Bringing the heat from Thailand to Glasgow

One of the main reasons for starting this blog was to find out about more about the people behind our food – what their stories are and passions.

Lead chef at the Hummingbird, a pan-Asian restaurant in Glasgow, Chef Noi shares how her journey from the northeast of Thailand to Glasgow began in 2003. She shares her passion for food and her relentless approach to life that got her this far.

Life Bites is a series that aims to inspire through the art of story-telling. Each story is a reflection of the experiences, lessons and successes of the people I meet along the way.

Tell me about your background?

I grew up in the North of Thailand and from an extended tight-knit family. Respect was a big thing growing up. In Thai culture we have to have respect for elders and the community, so I carry that with me wherever I go and even when I came here to Glasgow. Even though we came from a poor background, we used to cook a lot together and grow our own produce so that has definitely inspired me when I’m here.  

Moving to another country must have been a huge step for you. Did you realise any significant differences in culture when you first arrived here?

Yeah, it was. I struggle with my English, so when I first came to Scotland in 2003 I went to classes to learn English within my first four years. There were times at work when they would laugh at me, but I didn’t care and I told them I am going to keep practising and cook and even better than you and I did!

So I just worked harder, I asked questions, got involved. It doesn’t matter where you’re from just work harder and prove them wrong and respect people, don’t be arrogant. But people here are so friendly and I’ve been here for over ten years now and I’ve only met a few mean people.

It was funny in Thailand when we have elders we call them aunty or uncle, but when you come here you can’t call people older than you uncle or aunty you know, they think you’re calling them old.

So let’s put work to a side, what does Noi enjoy doing in her spare time?

I enjoy gardening and fishing. With gardening, I tend to grow things that I can’t find in the supermarket, such as pok choy and chilli, but the weather here isn’t the same as back home so I have to experiment to see what works.  

What would be your advice to your younger self?

When I was young I was shy. So don’t be shy and that you have a choice.

We briefly spoke about your upbringing in Thailand. How did your culture has shaped you today?

I always try to think positively, my family didn’t have a lot of money, so when we would go on the rice farm, it could be really upsetting when it wouldn’t rain because that meant the rice wouldn’t grow and we couldn’t sell anything at the market. But we had to stay positive and make the best out of the situation and we did that by laughing and playing together.  

What’s your advice for people aspiring to become chefs?

Always ask questions. This helped me to understand flavours better because I was asking, ‘how do you know to put this item or this vegetable in the meal?’ Also, if you can’t find a chef role, then just get a job that has to do with food. I started as a housekeeper to specifically cook for a family in Thailand, so this made me realise how much I loved food. So if you can’t find a job, start as a kitchen porter, it’s about getting one foot into the door and just being around that environment. Honestly, if you love it go for it and do it, there’s so many opportunities you just have to work hard for it and try.

Before ending up at the Hummingbird, what other jobs have you had?

So I had my own food stall in Thailand and I would wake up and get to the market before 6 am to get the best vegetables and sell food until 4pm, so that’s why I’m mainly interested in street food. I actually used to want to do fine dining, but I changed my mind because I wanted to make food that everyone can eat on the go, whether it’s a student or someone on their lunch break. This is why I like street food, it’s easy going and you can be more free to explore with different ingredients and flavours.

How does the food scene here differ from other cities in Scotland?

I’ve realised here in Glasgow street food sells well rather than fine dining, which I think is more popular in Edinburgh. I don’t feel fine dining is a popular thing here, I feel people just want good, simple and tasty food that’s presented decently, so as a chef you can be freer as there’s no need for the fancy stuff. I also feel that people are becoming more open to trying different flavours and that’s due to people travelling more and coming back here to explore different cuisine.

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