Time to enjoy yourself and keep those resolutions ?
Oscar Wilde once famously remarked, “I can resist anything … except temptation.” Well, he certainly would have been mightily tempted if he’d reached the shores of today’s Samui. The island is filled with hundreds, if not thousands of professionally-run restaurants. Whatever you're hankering after, you can be sure that you'll find it somewhere on the island, a short drive away at the most.
But now that Christmas and the New Year are over, it’s a traditional time for soul-searching, or at least goal-searching. Time for resolutions and not temptations. As we all know from ten million articles that appear at this time of the year, most people’s best resolutions bite the dust not ten weeks into the New Year.
But this being the modern age, food doesn’t need to be comprised of calorie-bombs – or anything like it. Visit many of the restaurants here and you'll find there are some extremely healthy, yet never boring choices to be made. It might inspire you to make a few changes yourself when you're back home. You can also learn to cook Thai food right here on the island – and end up with the skills to make some memorably good dishes for you and your friends. When it comes to food and drink, Samui is particularly blessed.
Best of all, it’s completely up to you just what and how much of it you'd like to savour. Who knows, the gastronomic ‘temptations’ may even cause you to explore the wonderful world of food yourself – and in a way that matches your best intentions. Whatever, there’s plenty to enjoy when it comes to food and drink on Samui. And it wouldn’t be hard to end up with a healthier new you.
Fine-dining is one thing – but how about savouring the real taste of Thailand, by getting out and about on the street?
It’s a funny old world. Back in the west it’s usual to eat three times a day. And that’s mostly to do with our work. We eat before we go off to work, we eat when we get a lunch-break, and then we eat again when we go home. And, for just about everyone, that means we eat a lot, mostly all at one time. A big breakfast, for instance, and probably an even bigger dinner at night.
And, all wrapped up with this, we’re constantly told not to snack in-between. I’m not sure if it’s still said today, but people of a ‘certain age’ (like myself, for instance!) had it drummed into them that if they ate between meals it would ‘spoil their appetite’. It ‘wasn’t healthy’. And then, ironically, we’d go home to a typical English dinner; potatoes with everything and vegetables boiled to a pulp.
In Thailand, the way people eat, and what they eat, is a completely different story. In fact the whole of Thai society has just about the opposite attitude to the western approach above. To say that the Thais eat ‘little and often’ is simplifying things a bit, but it’s true. A traditional Thai meal is a family affair, eaten in the evening, and with five or six big dishes on the table, plus rice. Everyone puts some rice on their plate, then dips in and out of the main food dishes.
An astonishing number of restaurants from around the world have made Samui their home.
I once met a man on a sun-struck and deserted road in the interior of Samui. He was struggling with a massive leg of cured ham he was carrying. I slowed my motorbike, as you would in remote parts, and asked him if he wanted a lift. He looked at his ham, guardedly, and gave me an equally guarded, yes.
It turned out that his bike had broken down. He and the leg of ham had set off on foot - an hour’s walk, he reckoned. But the ham got heavier. We chatted a bit after I’d given him a lift to his door. He was Spanish, and this was just something he’d eaten all his life.
But where had he found such a thing on Samui? “Oh you can get it here. Most of the time. But you have to order it, you know.” He gave me the name of the supplier, who I’d never heard of. “You can get most things on Samui,” he added. “People just don't think they can.”
He saw that I was a doubter. But the leg was proof of what he was saying: on a small tropical island that was covered in palm trees, you could actually, yes, get a decidedly Spanish leg of ham. He showed me its tags, all in Spanish. He lisped their provenance to me. We might have been in Andalucía. He even told me about the wine he’d drink with it, dark and fume-laden, and did I know it?
Thai food is everywhere and it’s often all the same – until you go to Lamai’s Manathai resort!
I’ve been over here for a long time. And I still find the whole business of Thai food confusing. I mean, take any country you want; England, for example. Food is food. There’s Chinese, Indian, Thai and others. But English food is pub-grub. It’s in the cafes and restaurants and hotels and pubs. It’s either good or it’s not, depending on your preference. And it’s the same everywhere. But that’s not what happens in Thailand.
In my early years I didn’t realise that there was a huge difference in the way Thai food was made; it all seemed the same kind of thing to me, wherever I went. The only difference from one place to the next was how hot it was! If you ate in a tourist hotel, it was fine. But if you ventured up a backstreet, then you took your life in your hands. In the hotel, they cut down on the chillies. Your backstreet place used the same ingredients and the same (traditional) recipe, but didn’t make allowances for foreign tastes!
But if, like me, you’ve been around the Thai block a time or two, then you’ll know it’s not just about the chillies. Different regions use different ingredients, from the very simple and fiery fare of the north-east to the gentler Malay-influenced coconut-enhanced dishes of the south. And then there’s the elaborate Royal Cuisine. Plus there are basic dishes and ‘deluxe’ dishes. People often don’t realise this. Take a chicken red curry.
