Mu kratha, sometimes written as Mookata, means “pork pan” and is an extremely popular and delicious cuisine that has combined the Korean BBQ with the Chinese hotpot to give birth to something that is uniquely Thai. And there are Mu kratha eateries around, you just have to find them!
Pro-tip 1: these are places you will only find at night. As you walk or drive around, you need to do more than see. Look with your eyes, engage your brain and really notice. If you spy a large open brightly lit place filled with happy people sitting in a slightly smoky atmosphere, you may have well found a great Mu kratha eatery.
I am embarrassed to say I have driven up and down Pala-U road more times than you can imagine and never seen Jae Yai Hua Hin until last week when I was driving home after dinner at a popular garden restaurant in Hin Lek Fai. But once I had noticed the sheer number of diners at Jae Yai, I knew I had to eat there.
Jae Yai is a fixed price buffet which also includes a range of non-alcoholic drinks as well as icecream for dessert. Beer is of course available for purchase, but most Thais were not drinking alcohol. Perhaps because you have to keep your wits about you to cook and eat Mu kratha.
First, you select some raw ingredients from the hygienic glass-enclosed coolroom, where mask-wearing is mandatory. There is a huge selection to choose from including different cuts of beef, pork, and chicken along with seafood such as crab, prawns, river prawns, razor clam, mussels and clams. And that is just the meat dilemma. You have a wide selection of vegetable trays brimming with greens, sliced carrots, baby corn and mushrooms to choose from as well. Your selection goes on small orange plates or in small, rectangular plastic baskets to prevent cross-contamination and you can really only carry 2 at a time, but don’t worry as you will make numerous return trips to the coolroom.
By this time the staff will have installed your cooking stations at your table. Expect 2 different sorts: a pan with a dome in the middle and a moat around the outside, along with a terracotta pot filled with charcoal and topped with a wire mesh for the more traditional barbeque. The dome is to cook the finely sliced and marinated meat, the moat is filled with water which quickly becomes a tasty stock for cooking your vegetables. The terracotta mesh is the easiest way to cook your seafood.
Second pro-tip: Get your crabs and prawns going first. They take the longest to cook and as well need time to cool before you attempt to extract the meat if you don’t want to burn your fingers. Now, go back and collect some meat. If for you, offal and awful have similar connotations, don’t worry. All the cuts of meat are clearly labelled in English so you won’t cook anything you won’t want to eat. So, Mu kratha is as well suited to westerners as locals.
Indeed, last night, there was a mix of people happily filling their tummies at Jae Yai. Friends eating together, nuclear families, extended Thai families, blended Thai and farang families and a large group of over 20 who appeared to be a youth volunteer group were scoffing down food as fast as they could cook it. And luckily, the cooking takes a while, so you can pace yourself. If you don’t spend 2 hours, you aren’t doing it right. There is no time limit, so relax and enjoy the whole experience.
If you arrive starving, Jae Yai caters for that too. In the coolroom you will find a range of pre-prepared cold salad and noodle dishes, fried chicken wings and corn chips that will take the edge off your hunger until the first batch of meat and vegetable is cooked.
Make sure all meat is cooked through and brown before removing it from the grill because no-one likes getting sick. Keep the tongs provided for the raw food separate from your eating implements. This will keep you safe.
A challenge of Mu Kratha is the heat from the cooking, but Jae Yai is open-air on all sides, so great air-flow equals covid-safety and fresh cool air. You can even choose to sit at the dozen or so tables set up along the footpath.
Third pro-tip: Go sleeveless or at least wear short sleeves, so they don’t get in the cooking. Also, tie back long hair. A dark coloured shirt is a must. We both learnt this from experience.
By this time of the evening, you might begin to feel ashamed about the number of used plates and baskets on your table. Don’t be. No-one cares as long as you are having a fabulous time.
Jae Yai is an obvious choice for diners regardless of their background. Every customer is in total control of what they cook and eat. Jae Yai has its own special nam chim dipping sauce, which you ladle into a small dish for your table. The recipe has been refined over many years, and although it contains garlic, chili, sugar and bean curd and is both sweet and spicy, it is not mind (or mouth) blowingly hot and certainly had no hangover effects the next day.
The cool lime icecream for dessert, self-scooped to the portion size you desire, was a lovely way to end a delicious evening of slow eating.
You can find Jae Yai on Pala-U road, opposite Hua Hin School. I use the free What3Words app to help readers locate places, and had to smirk when I saw the code for Jae Yai is “success.worry.schools”. Download and open the W3W app and say these 3 “magic” words and you can’t fail to find it.