Chutatip "Nok" Suntaranon at the counter at the market. In the kitchen behind the door at rear, cooks do prep work for Kalaya, the restaurant.
MICHAEL KLEIN / Staff
Chutatip "Nok" Suntaranon at the counter at the market. In the kitchen behind the door at rear, cooks do prep work for Kalaya, the restaurant.

Kalaya Thai Market makes chef Nok Suntaranon’s intricate blends accessible to home cooks

“You can take the girl out of the market, but you can’t take the market out of the girl — and that’s me!” says Chutatip “Nok” Suntaranon, the chef and owner of Kalaya.

Growing up in Trang province, she’d help blend the curry and shrimp pastes that her mother, Kalaya, would sell in their village market: “Now 40 years later, I’m doing the same thing, but in South Philly, not Southern Thailand.”

That’s why the launch of a retail space near her celebrated Thai BYOB in the Italian Market is such a thrill.

Kalaya’s handmade curries, a rarity in the United States where such intricate blends are commonly premade, have been key to Nok’s high-voltage cuisine, earning her 2019 Chef of the Year kudos, a three bell review, and a finalist nod from the James Beard Foundation.

Groceries imported from Thailand at Kalaya Thai Market.
MICHAEL KLEIN / Staff
Groceries imported from Thailand at Kalaya Thai Market.

Now you can buy tubs of red curry radiating the fire of dried chilies, turmeric root, and fresh galangal, or the green curry of coriander, basil, fresh chilies, and turmeric leaves, which also comes bundled into a meal kit for four (just add protein). The staff is ready with recipes and advice for this small market’s pantry of hard-to-find provisions, from fresh lime leaves and Asian citrus to spice rubs, butterfly pea flowers (to turn your dumplings blue), and tai pla, the fermented fish innard sauce Nok says is “the gold” behind her food’s magnetic funk. Grab a bag of coveted Thasiam instant boat noodles for an easy lunch.

There’s also a daily menu of prepared foods, from crab dumplings to soups, entrees, Northern Thai lemongrass sausage, and Moo Dad Diew pork jerky that bring Nok’s vivid restaurant flavors to a more accessible, moderately priced venue.

“I walked in the other day and realized: I’ve become my mother!'” she says. “And that’s not a bad thing at all.”