If you’re a newcomer to Thailand, you’ll no doubt keep hearing the word ‘farang’. Well, actually, you won’t! You’ll hear ‘falang’, because the Thais aren’t too hot at saying the ‘R’ sound – in the same way you’ll hear everyone saying ‘loy baht’ instead of ‘roi baht’ when they’re playing about with 100-baht notes. This word, ‘farang’, gets thrown around a lot. Literally translated, it means ‘foreign’ or ‘foreigner’, and it’s used when talking about people and things. Specifically things which are not native to Thailand, but curiously, when used in talking about people, it refers only to light-skinned Westerners.
Potatoes (which are not indigenous to Thailand) are ‘man farang’ (‘man’ meaning any kind of edible tuber). And chewing gum comes out as ‘mak farang’. This one is interesting as ‘mak’ is the betel nut, which is the only thing that Thais traditionally chew. My particular favourite has to be ‘naw mai farang’ which translated literally means ‘foreign bamboo’ – and that’s asparagus. Following closely on the heels of this is a dish that’s been called ‘khaifu sai ahahn farang peng’. In Thai that means ‘an omelette made from expensive foreign food’! And then, just to throw a spanner in the works, there’s also the fruit called ‘farang’ – which refers to what is generally known as the guava.
Hidden away, down the lane and by the sea, is where you’ll discover the superb cuisine at Silavadee!
There are two ways of looking at it. One is that life on Samui is fun, fun, fun. There are bars, clubs, nightlife, parties, beach clubs and lots of things going on. And if that’s what you’re after, you’ll stay close to the hub. You’ll want a resort that’s upfront and hip. But then there’s the other side of the coin. And this view of Samui is far more serene. Tranquil quiet sand. Shady palms and lanes. Languid locals. The real Samui, the island life – sunny, quiet, refreshing, relaxed. It’s actually all around, but it’s not always out in full view.
Enough philosophy! Let’s get practical. It’s no accident that many of the 5-star resorts that have sprung up in the last ten years have set-up out of town. One or two are hovering around the edge, sure. But as for the rest, if you didn’t know where they were, you’d never find them. There’s something perfectly seductive about having 5-star quality and service, yet being hidden away right on a deserted tropical beach – particularly when there’s all the shopping and nightlife you can dream of just 20 minutes away. And that’s what you’ll discover when you make your way to Silavadee Pool Spa Resort in Lamai.
People like this recipe so much that some have it instead of their birthday cake – it’s that good. It’s found here and there throughout Thailand, but especially in the south of the country. And while it originated outside Thailand, much like pad Thai (which is essentially Chinese in origin), it’s become so established here that it’s acquired Thai status. It’s typical street vendor food, and the roti cart is always a popular point for people to congregate.
Roti is a base to which you can add all sorts of other ingredients, if you so wish. For example, some people enjoy nothing more than a roti with banana and egg, then topped with chocolate syrup and sweetened condensed milk. That may sound particularly yucky, but this dish is so versatile that you can easily adapt it to your own taste. Rotis also freeze pretty well, so if you make more than you need you can keep them and simply warm them up when you're feeling peckish.
It might take years of practice to copy the street vendors’ method of pulling the dough and then lightly flipping it over. It’s harder than it looks. But if you watch a demonstration on YouTube you'll see how it’s done and get a good enough idea how to proceed.
Superb dining with a breath-taking outlook, superb service and ambience to fall in love with – at Dr Frogs in Chaweng Noi.
Quality is an elusive concept. It’s hard to define. There are differing degrees of it, sure, and this varies from person to person. But, up there at the top, up with the very best, there’s no argument. When it comes to dining, there might be variations in, say, the culinary bias or cuisine. But top quality shines out. It’s self-evident. And that’s what you’ll sense the moment you walk into Dr Frogs Bar & Grill.
It first opened its doors in 2007, and right away drew attention to itself simply because of the intriguing name – although the origin of this still remains a smiling secret. When it comes to quality dining, Samui is unusual; you don’t need to dress up. Because of the climate and the life-style, eating out is an informal affair. Yes, it’s certainly refined at Dr Frogs, but you won’t see anyone in a collar and tie, unless they’re part of a wedding party, perhaps. But, this aside, the restaurant was a success from day one. And it’s not an accident – although many others have copied its formula without success.
Exquisite, fresh healthy Thai food at Supattra Thai Dining.
If you want to try the best authentic Thai food from the centre of Thailand, all made with fresh, healthy local ingredients and presented and delivered with western panache. If you would like to be able to discuss each dish and possibly adapt the spiciness or content. If you want a spacious cosy romantic setting overlooking a mangrove forest. If you would love to drink a good quality wine with your meal, at a very reasonable price. Then look no further than Supattra Thai Dining in Bangrak.
