Samui Wining & Dining
Vital Ingredients

What goes into creating the very best Thai cuisine is absolutely crucial,
as Chef Amporn Choeng-Ngam explains.


14We all think about it several times a day. And the longer we go without addressing our needs the more vivid the visualizations become. It can drive us to distraction and alter our moods to the point where we’ll take almost anything that’s going. Of course, I’m talking about food – and Thai cuisine in particular. But the biggest problem on Samui is choice. There’s just so much. And quality, service and prices vary enormously. So what is the difference between simply satisfying and truly wonderful Thai food?


Delicious, nutritional, and easy to prepare, Thai cuisine is becoming increasingly popular internationally. The national style of cooking is winning a well deserved place in global culinary culture due to its unique combination of spicy, salty, sweet and sour flavours. And Thai chefs are in demand the world over. Samui has literally thousands of places where you can sample all the regional variations of the country’s diverse culinary heritage. From market stalls to roadside restaurants and up-market, beachside resorts you could eat out every day for a month and barely scratch the surface.


Food preferences are subjective but there are distinct differences between mediocre and mouth-watering dishes. And if anyone should know what they are it’s a chef. Khun Amporn Choeng-Ngam is the Executive Chef at Bandara Resort & Spa in Bophut and he’s been perfecting his craft for more than 25 years. He served his culinary apprenticeship at the Sheraton Grande Hotel in Bangkok before moving to Samui and spending ten years working at the Beachcomber Hotel, the Blue Lagoon Resort and Poppies Resort. And from there he was headhunted to open a new Thai restaurant in Donesk in the Ukraine, after which, when returning home the Sheraton asked him to open three new restaurants for them at their new hotel in Pattaya. Then followed two years in Lagos, Nigeria, where he opened up yet another new Thai restaurant.


Another two years were spent in Bali setting up and opening three kitchens for the Anantara Resort before he took over as Chef de Cuisine at the famous Chiva-Som International Health Resort in Hua Hin where much of his focus was on developing the spa cuisine concept. And immediately prior to joining Bandara he spent a year in charge of 38 chefs working for Princess Hassah bint Abdulaziz Al Saud and her family at one of the palaces in Saudi Arabia. He’s also won numerous culinary awards and competitions and is one of the most respected chefs on the island. Suffice to say (I just spent 250 words saying it!), he knows a thing or two about Thai food.


Great Thai food is much more than just using local, quality produce. You have to know when each and every fruit, vegetable and herb is in season, where it’s grown, how it’s harvested, stored and transported. You also have to understand authentic recipes, their subtle flavours, the changes that occur in the cooking process and how all the ingredients work together. It might look like many Thai dishes are just thrown together in a wok and heated through for a few minutes but that’s a recipe for disaster without the appropriate knowledge, skills and love for what you are creating.”


Thailand has four regions and each has its own specialities based on locally grown crops, centuries of influence from neighbouring lands and specific cooking techniques. And reaching back in time for authentic recipes is not something every chef or cook does. That’s why the tastes, flavours and presentation of even popular dishes like green curry can vary widely. The southern region, of which Samui is a part, is famous for: gaeng lueang, a sour spicy yellow curry; gaeng massaman, an Indian-style curry originally made by Thai-Muslims, it has stewed beef and roasted spices that are rarely found in other Thai curries; and gaeng tai pla, a thick sour vegetable curry made with turmeric and shrimp paste, often containing roasted fish, bamboo shoots and eggplant.


Green curry, or gaeng khiao wan, is from the wide central region of Thailand. It’s a coconut curry made with fresh green chilies and flavoured with Thai basil, and chicken or fish balls. And this dish can be one of the spiciest of Thai curries. This region is also famous for gaeng phanaeng, a mild creamy coconut curry with beef, chicken, or pork; gaeng phet (literally ‘spicy curry’), is known as red curry in English, it’s a coconut curry made with copious amounts of dried red chilies in the curry paste; and gai phat met mamuang himmaphan, a Thai-Chinese version of the Sichuan-style chicken with cashew nuts known as Kung Pao chicken, fried with whole dried chilies.


Issan is the name of the region in the north-east of the country and many of the people who work on Samui come from this area. There’re countless small restaurants that specialize in this style of cuisine and many other restaurants will have dishes from the region on their menus. Som tam is a huge seller; it’s a spicy grated papaya salad that has almost addictive qualities. Larp is a traditional spicy dish with pork, onions, chilies and roasted rice powder. And you’ll often see nam chim chaeo, a sticky, sweet and spicy dipping sauce made with dried chilies, fish sauce, palm sugar and black roasted rice flour. It’s often served as a dip with grilled pork.


Northern dishes include: gaeng khae, a hot curry of herbs, vegetables, the leaves of an acacia tree (chaom) and meat (chicken, water buffalo, pork or frog); kaep mu, deep fried crispy pork rinds; and nam phrik ong which resembles a thick Bolognese sauce, it’s made with dried chilies, minced pork and tomato and eaten with steamed and raw vegetables and sticky rice.


Part of the secret of great Thai food is certainly in the produce. And following tried and trusted authentic regional recipes is crucial. Having a talented, knowledgeable and experienced chef to cook for you is also rather desirable. And Chef Amporn is happy to share his secrets with you. His menus at Bandara’s Chom Dao beachside restaurant are extensive and he also holds weekly cooking classes that include trips to the local markets should you want to develop your culinary skills. Samui has so much to offer and value-for-money doesn’t mean taking the cheapest option. Don’t settle for the ordinary when fantastic food is just around the corner.


Johnny Paterson


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