A taste of home

By Marco Postigo Storel

Marco Postigo Storel

Columbia, Mo.



Tiger Chef owner Sai Tai left Myanmar in 2005 on the run from the military government. After receiving refugee status, Tai arrived in Columbia, Missouri in 2011 where the majority of refugees come from Myanmar. More than 670 Myanmar refugees have arrived since 2001. In 2019, Tai opened the restaurant with his wife Nang Lont, and since the military coup in February of 2021, Tai has been open in his objection to the government. He supports the fight for freedom by selling t-shirts with messages like “Free Myanmar,’ and sends money raised from t-shirt and restaurant sales back home to help those protesting oppression there. Tai says his life is dedicated to this work and to supporting those fighting the military there.

Tiger Chef owner Sai Tai cooks fried rice on a wok for a pickup order. Sai is from Myanmar, but lived in Thailand before receiving refugee status and coming to the United States. Tiger Chef specializes in Thai and Burmese food.

Sai Tai enters his restaurant Tiger Chef after dealing with health insurance documentation issues. Sai founded Tiger Chef with his wife Nang Lont in 2019.

Recipes are listed on the side of an aisle at the Tiger Chef kitchen. Many of the recipes have ingredients written in Burmese and English. The main language spoken in the kitchen is Burmese, but when talking about order names they say it in English.

Before the restaurant opens, sauces and meats are cooked in preparation for the day at the Tiger Chef kitchen. The preparations make the cooking easier when orders come in.

Sai Tai cuts tofu in the Tiger Chef kitchen. Sai recently quit one of his jobs at Kraft Heinz in quality control. Now he focuses on the restaurant and online investment.

Sai Tai pours deep fried tofu into a container at the Tiger Chef kitchen. Sai says that since his other two business partners quit, whom he opened the business with initially, he assumed the leader position of the kitchen with his wife.

Nang Lont talks with her husband Sai Tai about the plans for the next day at Tiger Chef. When necessary, Nang and Sai go to the market before arriving at the restaurant at 10:30 a.m.

Sai Tai enjoys a meal while scrolling through social media after long day of work at Tiger Chef. Sai is part of many social media groups that support the fight against the oppressive military government in Myanmar, which took power after a coup in February 2021.

Sai Tai goes through the day orders at Tiger Chef. Sai regularly donates part of his money to supply the ones fighting the military government with supplements like food.

From left, Nang Lont and her husband Sai Tai leave their restaurant Tiger Chef after closing it at 8:30 p.m. Nang and Sai spend their day in the restaurant, when they wake up their two kids are already at school, and when they come home their kids are already asleep. Nang’s parents take care of the kids for them.

Sai Tai looks through the mail in his house’s living room. Sai recently moved to this house after living many years in an apartment that he shared with his old business partners. In the house live Sai, his wife, his two children and his in-laws.

Sai Tai enjoys a cigarette after having breakfast at his house. During the course of his day, Sai says that he enjoys taking a break for a cigarette and calling his administrator to talk about online investment.