The owners and partners, Supattra and Thomas Schaden, an unassuming husband and wife team, previously ran the highly successful and busy beachside restaurant Beachlounge Thong Sala on Koh Phangan. They left it in search of a quieter way of life with a smaller restaurant on Samui, where they still instil their traditional values and follow their very compatible passions.
Khun Supattra is the elegant, quietly spoken chef, whose desire for cooking stems from the middle regions of Thailand, where she believes the flavours of sweet, sour and salty are most balanced. She sources only the best and freshest ingredients on the island, and all seafood is caught by local fisherman in the waters surrounding Samui. You won’t find seafood here that has previously been frozen, imported or bred in a fish farm, and most definitely no MSG (monosodium glutamate)!
Making some New Year’s resolutions? Make it easy on yourself.
“I'm never going to drink again,” my friend Cathy said, squinting at the empty bottle on the lounge table (the others had been thrown out of her third floor window some hours earlier). It was a tempting resolution to make; her stomach was awash with alcohol, she had a killer hangover and her purse had been stolen while she was too drunk to notice. The resolution seemed to be a fairly rational one. Nobody even bothered to raise an eyebrow when, that same day, round 5:00 pm, Cathy had her first drink. So much for good intentions.
Have you noticed there’s little difference between the above scenario and the casualness of New Year’s resolutions? It’s basically the same formula at work: we look back with intense dissatisfaction at our own behaviour, and then fasten on to some fine and upbeat self-improvement ideas that now seem utterly crucial. The only difference between Cathy’s resolution and ones that many people settle on is simply the length of time it takes to shelve them.
To cut to the chase: what we all know is that resolutions tend to run out of steam, and before long we’re back in our old ways. But why? Firstly a lot of resolutions are incredibly vague. “I want to lose weight” seems a simple idea but it’s virtually meaningless. You have to know if you're on track, and when you’ve reached the weight that you have as your goal. Similarly, “I want to eat healthy food,” is equally insubstantial. Have you even defined ‘healthy’? And how are you going to overcome all the temptations that come your way?
Baitong Restaurant at Banana Fan Sea Resort Koh Samui boasts more than a wonderful location. There’s the excellent food and service, too.
A line of gently swaying palm trees is at first all you really see of Baitong Restaurant. It’s located right in front of the beach, and charms from the moment you see it. Just to the south of the centre of Chaweng, it’s near all the action but far enough away to feel set apart. You can dine directly on the sand, take a seat at the terrace or eat in the open-sided dining room. No matter where your table is, you'll definitely feel part of the laid-back coastal vibe that this mid-sized restaurant exudes. With the waves lapping in the background and a breeze usually coming off the sea, it’s a great place to dine.
The menu contains nigh on a hundred separate dishes, and covers a full range of fare from international favourites through to Thai treats. As Baitong Restaurant is part of a resort serving guests from all over the world, there literally has to be something for everyone on the menu. And indeed there is.
Baitong is open from 7:00 am in the morning, when the day starts with a copious buffet breakfast with separate egg station. In addition there’s plenty of tropical fruit, along with cheese, muesli, yoghurts and cold cuts – an entire gamut of satisfying choices. And by the way, you don’t need to be staying at the resort to avail yourself of the restaurant; it’s open to everyone, and whether you're a guest here or not, the policy is to treat everyone as part of the family. You can truly expect a warm welcome when you come here.
Healthy eating is gaining ground, and rather than being a trend, it’s a whole culinary direction in itself. On Samui there are many spas offering light and healthy options, but they're yet to become mainstream choices when it comes to lunch or dinner. There are still relatively few restaurants that primarily focus on healthy eating (though alas in some cases the prices they charge even for simple fare mean that they're not affordable for everyone). Kindee is one of the newest kids on the health block, but doesn’t believe in charging people over the top just because they want to eat healthily. All their food is distinctly affordable, and this kind of restaurant is bound to become more and more in demand as time goes by.
Kindee has been open since February, and is the brainchild of Khun Apichaya Meepian, more often known simply as Khun Apple, who is Samui born and bred. Her family mostly live in Maenam, where there are now no less than three hydroponic farms, all offering good quality products. She became interested in healthy eating, and over the years taught herself the art of making great tasting salads, rolls and wraps. The restaurant is open from 4:00 pm until 10:00 pm, daily except Wednesdays, and it’s easy to find. If you go south past Tesco-Lotus in Chaweng and then turn left at the traffic lights, the road passes Rajabhat Suratthani University as it heads towards Chaweng Beach Road and the restaurant is on the left, just a couple of hundred metres further on.
The humble wok is seen everywhere in Thailand and abroad – but where did it come from?
