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Inside a Mississippi Thai Restaurant, a Unique Community Forms

How one chef is bringing the flavors of her childhood to Oxford, MS

Rasita Palawan learned how to cook from her mother, who wanted to ensure she knew how to take care of a future family — “that’s the traditional culture” in her native Thailand, she says. But while that goal was achieved, learning these skills brought her even more, including the opportunity to become a business owner. As this short film produced by director Victoria de Leone (in conjunction with the Southern Foodways Alliance’s annual documentary internship program) shows, Palawan now owns and operates Zaap Thai Kitchen in Oxford, Mississippi.

Palawan moved to the U.S. in 2002 with her husband, but after his death, she was left to take care of their daughter by herself. And sometimes, being a business owner and a mother can be overwhelming. “I feel like I don’t have enough time for everything,” she says, noting she worries about the time she spends with her daughter — who she hopes is in touch with her Thai culture.

But according to Palawan, the help of her local community has cemented her love for Oxford. And at the very least, the mother-daughter pair chop up vegetables together before dinner, just like Palawan did with her own mom back in Thailand.