamphaeng Saen on July 26, 2019. The second outlet opened shortly after, not far from Silpakorn University (Sanam Chan Palace campus) in Nakhon Pathom to help ease some burden of college students.
The third outlet is located close to Kasetsart University's Kamphaeng Saen campus. The fourth stall is located at the front gate of a food factory to help daily wage workers. Today, Im Jung Khao Kaeng has expanded to nine branches, including two in Bangkok. One is located on Pracha Songkhro Road for people in the Din Daeng low-income community and the other is on Suan Phak Road in Taling Chan district.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, each Im Jung Khao Kaeng restaurant has a shelf where people can grab packed meals for free. They also provide free food to medical doctors and Covid-19 patients in field hospitals and communities affected by the pandemic in Nakhon Pathom and Bangkok.
Banjerd never thought that Im Jung will grow this fast. It shows that there are people who think like him and find happiness in helping others.
If you agree, you can contribute by offering rice, cooking ingredients, space for opening more Im Jung Khao Kaen stalls or even volunteering to help in any way you can. Contact Banjerd Nualiem at 083-782-4495 or donate to the Dhamma Isara Foundation at TMBThanachart Bank account no: 345-255-1082. Helping others will simply bring you joy.
Karnjana Karnjanatawe is a travel writer for the Life section of the Bangkok Post.