One of the Best New Restaurants in America Is Chef Nite Yun’s Nyum Bai — Cooking in America (2023)


On today's episode of Cooking in America, Sheldon Simeon is at Nyum Bai, in Oakland, celebrating the Cambodian food of chef Nite Yun.

Host: Sheldon Simeon
Director/Editor: Carla Francescutti
Producer: Pelin Keskin
Additional Camera: Ian Stroud
Eater Video:

Cambodian Songs:
Sinn Sisamouth - Vey Snaeh (Young Love)
Ros Sereysothea - Miss you! Miss you!

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- So, when I heard that we were going to Oakland, there was one spot that I wanted to go, and this is the spot.

We'll be meeting Chef Nite Yun, who is taking us back to the golden years of Cambodia, cooking, the food that she grew up: eating and sharing it with all of Oakland.

- So today, we're gonna, make kuy teav Phnom Penh, which is like a noodle soup dish, a pork belly dish called prahok ktiss., - You, saying pork.

Belly is straight to my heart: already.

(acoustic guitar) - So people like to ask if Cambodian food is similar to Thai or Vietnamese.

There's, an overlap in ingredients, but the overall flavors and dishes are quite different.

We eat a lot of paste to go with the fresh ingredients, and there's always a contrast in the texture with funkiness and raw veggies.


Then it varies too, because you have the countryside where they do a lot of stews and if you go to the city, you'll find soups like this.


Most of the dishes here are food that I grew up.


Nyum Bai translates to "eat rice", but it's also a phrase that my mom would say, forcing them to go.

Eat, like "Come here!, Nyum, bai!" - Yeah, yeah., (Nite, laughs), - That's.

Her way of making people feel comfortable is through food, so it's like, just come eat.

We're gonna make my favorite dish: ever.

It's, a classic Cambodian dish called prahok ktiss, and it's essential that we use pork belly because you want the fat to be cooked down, and it creates this, I.

Don't know, really delicious-- - Magical. - Yeah., So.

Here's, the prahok ktiss.

It has a very funky smell.

- So.

It's a fermented fish paste? - It's fermented fish.


We use this in a lot of Cambodian cooking, the prahok.

And then, kroeung.

What you see: here.

It's, a lemongrass, paste.

It's, two of the most important ingredients in cooking Cambodian, food.

We, want to add the lemongrass, red chile, fish, paste. - [Sheldon] Oh, it's so fragrant., - Yeah.

This is the winning combination.

(brass instruments with beat) I grew up in the kitchen.

With my mom.

We lived in a one bedroom apartment, so I was always in the kitchen, not necessarily wanting to learn how to cook, but because I really didn't have anywhere else to go.

(both laugh), Pork, belly.

This is tamarind, powder.

Gonna, add some tamarind powder.


Yup, and then you add the coconut milk, some bird eye, chiles.

You like spicy food? - Yeah. - Okay, so I'm gonna.

Add two more.

When you cook in Cambodia.

You have to go the store every morning because most homes, like my cousins and grandma, they didn't have refrigerators.

So every morning.

We would wake up before six o'clock, go to the market.


We were to cook chicken in Cambodia.

We would kill it that same day.

So it's very fresh.

Some cucumbers, carrots, cabbage wedge.


You have it, prahok ktiss. - Prahok, ktiss.

What did mom think when you said you're gonna open up a Cambodian, restaurant? - She, didn't understand what a pop-up was either, and so I tried to explain to her what it was.

"Well, mom, you had.

People come over, "and sold food from our house, "so essentially, it's kinda.

The same thing." - Yeah, yeah.

Wait, wait, sell food from the house? - Yeah, so my mom would actually turn our house into a gambling house, like a saloon, so she can collect tips.

She would call people that she knows that would make food from the house to come, sell food., There's, the fried chicken lady, and then there's this lady, the papaya lady, where she could basically converted her van and turned it into a papaya salad, station.

- I'd choose papaya salad over ice cream, any day.

- Oh, my gosh, so good.


What we're making is called kuy, teav, phnom, penh., Kuy, teav means noodle, and then Phnom Penh is the capital in Cambodia.

It's traditionally eaten for breakfast.

So if you were to be in the capital, you'll see it in all.


So just sit down, order.

One bowl, they'll, give you a bowl for 25 cents, and it's the best meal.


- There must be a ton of different noodle dishes in Cambodia.

Why did you choose this one? - It's, a dish that my mom would make for me and my friends,- and this is also the dish that inspired me to start Nyum Bai, just because people know so much about ramen, and Vietnamese pho.

But no one really knows anything about the Cambodian soup, kuy teav, Phnom, Penh.

