In southern Thailand, where the land between the Gulf of Siam and the Andaman Sea is at its narrowest, lies the Isthmus of Kra. A mere forty miles of rugged hills that separates waters that belong to the South China Sea from those of the Indian Ocean. If it were not for this bridge of land, the Malay peninsula would be separated from the mainland of Asia. As it is, the Isthmus of Kra has obliged merchant sailors to pass Singapore and sail through the Straits of Malacca in their journeys east and west.
In the ninth century the international trade route between China and the Middle East also included crossing the Isthmus of Kra. Evidence of this has recently come to light with excavations at points on either side of the Isthmus where Tang dynasty ceramics have been found alongside similarly dated pottery from Iran and Iraq. A famous inscription in the Tamil language of India, also dating from the ninth century, was found here and further demonstrates how cosmopolitan this area was.
Raised in Penang, above his mother's and grandmother's Chinese eating house, Beh Kim Un came to Australia in the early 1970's to train as an industrial chemist but less than satisfied with his studies, he moved back into the culinary arts and took the reins of the Shakahari Restaurant through a partnership with his brother Kim Poay and John Dunham. Together, they began creating and transforming it with a fusion of food and a subtle but winning synthesis of the best known dishes from all sorts of ethnic cuisines.
Beh Kim Un's signature dishes have the connoisseurs placing them in the top avant-garde restaurant in modern international Asian cuisine. The extraordinary dining atmosphere has you experiencing a feeling of intimacy and human qualities that even leave the interior design media applauding. Beh Kim Un - setting the pace for leading chefs in Melbourne.
The restaurant was named after this part of southern Thailand because its menu is predominantly southern Thai, though it also has dishes that originate from the immigrant Chinese communities that grew up in the coastal townships of Malaya and southern Thailand. Its owners and chefs are fascinated by the cultural contacts between East and West (and East and East, North and South!) that have taken place at points like the Isthmus. And it aims to continue the process of exchange that is a feature of all important culinary developments, not just those around the Isthmus of Kra.
The distinguishing characteristics of the Isthmus' menu, which derive from its regional origins in this part of Thailand, are its emphasis on seafood, the absence of any pork meat dishes (an Islamic prohibition followed by the large proportion of Thai Muslims living in this area), and an enthusiasm for naturally colourful ingredients.