Very near Reem’s California, the thriving Middle Eastern bakery her co-alumna opened last year, Nite Yun will bring her Cambodia street food to Nyum Bai next Saturday, Feb. 17. Yun and Reem Assil both graduated from La Cocina, the storied Mission District incubator that gives immigrant women the tools needed to open their own food businesses, and Yun got her start with a weekly pop-up at SoMa’s Gashead Tavern and Mission Community Market before moving to a kiosk at the Emeryville Public Market. She’s also gone from student to teacher, instructing people in the art of making kroeung, the catch-all term for the ground-up pastes that provide the structure to many Cambodian dishes.
While Burmese food and arguably even Lao cuisine have gradually become better-known in the Bay Area over the past decade, Cambodian cooking remains harder to come by — although that’s hardly the case in Stockton, where Yun was raised. Her repertoire includes dishes like ngoum banana salad (made with cabbage, banana blossoms, mint, laka leaves, sweet basil, and cucumber), koh (a pork belly stew with a good dose of black pepper), and kuy teav Phnom Penh, a pork noodle soup named for the country’s capital and prepared with rice noodles, sliced beef, minced pork, shrimp, fresh herbs, and crispy garlic. If you’ve never seen a banana blossom cut crosswise, their sliced onion appearance may take you by surprise.
While “Nyum Bai” transliterates as “to eat rice,” it’s also a colloquialism better rendered as “let’s eat!” — and its how Yun’s mother welcomed people into her home. Yun is as dedicated to broadening the appeal of her homeland’s food as she is into popularizing its culture, and Nyum Bai’s Instagram profile is full of choice tidbits about various Cambodian singers from decades past. To your anticipated delight, there’s a liquor license and a local beer selection, the better to throw back on an outdoor patio. (Because this is Fruitvale, in addition to an interior by local designer Renee La’doza there will also be a mural from Erik Otto.)
Yun was born in a refugee camp in Thailand, and many of her staffers are refugees themselves. Serving bon chao, a savory, crispy coconut-and-turmeric crepe made with pork belly and sautéed leeks, then topped with sweet fish sauce, fresh herbs, and lettuce leaves, they might just make you pine for a motherland you recently knew nothing about. PLK
Nyum Bai, opens Feb. 17 in Fruitvale Transit Village, 3340 E. 12th St., Oakland, nyumbai.com