Seasoned Traveller
Charm Khao Kang,

Fill your belly & car at this Thai canteen in a suburban gas station

Words & images by Sofia Levin

A suburban, Australian petrol station is the last spot one would expect to find a traditional Thai khao kang. Or is it?

The rough translation of khao kang is “curry over rice” (it's also spelled khao kæng, kao gaeng and ร้านข้าวแกง). In Thailand, these cafeteria-style eateries offer quick, affordable and homely dishes to people on the move all over Thailand. On busy Mitcham Road, 20 kilometres east of Melbourne City, Charm Khao Kang serves the same purpose.

Owner Thienrat Yindeeram opened Charm Khao Kang in March 2024 after catering for the local Thai community via Facebook. She started during Covid lockdowns, building up confidence and a customer base before taking a leap of faith with this brick-and-mortar shop, previously a fast-food pizza place. Her L-shaped counter is wedged into the corner of a BP service station, where you would usually find soggy dim sims and Chiko Rolls. Instead, you can pay for your petrol, pick up the newspaper and walk out with a container of soft pork bone chilli stir fry (แกงคั่วกระดูหมูอ่อน), all under the one roof.

Previously a lawyer, Thienrat came to Australia in 2016 to study English. She met a local man, but she didn’t expect it to last when she returned home to Thailand. It did. She moved back to Australia in 2019, basing herself in Brisbane to continue studying while working in Thai restaurants. But the pull towards hospitality was too strong for her to ignore.

“Deep down, I always liked cooking, but my parents did not approve me to study cookery in Thailand, so I studied law, but I cooked for my family all the time, anyway,” says Thienrat.

Thienrat cooks and serves all of Charm’s dishes, posting the ever-changing menu on her Facebook page. There are still hot pies and potato cakes in the display cabinet, but they sit beside homemade curry puffs, spring rolls and deep-fried chicken wings. Other than a handful of dishes to keep the masses happy, such as fried rice and honey chicken, that’s where the familiarity ends for most. 

On any one day, the bain-marie display might feature Thienrat’s grandmother’s bitter melon stuffed with pork mince in a clear, subtle broth (มะระยัดใส้); kao ka moo, slow-braised pork leg heady with star anise and cinnamon on rice (ข้าวขาหมู); kai palo, five-spiced whole egg and pork stew (ไข่พะโล้); sour soup with green papaya and shrimp (แกงส้มผักรวม มะละกอ ใส่กุ้ง); stir-fried chicken with pickled bamboo shoots (ไก่ผัดหน่อไม้ดอง) and more. A measly $15 will get you two of these dishes with rice or noodles. 

This is just the first step for Thienrat, who hopes to one day open a restaurant where customers can sit down and immerse themselves in her traditional Thai cooking. While it has been mostly the Thai community swinging by for a convenient, quality feed (her family recipes are made using market produce), broader interest is on the rise. Curious customers are starting to follow their noses, leaving the service station with cars full of petrol as well as generous containers of homemade khao kang classics.

240a Mitcham Road, Mitcham,

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