Meet Su-Mei Yu

Su-Mei Yu opened Saffron’s first location, Thai Grilled Chicken, in 1985 on India Street in San Diego. With a focus on take-out dinning, this small eatery captures the authenticity of popular street vendors in Bangkok.

Due to the overwhelming success of the chicken shop, Yu opened her second Saffron location, Noodles and Saté, right next door, modeling the concept after the numerous small and informal take-out noodle restaurants found throughout Thailand. Both locations attract throngs of people and are widely recognized as some of San Diego’s premier Thai eateries.

In 2018, the brand again expanded with a new location in La Jolla, California.

Su-Mei Yu’s Thai heritage guided her to develop her brand of Thai food. Today, she annually returns to her homeland to research and collect recipes of traditional, authentic foods and methods of preparation.

Yu has demonstrated cooking on Martha Stewart LivingHome Cooking on PBS, Home MattersCooking Live on the Food Network, Good Morning America and Today Show. She is a regular guest commentator for San Diego National Public Radio and has lectured at the American Institute of Wine and Food, The Culinary Historians of Southern California, The Culinary Institute of America and The International Association of Culinary Professionals.  Her recipes have appeared in Food & Wine MagazineMartha StewartFine Cooking and many other national as well as local publications.


Yu’s passion for food goes beyond the kitchen. She has written two popular Thai cookbooks, and has a third on the way. Her first, Cracking the Coconut: Classic Thai Home Cooking, received glowing reviews and was listed by both The Chicago Tribune and The Los Angeles Times as one of the “10 Best Cookbooks of the Year.” Yu received The Julia Child Award for Best First Time Author from The International Association of Culinary Professionals.

Yu’s second cookbook, Asian Grilling, was featured on The Today ShowMartha Stewart Living, NPR’s Talk of the Nation and Good Morning America. Her newest cookbook, The Elements of Life, A Contemporary Guide to Thai Recipes and Traditions For Healthier Living, was published in October 2009 and achieved the top selling cookbook spot on after Su-Mei’s appearance with Diane Sawyer on Good Morning America.


Based on the Thai concept of “food as medicine,” this ground-breaking book will show readers how to revolutionize their diets and use their “home elements” — which can be identified with the included interactive wheel — to eat for optimum health, beauty, and spiritual well-being.

Thai natural philosophy is based on the principle that nature consists of four elements — Earth, Water, Wind, and Fire — which are also present in our physical bodies. It is believed that each of us is born with a dominant, or “home” element, and that the path to general wellness requires a knowledge of one’s home element in order to achieve harmony with nature. In The Elements of Life, award-winning cookbook author Su-Mei Yu translates this concept for a Western audience, and shows how these Asian principles can be used in readers’ daily lives to achieve greater health, beauty, longevity, and spiritual wellness. The book is accompanied by an interactive wheel that allows readers to quickly identify their own home elements. Individual chapters focusing on each of the four elements provide advice on planning meals around one’s own dominant element in conjunction with the weather and the time of day. An Earth-element person, for example, is advised to eat sweet and salty flavors during rainy weather and dishes with buttery, rich, sweet flavors when it is cold outside. Yu provides plenty of tempting recipes for every home element, season, and time of day, such as Cold Soba Noodles, Grilled Shrimp and Mango Salad, Persian-Thai Fried Rice, and Stir-Fried Chicken or Pork with Watermelon Rind. Each chapter also includes sections on beauty and mind and spirit, with recipes for restorative face masks, hair treatments, and massage oils based on each home element. The book’s lush, evocative design features nearly 200 full-color photographs throughout, including mouth-watering food photographs of finished dishes and beautiful travel photos from Thailand showcasing traditional ingredients, food vendors, and much more. With a wealth of simple, inspiring recipes and straightforward, easy-to-follow advice, The Elements of Life will inspire readers to live according to the elements and to follow a traditional path to health, beauty, longevity, and inner peace.


Imagine sitting under the shady palapas, only steps away from the waves crashing onto a blazingly hot tropical beach by the Sea of Cortez, drinking ice cold margaritas with a good friend. It was on such a summer day, a year ago, that Harriet Bell and I were reveling in how glorious our lives were. We had gone on a well-deserved celebratory vacation after the end of my successful book tour.

As we sipped our margaritas, we chatted quietly, as two girlfriends often do. Suddenly, I felt a pang of emptiness and sadness. I thought of going home to empty morning hours when I once spent hours writing the book. I had come to love those moments of productive solitude. Now that the book was done, what was I to do with my mornings? As I uttered my thoughts to Harriet, her response was quick: “Why not another book?” “Yes, why not?” I responded.

For the remainder of that afternoon, we threw out ideas for the book I might want to write. While I leaned toward intellectual and scholarly subjects on Thai cooking, Harriet encouraged me to think of a book that would be fun to write, but the same time had a universal appeal. We then hit on the idea of book on grilling–Asian grilling. It would allow me to explore my love of Asian cooking, as well as sharing the way I create new dishes by mixing and matching intriguing and fun interesting ingredients.

True to our prediction, writing the cookbook Asian Grilling, has been super fun, almost as much fun as we had on the day that Harriet and I conceived the idea for the book on the beach of Cabo San Lucas.

— Su-Mei Yu


At last – a cookbook that captures not just the recipes, but the soul and spirit of Thailand.

“Cracking the Coconut: Classic Thai Home Cooking” is a tribute to centuries of culinary artistry and generations of gifted cooks.Meticulously researched and stylishly told by chef and author Su-Mei Yu, the book celebrates Thailands history, culture and people as well as it’s fascinating food.

A native of Thailand, Su-Mei Yu is a successful restaurateur and cooking instructor in Southern California. Weary of Thai cookbooks with Westernized recipes and modern ingredients, Yu spent a decade researching her collection of authentic, time-tested recipes and culinary traditions.

“I wanted for the longest time to do this, becuase of my own passion for the history and people of Thailand.” Yu said. “Hopefully, if people read it they will understand what makes Thai food Thai.”

In “Cracking the Coconut”, Yu traces the beginnings of fine Thai cuisine to the royal court, where kings controlled trade and imports and the aristocracy elevated cooking to an art form. “They had access to the best ingredients,” she explained. “and, more importantly, they had the time to cook, eat and experience.”

Chapters are arranged in the way Yu learned to cook as a young girl, and reflect the importance of the ingredients: “The first chapter is rice, because without rice, you don’t have Thai food.” That Thai staple, the coconut, comes next, followed by the “big four” of Thai seasonings: salt, garlic, cilantro and Thai peppercorns.

For every recipe or techinique, there is a story, a lyrical journey into the past. Mastering the steady, musical rhythm of the mortar and pestle is the sign of a great cook–and a tradition requirement for any young Thai woman who hopes to marry. Rice is revered and believed to have a soul, while the coconut tree a spirit that anchors and protects the land.

“Cracking the Coconut” contains 175 recipes, many of them never before published. In her constant quest for authenticity, Yu returns to her homeland each year, visiting remote villages and open-air markets, interviewing distant relatives and famous chefs. The result?

A comprehensive guide to classic Thai home cooking–that’s destined to becomne a modern classic.