Phed Mark, Mark, Mark.
If you haven’t heard of Mark Wiens, may we introduce you to the internet? Since 2009, the spice-loving, Bangkok-based YouTube star has earned a cult following for his food and travel videos, and now he’s about to open his first restaurant, Phed Mark. He spills the (stink) beans on his multicultural upbringing, his love of southern Thai cooking and how teaming up with Gaggan Anand is good for Thailand’s street food scene.
Can you tell us about where you grew up—maybe something your fans don’t know?
I was born in Arizona—my mother is Chinese/American and my father is Caucasian. When I was four, we moved to Albertville, France, then we moved to the Democratic Republic of Congo before finally settling in Kenya. I went back to the U.S. for my degree, and even though I enjoyed it, I didn’t want to be there.
As soon as I graduated, I traveled in South America and did a little bit of English teaching. I had a friend who was living in Bangkok, and he said, “get here.” At first, the goal was not to stay; it was just to last as long as possible. I traveled through Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. Finally, a friend called me up and said he wanted to meet. I couldn’t even tell him where I was—I was in the middle of nowhere; I had no money and no plans—so I told him to buy a ticket to Bangkok and I’d meet him there.
By the time we met up, we were completely out of money, but we didn’t want to leave. Luckily I met someone who ran English camps around Thailand, where you could teach, play games and make a little money. So that’s how I ended up staying. My wife is Thai, and we plan to stay indefinitely.
Migrationology has millions of followers worldwide. Did you ever expect to become such a success?
How do people respond to you in person?
In person, so many great people open their lives to you. I think it also depends on how you treat people. When you go in with a smile and are excited and can genuinely appreciate [their work], it makes such a difference. I don’t want to be intrusive. That’s not the point. I’ll never ask a chef to re-do a dish; I take what I get and edit around that because I want it to be natural.
Regional Thai food is booming. Do you have a favorite?
Southern. But I’m a bit biased. My wife is from the South.
Favorite southern dishes?
I always eat gaeng tai pla (southern fish curry) and gaeng som (sour curry). One of my favorite ingredients in the world is sator (stink beans), especially in dishes like goong pad sator (shrimp fried with stink beans). I eat sator almost every day. They’re good in curries and better raw—even stronger than usual. They’re also great with nam prik (spicy dips) or roasted in the shell. But raw is definitely best.
Is awareness of Thai regional cuisines growing?
What I really think has been huge in the promotion of Thai food and its regional diversity abroad has been the rise of higher-end Thai restaurants locally. Restaurants like Sorn, 100 Mahaseth and Samrub for Thai all do an outstanding job of promoting distinct regional Thai food to wider local and foreign audiences.
When will the doors officially open at Phed Mark?
Early October. Chef Gigg Kamol created the recipes, and the place can seat 10 at a bar counter. The goal is to remain street food but in a permanent location. It was a huge group effort and could never have come together without chef Gigg, Itan (Kittidech Vimolratana) and Pongtap Arutan.
We’re strictly serving pad kaprao—pork or beef only—with three spice levels. We have tamada (normal), phed noi (a little spice) and Phed Mark, which is the spiciest and uses four different chilies. When we tested the recipe, the chili fumes were so strong we had to build a ventilation system.
What’s the spiciest thing you’ve eaten?
Fresh Carolina Reapers and ghost chilies. Also som tam with 40 chilies in Udon Thani. There were more chilies than papaya, but it was good.
You, Itan and Gaggan Anand are joining forces to give back to the community. How did it come together?
It was really Gaggan. He’s an ideas man, and I wanted to support the cause. He and his team will be cooking, and I’ll be filming and blogging. All proceeds will go to help street vendors.
Do you think street food is going to disappear in Bangkok, or are those rumors overblown?
Many amazing vendors have been affected, but this is more in central Bangkok. The outskirts haven’t changed much. But I think it’s still as good as ever, and it’s such a huge part of the culture that it will never go away. [The] people selling street food are so determined, innovative and entrepreneurial and they earn a living on their own. I have so much respect for the lifestyle.