Last March, Nana Thai Style Hotpot & BBQ opened in its current digs on Bourke Street in Melbourne's CBD – but it was previously housed in a discreet car park near Parliament Station. It's since carved out its own identity as the first spot to offer Thai-style hot pot and barbecue in Melbourne. Red plastic stools dot the eatery, tissue boxes hang on the walls and Thai Coca-Cola and Sprite signs light up the kitchen area. The venue replicates a busy street-side restaurant in Bangkok.
Nuttanan Lohayanjaree, commonly known as Mint, is the owner of Nana Thai Style Hotpot & BBQ and was born in Bangkok, Thailand. Her business partner Panta Thanapaisan, otherwise known as Wan, was born in Nan in northern Thailand. After successfully completing their bachelor degrees in Thailand, they made the move to Melbourne to continue their postgraduate studies.
Despite having roots in northern Thailand, Thanapaisan’s menu has an overarching Isaan (or northeastern Thai) theme. In Australia, it’s common for Thai restaurants to serve Bangkok-style (central Thai) cuisine, and this makes an appearance towards the back of Nana Thai’s laminated menu. Dishes like pad Thai, and tom yum soup (a crowd favourite here) show off a sweet and sour broth with instant noodles, a range of toppings like prawns and calamari and a raw egg immersed on top.
It's since carved out its own identity as the first spot to offer Thai-style hot pot and barbecue in Melbourne.
But it’s the Isaan cuisine loaded with chilli and spiked with fermented fish that resonates most strongly here. “We both had it all the time when we were growing up in Thailand,” Lohayanjaree says about mookata, Thailand’s answer to hot pot. 'Mookata' loosely translates to 'pork skillet' in Thai and here it features a golden dome-shaped hot pot that allows the fats from the meat on top (pork neck, belly and liver, bacon, prawns, calamari) to trickle down to the sides where there’s water – the flavour of the two combining to create a rich broth for vegetables and noodles. Guests can also opt for moojum, otherwise known as hot pot that features a light, lemongrass-infused broth complete with sides like pork neck, liver and intestines, chicken breast, prawns, calamari and vegetable trimmings like water spinach and Chinese cabbage plus glass noodles.
“Mookata and moojum can be found everywhere in Thailand and are really popular among Thai people. Even in Australia, there are so many Thai people who are always cooking their own at home – including me and Wan. We realised that no one sells it at all in Melbourne and decided it was a good chance for us to be the first Thai-style hot pot and barbecue in Melbourne.”
“We both had it all the time when we were growing up in Thailand.”
“In addition, northeastern food [papaya salad and other spicy salads which contain fermented fish sauce] are also popular in Thailand and they are a good match for Thai barbecue and hot pot.”
Som tum loaded with chilli and flecks of dried shrimp are doused and cut through by lime juice and bowls of garlic rice compliment sweet, spicy dishes that pack a punch. Green curry isn’t to be seen anywhere.
Papaya is hand-cut fresh every day and the all-Thai staff buzz around the room. Lohayanjaree goes to sleep at 4 am each day and can be spotted working behind the counter, speedily mashing numbers into a calculator to organise countless guests’ receipts, as a queue of people meanders outside. Due to the pandemic, the venue lost a lot of workers and is actively hiring Thai people where it can compete with demand.
The staff's hard work is a testament to the exceptional food that's dished out and keeps crowds coming back for more – waiting before the venue has even opened.
169 Bourke Street, Melbourne
Daily 5.30 pm – 1 am
During lockdown, they will be servicing takeaway and delivery as well.
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