Let’s flash-back to about 1,000 years ago. This was the period when the Tai people from the Yunan district of China began to expand their trade southwards into Asia. And when the Mongol hordes invaded, a century or so later, there was a mass exodus into what is now called Thailand. These people were essentially Chinese and formed the gene pool which went on to establish the first Siamese kingdom of Sukhothai, in 1238. And they brought with them not only their language and religion (both of which were to change in later years) but also numerous types of rice and wheat noodles, soya beans, oyster sauce . . . and the wok.
Anyone with a practical mind will find it hard to imagine what’s so special about the wok. Ever since the Iron Age, mankind has been refining ore and melting and shaping metal for every conceivable purpose. And that includes cooking. Flat pans with raised edges to contain the contents and the fat were used for frying. Bowls and pots were used to hold liquids. But for some strange reason nobody, anywhere, seemed to have previously made a utensil that was half-way between the two.
In actual fact the wok was popularised by those same nomadic Mongol tribes who created so much havoc in southern China. If they didn’t actually invent it, they certainly latched onto it, adopted it, and travelled with it, spreading its popularity everywhere they went. It was an ideal multi-pot for solids and liquids, you could make an entire meal in just one pot, and it was easy to clean and carry. In fact you can measure the success of the wok by how quickly the idea spread. It was unknown outside of China – there are no examples anywhere – until around the year 1300. And thereafter it began to appear in Burma, The Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia and, eventually Japan, all under different names. They all mean ‘Chinese pot’ in translation, however. Even in the original Mandarin, ‘wok’ means simply ‘cooking pot’.
Chef’s Table at Sareeraya Villas & Suites offers an amazing variety of food thanks to its globetrotting chef, Cesar Liesa.
Just up the road from Chaweng’s busy heart, at Sareeraya Villas & Suites, Chef’s Table is a real gem of a restaurant. Take a seat here and you'll be looking out over an azure sea – it’s the island’s favourite beach after all, and you'll be able to enjoy views right down to the southern tip of the beautiful bay. The restaurant is pleasantly mid-size, a relaxing venue for chilling out and forgetting the cares of the world.
People come across the restaurant by walking along the beach, or by chancing upon Sareeraya from the street. The resort’s located on the northern part of Chaweng Beach Road, right opposite Samui International Hospital. Even though it’s so close to all of Chaweng’s raucous action, it’s a haven of tranquillity. And so Chef’s Table has made a name for itself thanks to its quiet yet spectacular setting, but equally so for its great food.
Chef’s Table is run by the extremely capable and affable Cesar Liesa, who’s able to produce an astonishingly wide range of dishes. That’s thanks to the varied experience he's had over the course of his career. He started off in the north of Spain, cooking his native dishes, before working in London and then doing a stint on the prestigious cruise ship, Queen Elizabeth II. He also studied and worked in Paris, before coming to Asia where he’s worked in Singapore, Hong Kong, Ho Chi Minh City, Xiamen, Shanghai and Borneo. As if that weren’t enough, he’s also worked in the Caribbean and the Middle-East. The fact that he’s managed restaurants featuring a dozen different cuisines has put him in good stead when it comes to the very international Chef’s Table.
Brexit aside, it’s time for every serious wine enthusiast to acknowledge that English wine has, at last, come of age. With 500 vineyards, nearly 2,000 hectares of vines, five million bottles of wine, and gold medals from international competitions, now is the moment to raise a glass to English wine producers.
And this is something that I am extremely pleased about. Not least because, for years, English wines were the butt of many a joke. Especially across the channel, where even the suggestion of respecting English wineries, was met with a condescending smile. But who’s laughing now? English sparkling wines have beaten Champagne in so many blind tastings that the Champagnoise have had to swallow, along with the bubbles, their pride! And now they are investing heavily in England. Big-hitter Taittinger has acquired nearly 70 hectares in Kent, and plans to produce some 300,000 bottles of sparkling wine. Although in an interesting twist, of their making (French law), the sparkling wine cannot be called Champagne, it will be marketed as Domaine Evremond. And well-known brand name Pommery, has also decided to invest, with an arrangement with Hattingley Valley in Hampshire. (Whether, or not, Brexit will cause any setbacks in these arrangements, is yet to be known.)
The previously slightly quirky, English vineyards used to be the domain of retired army generals, hobbyists and celebrities. But now, the wine business has moved up a few notches, and is far more professional. Sites have been selected for their soil types, in particular the South Downs with its chalky soil. And south-facing, agricultural land in the southeast (but not exclusively) of England, with good drainage, is in huge demand with forward thinking wine growers. Refreshingly, when discussing potential English vineyard farmland, the experts involved have resisted the use of the pretentious term ‘terroir’, they simply describe the geographical specifics, soil type and climate instead.