Supanee Kitmahawong

Somtum Der
East Village, NYC
Somtum Der is an East Village institution. It is so no-frills that the entrance is tucked in and away from street view. The first time you try to find this place, you may walk past it, distracted by the NYU-ridden haunts (hello Yuca Bar). One meal at Somtum Der and you'll never miss it again--it takes brute willpower to walk by without stopping in for a bite. Somtum Der has been bringing authentic, Isan (Northeastern Thai) cuisine to the EV (and more recently Red Hook) since 2013. It’s a spice you will get addicted to - it hurts, but you won’t want to stop. We paid Supanee Kitmahawong a visit and reminisced about the space and how she got started.
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Full name, age, where are you from?

Supanee Kitmahawong (Nui). I am from Bangkok, Thailand.

Was food a big part of your upbringing?

When I was young, dinner time meant that everyone must be sitting together. The TV must be off. We would sit at a round table with a lazy Susan and a variety of home cooked dishes. Yes, it was a big part because it was the time for all of us to share the day’s stories while having a meal.

What are your earliest memories of dining out?

We would all go to my father's dim sum restaurant called August Moon. The restaurant was part of a mall called Thai Daimaru. My sisters and I would eat until we were really full and then walk around the mall for a little shopping. We loved finding some silly cheap stuff to buy until we started feeling sleepy. Then we jumped in the car and would sleep tight all the way back home.

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If you could give a piece of advice to someone who wanted to pursue your career, what would it be?

You cannot run a business if you only know how to cook. You should be familiar with back-office operations. And the most important thing, treat your employees as your family because if they are happy working with you, your restaurant becomes a happy place.

 

What do you think working in this industry has taught you?

Things may not go as planned. Be flexible. Save up money and if possible invest in real estate too.

 

What's your favorite dish/drink on the menu?

Tum Thai (Spicy Papaya Salad with Salted Eggs) and The Impossible Larb. I love Tum Thai so much because it exposes your  palette to all kinds of flavors: spicy, sweet, salty. I love to dip sticky rice into the sauce - it is very satisfying! I love it so much that we plan to make our own snack in Tum Thai flavor that will be out soon. Impossible Larb, is a very healthy vegan dish that is flavored with all kinds of Thai herbs. It tastes so good that you won’t believe you're not eating meat.  

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What is your favorite place to go out and eat at and what are you ordering?

We found our favorite dish that everyone in my family loves. It is simple guacamole with chips at an airport in Mexico. I have to go back there to get it again. Otherwise, we sometimes go to Ootoya Japanese restaurant for Sunday comfort food.

You’re on a desert island, what are the 5 kitchen items you need to run your business?

5? That's too many. I will need only 3 things; a pan, knife, and some salt. Other than that, we probably can make our own tools and find local ingredients.

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