Many of us ask this question every day. Whether it be in the morning when your first class is free cut or in the afternoon when all your classes have consistently given homework. Regardless of where you come from, it will be a perennially overwhelming decision—where to eat?
In the local streets of Taft however, it’s oxymoronic to believe that it hosts cuisines from all over the world. From the succinct smoke of the Japanese, to the charcoal rust of the American, a palate of a Lasallian is never truly deprived of senses from the other side of the globe. From the isles of the Indochinese, however lies a certain aroma unearthed by the food titans of Taft for reasons only free men could understand.
Behind the School of Design and Art of College of Saint Benilde, humbled between the high rise dormitories and kept at the helm by the daily surge of students, there sits a quaint restaurant that offers nothing but a one way ticket to the Kingdom of Thailand.
Easy to get to
Doon Thai and Asian Fusion Cafe is managed by Mr. Jun Puno, head chef of the restaurant. While the word “Doon” usually denotes “over there”, for Mr. Puno, the inspiration for his Thai-infused startup came from the usual conversations families have on a hungry Sunday afternoon, “Usually kasi diba ‘pag nag-uusap kayong mag-kaibigan, or family, ‘Saan tayo kakain?’, usually ‘doon’ diba? ‘Doon tayo sa ganun…’ So yung ‘doon’ ‘di nawawala.”
(Usually, when we ask our friends or family where we are going to eat, we usually say ‘doon’, we are eating there. So ‘doon’ is always there.)
Helpful, catchy, and more than accessible, Doon provides current and prospective students from all around the avenue with a scrumptious one stop food hub for everything Thai. The restaurant was originally envisioned as an easy to get to place for the dormer while on his lunch break or doing chores. In fact, beside Doon is a laundry shop and many customers of the laundry shop drop by and eat at Doon while waiting for their clothes to get cleaned.
Piso fare to Thailand
“It’s all a matter of introducing your food.” Mr. Puno says about how he manages his booming restaurant. Fortunately for Mr. Puno, social media enthusiasts have already created space for Doon to be shown to the public via photos, tweets, and hashtags.
“Lahat ng kumakain dito, kinukuhanan nila and then they post it [on social media]. So minsan, di ko alam saan nanggagaling yung mga tao.” Mr. Puno laughs. Truly, Doon gets mightily busy during lunch hours, as groups upon groups amass its dainty doors for a quick serving of their staple dishes.
(Everyone who eats here usually takes photos and posts it [on social media]. Sometimes, I don’t even know where the people who eat here come from.)
Despite his restaurant’s rising popularity, Mr. Puno keeps himself grounded to his main goal—comfortable, affordable, and delicious dining. “Lagi kong sinasabi sa mga staff ko, we’re not just selling our food here. Full package: Food, price, cleanliness, and [organization].”
For those who have yet to try Thai food, aside from visiting his homey restaurant, he highly recommends trying their wallet-friendly Pad Thai, salt infused Bagoong Fried Rice, and aromic Green Chicken Curry. A crowd favorite is also their Doon Barbeque Chicken and Sweet and Spicy Chicken with Basil, especially for those who want to feel the welcoming taste of Filipino in Thailand. For dessert, one will most definitely opt to get a second glass of their Thai Milk Tea or succumb to the sweetness of their Sticky Rice with Mango dessert plate.
Affordability and authenticity
What makes Doon so different and unique is what Mr. Puno ultimately prides himself in. Unlike the surrounding establishments, Doon’s dishes are consistent with student friendly prices, while making it a point to not compromise the “close to home authenticity” vibe of the place. Aside from being one of the very few establishments that serve Thai food in Taft, he and the rest of his staff always make sure that they strive only for the best. Aside from that, he always has his customers’ budget in mind when constructing his menu.
Most of the dishes do not exceed the 200 peso mark, even their best-selling drink, authentic Thai Milk Tea, sports a very humble price of 50 pesos. Although he reiterates that he puts a spin on classic Thai dishes that makes it very palatable to his Filipino customers, what he serves is still very representative of what Thai cuisine is. A great thing about the ingredients used in his restaurant is also the fact that these are all fresh, produced in his garden at home.
“Meron akong plants [sa bahay], ‘di na mahirap. Actually libre na yun, di ko na nilalagay sa cost, pero to put up a Thai restaurant, mahal.” he explains.
(I have plants at home, so it’s not hard to get ingredients. I don’t calculate that for costing, but putting up a Thai restaurant really is expensive.)
Profits of friendships
Offering student friendly prices at an ambiance of an authentic Thai experience while mitigating the three hour and a half travel to Bangkok comes at a price that, at times, can be a bit difficult for Mr. Puno to adjust to. If anything, he’s come to realize and even advocate that what he gets in return isn’t anything monetary, but one that of lasting friendships.
“In the four months that it has been in operation, Doon has been a great success. At the end of the day, medyo pagod ka pero pag nakita mo yung mga taong nakangiti, yun ang masaya. I earn here, yung profit ko yung friendship,” he shares.
(At the end of the day, you get tired but it’s still rewarding to see the people smiling. That’s fulfilling. Friendship is what I consider as my profit.)
When asked about his plans regarding branch expansion, he says that his top priority is sharing the happiness he gets from managing and cooking for Doon to his family. He believes that the future can take care of itself, but what won’t is the present. For Mr. Puno, looking ahead can only bring you so far. Focusing on the present and making the best out of it, is truly the secret to contentment.
“I’m not thinking about that actually. To give my legacy sa mga anak ko na din. Kumbaga I don’t know what’s gonna happen. Of course wag sana pangit, sana lumaki ng happy.”
(I’m also thinking of passing my legacy on to my children. In other words, I don’t know what’s gonna happen. Of course, hopefully, it won’t be anything bad. I want this business to grow to the best it can be.)