After living in Kampot for almost a year, I’ve learned the trick to winning the hearts of Kampot’s many colorful residents begins and ends with great food. It’s no surprise, then, that Thai Fire, a new restaurant that opened at the start of this year, is already a success.
Nalee, more gastro-magician than chef, draws on her Laotian roots and Thai culinary experiences, both of which are reflected in Thai Fire’s menu. Rhett, her husband, handles front of house, and is also responsible for the restaurant’s uniquely hilarious Facebook updates.
Rhett’s musings on life, literature, his current hygiene status, and Thai Fire’s daily specials have become a cherished part of Kampot’s digital noticeboard. “I have to have something to do with my morning coffee,” he explains when I ask about these unorthodox marketing methods. “I do this and pretend it’s work.”
Nalee and Rhett are accustomed to working. “Every hour of every day,” Nalee declares. The Laotian chef ignored the jeers from her neighbors when growing sticky rice as a teenager to earn money that she used to relocate to Thailand. She met Rhett there about six years ago. The former IRS agent hails from the swamps of Alabama and now provides Kampot with a haven of engaging discussion and comedic relief. They moved to Cambodia at the end of 2016 with no intention of starting a business, but where boredom kicked in after a few months, they came up with the idea for Thai Fire.
The mouthwatering dishes offered at Thai Fire encompass the best of food from the Golden Triangle. A Thai friend once complained after I cooked him what I thought was a good Thai meal, “No chili, no salt, no sugar, no good!” He would have no complaints when eating anything made by Nalee.
You’ll find classic Thai dishes like curries, pad Thai, and tom yum soup, as well as Nalee’s own Laotian recipes on the menu, plus regular specials. Nalee also takes inspiration from Khmer and Burmese cuisine to create meals your mouth will not soon forget, including an unstoppable Massaman curry that usually sells out within hours.
Try the fresh spring rolls paired perfectly with their own peanut sauce infused with homemade, toasted coconut oil. Or, my favorite, the whole Thai-fried fish with crispy skin surrounding flaky white fish drowned in a sweet chili sauce, lemongrass, fresh herbs, and cashews. The dish is big enough for two people and a kitten.
You can enjoy most of Thai Fire’s delicious main dishes for under $4. Even the giant, Thai-fried fish works out to less than $4 each when shared between two people. If you do not have much time in Kampot, be sure to set aside some to visit Nalee and Rhett for interesting conversation, friendly service, and a truly excellent meal.
Open Monday to Saturday, noon til 10:30 p.m.
Street 735 (“Guesthouse Street”), Kampot
T: 081 364 559