Pappon Kitchen: Shibuya’s tiniest Thai diner wields huge flavors


Special To The Japan Times

It’s remarkable what a good chef can do with a single burner, a rice cooker and plenty of prep. Take a look at the countless street-food artisans across Asia. Or, much closer to home, just drop into Pappon Kitchen and observe a masterclass in compact cooking.

The kitchen of this tiny one-counter Thai diner tucked away on the second floor of an anonymous building on the fringe of Shibuya is barely bigger than a phone booth. But the menu lists dozens of options, from stir-fries and spicy yam “salads” to curries and noodles, and with plenty of favorites from the Isaan region of northeast Thailand.

In deference to Japanese palates, chili levels are significantly milder than they’d be in Bangkok. But that doesn’t mean the dishes lack flavor.

Burner duties are all handled by a veteran Thai cook, while his wife runs the front of house (or rather, front of box) with a smile and fluent Japanese. Alongside the Singha beer and Thai whiskey, she also serves a range of basic Portuguese wines. Why? Because Pappon Kitchen has the same owner as Cristiano’s, the excellent Portuguese bistro near Yoyogi-Hachiman Station. Does it work? Yes, remarkably well, which is why that counter (plus one small table) is invariably full, especially for the set-menu lunches.