Cobble Hill restaurant Rua takes patrons deeper into Thai cuisine

Rua thai foods
Rua prepares Thai street food, home-style recepies and family traditions at in Cobble Hill.
Photo courtesy of Rua

Chef Kornpon Theeraumpornkul is taking patrons beyond pad thai and coconut soup. The former Yum Yum Too executive chef drew the inspiration for his new Smith Street restaurant Rua, from the lively and culture-rich floating market of Damnoen Saduak in Western Thailand.

Growing up, Theeraumpornkul, who is originally from Ratchaburi in Central Thailand, would help his grandmother prepare her famous shrimp donuts and get ready to sell them at the market after school. 

Thousands of vendors at Damnoen Saduak fill their canoes with everything from fruits and vegetables to elaborate dishes prepared on the spot while their clients move through the maze of narrow canals.

Thai panko donuts at Rua restaurant clinton hill
Shrimp cakes with chili sauce are very well known in Thailand, but shrimp donuts made of chopped shrimp mixed with egg, coated in panko breadcrumbs are the chef’s family specialty. Photo courtesy of Rua

“No matter how familiar it was to us, the market never stopped being an amazing experience,” said the chef. “It was hard work, but it was fun and full of good food.”

At Rua, which means rowboat boat in Thai, the walls display pictures of the market dynamics. One shows how a cook masterfully fills plates of noodles for market-goers, in another one, Buddhist monks dressed in bright orange shop while navigating and one more gives an overhead peek at the heavy canoe traffic. The dishes seen in the pictures materialize as plates with a pineapple filled with shrimp and mussels or an instant noodle cup with prawns and vegetables hanging from it arrive at the table. 

Thai cuisine is founded on the principle that each dish should comprise four fundamental taste areas — salty, sweet, sour, and spicy— according to Thai chef and best-selling author Jet Tila. The spiciness comes mostly from chili peppers, the sweet notes from cane or palm sugar, and sourness or acidity is often sourced from tamarind and lime juice. The most unusual flavor, the bitterness, which is rarely used mixed in dishes in other cultures, comes from various fruits and vegetables, such as pomelo, round eggplants known as aubergines and bitter gourd.

The menu at Rua is a mix of family tradition, innovation and playful presentation. Fish curry, massaman six-hour braised short rib with potatoes, onion, and chestnuts in a thick coconut curry accompanied by blue butterfly pea jasmine rice are so far some of the most popular dishes, but grandma’s crispy panko-covered shrimp donuts stacked on a sugarcane stick are the chef’s main recommendation and what started all.

Dishes at thai restaurant Rua in clinton hill
Thai cooks don’t shy about incorporating bitter flavors into their dishes alongside salty, sweet, and sour flavors. Photo courtesy of Rua

Despite the reminders of Thai temples in the eatery’s decor, the cocktails that come from the bar get the spotlight. 

Dolporn Thongneam, former bartender of Ayada in Chelsea, named her creations after different districts in the Ratchaburi province and used ingredients like elderberry kombucha, melon liqueur and a sour mix and lemongrass to achieve the right aromas and flavor balance.

“New York is a melting pot of cultures, but there is so much richness in Thai culture that remains untapped by Americans,” said Theeraumpornkul. “And I am sure that, the more they knew, the more they would love it.”

Correction 08/08/2023, 7:30 p.m.: This story’s headline previously misstated the restaurant’s location as Clinton Hill, not Cobble Hill.