Born in a camp for Khmer Rouge refugees in Thailand, chef Nite Yun is a Cambodian immigrant who made her way to Stockton when she was a young girl. Now 35, she opened her first brick and mortar location, Nyum Bai, a Cambodian restaurant in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood.

Nyum Bai began as a pop up three years ago serving up Cambodian street food classics, and after completing La Cocina‘s incubator program, Yun was ready to pursue her dream of opening up a real deal restaurant location.

As explained on her Kickstarter page, “Our vision for Nyum Bai takes inspiration from 60’s Cambodia, fit with fun Khmer rock ‘n roll and Golden Era vibes. It will be a space for the Khmer community to come hang out and also have Khmer culture exposed to the Fruitvale community and the City of Oakland in a way that has never been done before. Khmer families are all about host family-style meals and once you’re invited, you will have to eat! This is the kind of environment we want to present and we hope you’ll be able to enjoy the experience we will have to offer!”

To celebrate the milestone we reached out to Yun to find out more about Cambodian cuisine as a whole, and what it feels like to have one of your wildest dreams come true.

 

What should we know about Cambodian cuisine? 
Cambodian cuisine is beautiful and colorful. Our two staples are kroeung, a spicy paste made with lemongrass, and prahok, a fermented fish paste. These are the baselines for many dishes, like stews and stir-fries. Cambodia is rich with fish and the fermented fish paste is quite popular. Also, it’s good to know that Cambodian cuisine, like Vietnamese food, is influenced by the French, and by the flavors of India and China.

What’s your first kitchen memory? 
I was always in the kitchen with my mom. I remember learning to use a mortar and pestle when I was really young, helping my mom mince the lemongrass.

What did you learn during the La Cocina incubator program?
I learned to push myself to go outside of my comfort zones. It helped confront my fears and cemented my dream of opening a full-service restaurant one day. I know it is easier said than done, but you have to believe in yourself, your work, and to never give up on your dream. And now, that my dream came true, I don’t even know what to do!

What were the most unexpected hardships of opening up a business and finalizing a menu?
Honestly, discovering that being a good leader comes from making time for yourself. Staffing was and still is, an issue I’m working on. In the beginning, I wanted to please everyone when I created my menu, but now I only have the things that I love to eat on the menu, for example, the foods that I grew up eating, and classic Cambodian dishes with my interpretation.


Where do you like to eat in the Bay Area and why?
I love Cosecha [Mexican cuisine] in Oakland. The mole is good, you can tell everything is made fresh with care and love. Pho Oa Sen is also great. Their #12 pho noodle soup and the lemongrass chili paste is the best. The broth is rich and comforting. Also, Rotten City Pizza, their meatball sub is to die for. And finally, I love ordering a pork chop at Nopa, its so juicy and flavorful. The meat is delicious.

Why aren’t there more Cambodian restaurants in the Bay Area?
I think it’s because it was more the older generations that would open businesses because that’s the only thing they knew. They’d then instill in their kids the need to have an education, push them to do a different job, rather than inspiring kids to be entrepreneurs. But I see it changing.

What’s your stance on the current refugee policies in the U.S?. 
Without refugees, the U.S. wouldn’t be what it is today. Without refugees, America won’t be great again.