Utrecht is home to many nationalities. Every week, DUIC features an Utrechter with a different background. The concept was inspired by ‘180 amsterdammers’.

– article by Annabel van Heesbeen

Looking down at the busy crossroads from the Bijenkorf feels a bit like being at home

We’re in Thailand, buying next year’s products for Saowapa.’ This sign hung in the window of the Thai street-food restaurant in Nicolaasstraat for a month earlier this year. Tiew returned to her fatherland to get the products she can’t find in the Netherlands, like the mangoes for mango sticky rice. Tiew also went around family businesses tasting sauces. She had several litres of the ‘perfect flavour’ made and shipped to Rotterdam for use in dishes in Utrecht.

Cooking is Tiew’s pride and joy. She learned to cook from her grandmother in Thailand and in cookery lessons at university. After living in the Netherlands for eight years, her cooking dream finally came true in the shape of Saowapa; her own street-food restaurant. She stopped being ‘the wife of…’ and regained her independence. On moving from Thailand to the Netherlands, Tiew became totally dependent on her Dutch husband Hans. The language was a huge obstacle. In Thailand, Tiew had been her own woman. She had Master’s degrees in psychology and business economics, and worked in Bangkok as an on-the-spot radio journalist reporting on road traffic accidents and crime. After four years of doom and gloom, she left this job and started working for an American insurance company. As she was often among their top-10 employees, she was included in many of their group trips abroad. She saw a lot of the world, from America and New Zealand to Hong-Kong and Switzerland. She still displays the trophies she won in her house on Maliesingel. She met Hans at a party on a trip to the Netherlands; this time not a group trip but a visit to the sister of a Thai friend in Wassenaar. They swapped e-mail addresses and six months later, Hans came to see her in Thailand.

In 2006, Tiew finally moved to the Netherlands. She took over the administration side of Hans’ business, and was soon asked to do the catering for his son’s gallery. The enthusiastic reactions to her cooking encouraged her to broaden her horizons. From lunches for companies on Maliesingel to major catering orders from government bodies and universities. Demand was so high that in October 2014, she took the plunge and opened her own street-food restaurant in a side-street of Twijnstraat. Tiew explains that at the time, it was a new concept in Utrecht. There was no specific permit covering this type of restaurant. “We don’t serve alcohol, so are we a lunchroom? Then again, we’re open in the evening so are we a take-away?” Tiew laughs. A street-food restaurant is ‘on trend’ these days; there are plenty of them around.

Tiew refers to Utrecht as a ‘really quiet city’ compared with Bangkok. She drove nearly everywhere in Bangkok, but it´s quicker to walk or bike here. The air in Utrecht is ‘fresh and clean’. If Tiew starts to feel homesick, she goes to the café on the second floor of the new Bijenkorf department store and watches the pedestrians, cyclists, buses and taxis negotiating the busy crossroads below. “It feels a bit like being at home,” she says.

Name: Sarratuya Tiew
Place of birth: Uttaradit, Thailand
Motto: ‘Think about today and don’t worry about tomorrow’

Allemaal Utrechters is a series of interviews with people who moved to Utrecht from another country. We ask them about their background and their impression of Utrecht, revealing the true diversity of our city. The ‘Allemaal Utrechters’ series is a collaboration between DUIC and Culturele Zondagen, and has been made possible with help from Stichting Dialoog and the Municipality of Utrecht. We hope to showcase every nationality in Utrecht.

Click here to view the other articles.