Dining Out

Why pork is the real hero of Thai cuisine

Porkfat’s owner Narin “Jack” Kulasai is carving the way.

Australians have a long love-affair with Thai food, but with his acclaimed restaurant Porkfat, PorkStar Narin “Jack” Kulasai is showing Sydney – and the rest of the country ­– what we’ve been missing, and why pork is the real star of family-style Thai cooking.

Australians love Thai food. How much? Well, for starters, we have the most Thai restaurants per capita anywhere in the world outside of Thailand. And a few years ago, Thai food was the country’s most searched for cuisine online. Each year, our Thai-born population continues to grow, and apart from Los Angeles, Sydney has the largest Thai population of any city outside Thailand. But our enthusiasm for Thai food hasn’t historically translated to authenticity.

When Australia’s first Thai restaurant opened in the mid-70s, it made commercial sense to adapt classic recipes to local tastes, which, at the time, meant lots of beef and chicken. This proved popular – and soon, many of us came to view this localised form of Thai food as the real deal.

Chicken, beef and fish are beloved in Thailand — but pork is the most treasured meat. So why, at an average consumption of 10 kilos a year per Thai, is it the most popular meat in Thailand?  Because in Thailand, pork means family. It means communion and gathering over roast pork belly. Or grilled pork neck. Or anything cooked with pork fat. It means celebration. And it means generous second and third helpings. Nowhere is that more true than in Central Thailand, where Narin “Jack” Kulasai, PorkStar and owner and head chef of Sydney Thai sensation Porkfat, grew up.

A line-up of PorkStar’s top pork dishes, including larb, deep-fried pork belly and grilled pork jowl. Image: Supplied

Kulasai grew up in the town of Saraburi, and his grandmother and father taught him to cook. This instilled in him a love for cooking which took him to David Thompson’s Nahm restaurant in Bangkok, and later, Peter Gilmore’s Bennelong. Eventually, Kulasai returned to the Thompson fold, and headed up the kitchen at the iconic Long Chim in Sydney.

“When I first started cooking in kitchens, I felt so calm and so comfortable within myself,” Kulasai says. “A feeling I only ever felt when cooking with my grandma.”

Eventually, Kulasai saw an opportunity to showcase his family’s most cherished recipes, and Thailand’s most beloved meat, with his own restaurant: Porkfat.

“People are always wondering why I named this restaurant Porkfat,” Kulaisai says. “When I was very young, my grandma always used pork fat as the base of all cooking.

So, since my food is based on the dishes of my family, and pork fat is at the heart of so many dishes, why not just name it Porkfat?”

It’s that kind of attitude that makes Kulasai a true PorkStar. Now, at Porkfat, which, since opening in 2022 has garnered increasing acclaim, there’s barely a dish that doesn’t feature pork or pork fat – and it’s all made with Australian pork. Whether it’s a classic larb, grilled pork jowl, deep fried pork belly with chilli-lime nam jim, or the star green curry with pork jowl and lychee, pork – and its fat – is an omnipresent, and delicious, staple of the menu.

Deliciously crispy and juicy deep fried pork belly with chilli-lime nam jim. Supplied

You’ll come away from a meal at Porkfat blown away by the potential of pork – and Kulasai hopes that will inspire you to shake up how you incorporate pork into your home cooking, too.

Soon, Kulasai might be adding his most personal dish to the menu yet.

“My favourite ever pork dish is pork hock, which is my father’s recipe,” Kulasai says. “He likes to cook the pork hock super crispy, and all soft and tender inside – it’s a very important dish and makes me feel at home when I cook it.”

Although there are nods to the classic neighbourhood Thai takeaway spots we all love (BYO wine is encouraged here), Porkfat is helping to reset how we perceive Thai cooking in Australia – by putting pork back in its rightful place at the heart of it all. We’d expect nothing less from a PorkStar like Narin “Jack” Kulasai.

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