Especially here in the Bay Area, there's so many different types of cuisine.

But yet Cambodian food is underrepresented.


The broth usually takes about six hours to make.

Just because you need to extract all the flavors from the bones and all the other ingredients.

So I prefer to use pork neck bones, but sometimes at the butcher.

They don't have that available.


It looks like this batch is the feet? The leg? Yeah, the knuckles? You do wanna char the onion 'til.

It's completely black and sticky, like this.

Drop it in the broth, daikon.


This is pickled radish.


Then this is dried.


- Okay, nice., Dried, squid. - Yup, dried squid., We, put fish, sauce, sugar, and some salt.

(Cambodian rock and roll) - A lot of people, don't really know the history of Cambodia, or they have only certain things that they associate.

Cambodia with.

- If people know anything about Cambodia, it's the genocide or the Angkor Wat, but Cambodia has such a beautiful history.


The '50s and '60s was a prosperous time in Cambodia, where the music was happening.

Artists were everywhere.

This was also the time where my parents grew up.

That time was taken away from them because of the war, and so in essence.

This is like a time capsule of the golden era.


It's an homage to their youth.

- This is a dish that kind of encompasses what Nyum Bai, is.

- Basically, yeah.

- First, taste.

That's amazing.

That has all the best things of what a bowl of soup and noodles you want.

Perfect, salty, to sweet, even with all of those different flavors.

That's coming it's just so warming.


Can you not want to share this with everybody? (both laugh) Tell me about the area that you visited when you were up there.

- So I stayed in the countryside.

It was a village where everyone knows each other.

You would have to bathe outside because there's no actual bathroom.


Then you start your day.

By going to the market.


First visit to Cambodia, I stayed with my grandmother in Battambang.

That's, the countryside of Cambodia.

She's, one badass, lady.

She was definitely ahead of her time, making trades, loaning people money, collecting interest.

Everyone was scared of her.

When I would go to the market, and they would say, "Be, careful," or "Give her.

The best price, or her grandma "will come out and get you." I knew that my mom had a really strict upbringing, but I didn't know how strict.

I remember this one occasion, probably two o'clock in the afternoon.

She literally locked up all the gates, closed the windows, shut, the blinds, and locked me in a room, so I couldn't go anywhere.

That's how strict she was.

- Get that hustle from grandma.

(upbeat jazz) - So.

This right here is a good example of a classic Cambodian dish.

Take, a bite of your chile.

- Oh! - Oh, my gosh! (Sheldon coughs) (Nite laughs) - You talk about that funk, but it's carried on by the fattiness of the pork and the coconut milk kinda brings everything together.

- Right, uh-huh., - Do.

You feel some type of responsibility about Cambodian, cuisine?, - I feel like I do, because there's not a lot of Cambodian restaurants or a lot of Cambodian chefs.

But slowly, like we have first generation, second generation Cambodians, that are reconnecting with their roots again through food.

- 'cause in the '50s and '60s, Cambodia was popppin' right? - Yeah, oh my gosh.

It was a cool time.

If I could go back in time.

I would live during that era.

- Right, and just because of that history that followed, a lot of your parents' generation.

Don't talk about those golden years? - It's forgotten, because it's just taken over by something so traumatic.

My parents would always repress their stories about the genocide.

My mom's eyes would already get watery every time.

I bring up the subject.


So a better way for the younger generations to understand their history, or to reconnect with their roots, I feel like they need a safe place to express that.

Let's say they bring their parents in, and they can bring up the topic over a meal.


Did you eat this when you were young?" Hoping that the conversation of healing or reconnecting would happen organically just over food, because once we eat certain flavors, it strikes a certain memory, right? So, it's a segue to start healing.

- You put your soul into this.


Do you say: cheers? - Chôl, muŏy! - Chôl, muŏy! - Chôl, muŏy!, (Nite, laughs) - Rock and roll,? Let's go right: now.

(Cambodian rock and roll) Oh, okay.

(noodle, flops), (Sheldon, laughs) Okay.

Maybe a couple more years.


Who is the owner of NYUM Bai? ›

Nite Yun (Khmer: ណែត យុន; born 1982) is a Cambodian American chef and restaurateur. She is the owner of the Cambodian restaurant Nyum Bai in Oakland, California.

What does NYUM Bai mean? ›

Nyum Bai owner Nite Yun is bringing traditional Cambodian street cuisine here to Forage Kitchen! Nyum Bai literally means “to eat rice”, but it's also an expression meaning “let's eat!” – a common greeting heard upon entering a home in Cambodia.

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Mr Ji, founded by restaurateur Samuel Haim, used to pay homage to Taiwanese street-food markets.

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