Through a new mushroom-based menu, beloved Phra Khanong izakaya Okinawa Kinjo is helping to improve the lives of Burmese refugees fleeing the ongoing conflict, which has displaced over 90,000 people according to the United Nations.
Through a collaboration with Japanese not-for-profit Greater Mekong Center (GMC), the restaurant buys monthly shipments of mushrooms grown by Burmese refugees in Mae Sot near the border and turns them into mushroom tempura (B59), mushroom yam (fragrant Thai citrus salad, B59), and grilled mushrooms with butter (B59).
The ingredients are bought directly from the refugees themselves, many of whom learned to cultivate oyster and straw mushrooms as a means for survival shortly after escaping their home country.
Owner Shohei Otaka says the decision to help is deeply motivated by gratitude. Many of the restaurant’s staff are Burmese, and during the trying times of the pandemic they stepped up to keep the restaurant afloat. Because of that, he felt a sense of duty to give back.
The restaurant receives roughly two kilograms of mushrooms twice a month—the maximum it can order—and customers are notified via LINE when the dishes are available.
The collaboration is due in part to one of Otaka’s close friends, Imoto Katsuyuki, a Buddhist monk and a prominent member of the Japanese diaspora in both Myanmar and Thailand. Katsuyuki is also the founder of GMC, which has a long history helping individuals in Myanmar escape violence and has developed deep connections with the Burmese community in Mae Sot. The organization helps source the mushrooms from the refugee camps.
Although displaced, the Burmese refugee communities throughout Mae Sot have become very close knit, often sharing expertise and building networks to support one another.
If you want to support the cause and nibble on some shrooms yourself, make sure to confirm with the restaurant ahead of time because supply is limited.
24, Sukhumvit 69 Soi., 02-711-0536, Open Mon-Fri 11am-3pm, 5pm-12am; Sat-Sun 10am-12am