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Food & Drink

The Haul: Where the Ferry Building’s newest star chef shops for a taste of home

In the heart of the Tenderloin, a Cambodian market provides everything from oyster sauce to shrimp chips.

Nite Yun at Battambang market
Chef and restaurateur Nite Yun in the crowded aisles at Battambang Market in the Tenderloin. | Source: Laura Morton for The Standard

This is The Haul, a new series from The Standard that follows the city’s top chefs and food experts as they forage for their pantry must-haves.

Nite Yun is hardcore. The untrained Cambodian chef has never leaned on a business partner nor taken money from a single investor for her restaurants. To open her celebrated Fruitvale spot, Nyum Bai, she scraped the funds together on her own. And in 2022, when it closed, she picked herself up and decided to start over—this time in San Francisco.

When we meet at the little Battambang Market in the Tenderloin, it’s only a couple weeks before her new spot, Lunette Cambodia, is set to open at the Ferry Building. Yet she gives no indication of being stressed or worried. She doesn’t manically check the time. Instead, she good-naturedly threads through the narrow aisles of the Cambodian grocery store, the air infused with the aroma of wet cardboard and smoky dried fish.

She genuflects at the foot of Golden Mountain soy sauce. She stops to do an impromptu infomercial about her love of shrimp chips. She excitedly zeroes in on the instant noodles of her childhood.

Yun’s love of cooking and eating—particularly the Cambodian food she grew up with—radiates from her core. Born in a Thai refugee camp, she moved to the U.S. with her family when she was two, ultimately settling in Stockton. In 2018, she opened Nyum Bai, keeping it small and funky, pulling in first-gen Cambodians and introducing neophytes to the pungent pleasures of fermented mudfish paste. Bon Appetit anointed Nyum Bai as one of the country’s top ten best new restaurants that same year. 

While we’re at Battambang, Yun learns from the sister of the owner that the store has been open since 1987, when a wave Southeast Asian immigrants settled in the Tenderloin. They, too, were seeking refuge from war, their tenacity carrying through to a second generation of shopkeepers and chefs like Yun. 

Lunette opened last Sunday, and while Yun will be sourcing produce from GG Farm—a Laotian farmer whose family also fled war in Southeast Asia—she is clearly also happy to shop for last-minute Cambodian provisions, just up Market Street.

Nite Yun breaks down her grocery list

Palm sugar ($9.99/16 oz)
“Palm sugar has a nutty, vanilla flavor. I used it for Lunette’s dessert of mochi balls with freshly grated coconut. It’s also part of a dipping sauce we make with toasted rice, lime juice, smoked garlic, chili, grilled scallions and cilantro. We serve it with fried cutlets of chicken.”

Golden Mountain soy sauce
The Cambodian pantry must-have: Golden Mountain Seasoning Sauce. | Source: Laura Morton for The Standard

Golden Moutain Seasoning Sauce ($8.99/25 oz)
“Golden Mountain, which is a soy sauce, makes everything taste better. It’s versatile and not as salty as other options, so it’s really forgiving. We use it in Lunette’s version of Student Noodles, which is made with tapioca pin noodles, bean sprouts and brisket. It’s called this because when you’re in Cambodia and you’re on a budget, it’s quick and easy.”

Sardines in tomato sauce ($1.99/5 oz) 
“Growing up, sardines were a heavy hitter at my house. My mother would always have them on hand and my brother and I would stuff them on a baguette with a fried egg and some Golden Mountain.”

Fermented fish paste
Prahok, or fermented mudfish sauce, brings maximum umami to Cambodian cooking. | Source: Laura Morton for The Standard

Prahok (10.99/16 oz)
“The most traditional Cambodian dishes use this fermented mudfish paste. You cook it down to let it bloom and maximize the delicious umami. I use it for crudité with a fermented fish dip with pork belly. I was hesitant to put it on the menu at Nyum Bai, but it became one of the most popular dishes and will be on the menu at Lunette.”

Three Ladies jasmine rice ($63/25 lbs)
“This is my favorite jasmine—other brands don’t seem to have the same fragrance. If I’m using a rice cooker, I give the rice a good rinse until it’s clear and do a one-to-one [water-to-rice] ratio. Wipe the pot before putting the rice in the cooker because if it’s wet, it won’t calibrate correctly. You want rice that’s fluffy, not sticky and wet.”

Honey Bee grass jelly ($2.69/16 oz)
“This is a dessert I love. Just cut it into squares, put it over ice, add a spoonful of sugar and give it a stir. It’s such a delight in the summertime.” 

Instant noodles
Everyone has a comfort food from childhood and Wai Wai instant noodles are Yun's. | Source: Laura Morton for The Standard

Wai Wai instant noodles (6 packs/$6.50)
“I get excited when I see these! I miss them a lot. It’s what I grew up eating and I’m loyal. I make the noodles fancy with cabbage.”

Chef Nite Yun holds up a coconut scraper bench at Battambang Market.
Yun holds up a bench that functions as a coconut scraper. | Source: Laura Morton for The Standard

Coconut scraper ($15)
“I have fond memories of helping my mom scrape coconut. You sit on the bench and crack open a fresh coconut and use one part to scrape off the flesh, which you can then squeeze to make coconut milk, or use the coconut meat itself for desserts.”

📍Battambang Market, 339 Eddy St, Tenderloin
📍Lunette Cambodia, 1 Ferry Building, #33

Sara Deseran can be reached at