Barless Bangkok bartenders ditch drinks for spicy noodles, dim sum

Kiattikoon “Toon” Auengkum, bartender of Asia Today, at center, and his homemade spicy noodle soup ‘khanom jean nam ngiew’ among other food his bars offer. Photos: Asia Today and Teens of Thailand
Kiattikoon “Toon” Auengkum, bartender of Asia Today, at center, and his homemade spicy noodle soup ‘khanom jean nam ngiew’ among other food his bars offer. Photos: Asia Today and Teens of Thailand

After City Hall ordered Bangkok bars shut indefinitely amid rising COVID-19 infections, two bar owners in Chinatown took up some heritage recipes from the past to survive the suddenly rocky present. 

Less than a week into 2021, after the government banned on-site alcohol sales for the second time in 10 months, Niks Anuman-Rajadhon and Gunn Leelhasuwan have had to quickly pivot.

Together, the two brains behind popular Soi Nana bars Teens of Thailand and Asia Today, Tax and Black King have launched DSI, or Dim Sum International, an ad hoc project using recipes for old-school shumai (pork dumplings) to help unemployed bartenders pay their bills.

Rather than carving ice or shaking up craft cocktails, their bartenders have found themselves preparing plump, porky dumplings by hand for delivery (THB10 per piece). 

They are also selling spicy noodle soup khanom jeen nam ngiew (THB85), northern Thai laab (THB100) and cold brew coffee (THB75).

According to Gunn, the two partners had previously discussed opening a bar that served dim sum and drinks, which they claim would have been the first of its kind in Bangkok. 

“We talked about opening something like this around Charoen Krung a long time ago. But now, selling dim sum is just for our own survival,” Gunn says. “I don’t want my staff to have false hope and have to rely on social security to make ends meet, either.”

This is not the first time Bangkok bars suffer from lockdown measures. Last year the COVID-19 infections peaked, bars were ordered shut for two months along with the booze bans. Even restaurants were forbidden to serve alcoholic beverages

‘It’s a bloodbath’: Bangkok restaurants devastated by booze ban

Gunn says the project is doing well enough to help their businesses stay afloat for the time being, although he admits they are just one week into a dry spell that has no clear end date. The short-term ban on alcohol sales in April last year was regularly extended. Ultimately, it was not lifted for bars and restaurants until June. That kept bars like theirs closed for nearly a quarter of the year.

That experience has informed Gunn’s thoughts on the present situation.

However bleak extended closures may seem, he believes all bar owners need to adapt. “[You can’t] just wait and hope for someone to help you, whether it’s from the government or other organizations. Bar owners need to do whatever they can to survive and take care of their employees,” he said. “Don’t give up.”  

Orders can be made via Dim Sum International’s Instagram page and official Line account (@yologroup).

This story originally appeared in BK.

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