Samui Wining & Dining
Incredible Issan

Issan cuisine goes upmarket at Khaoneaw restaurant.


7It’s a paradise. Our little island is just too good for words – and that’s not just the landscape or the climate. No, this firmly applies to food, too. You can take your pick of dishes from all over the world. And when it comes to chefs, then we’ve got some of the best anywhere. But this is Thailand, after all. And one of the best things about Thailand is its outstanding cuisine. You can enjoy French, Italian, Indian or Chinese back home. But real Thai food, cooked authentically, on the spot, is what most people are looking to sample whilst they’re here.


Aye, and ‘there’s the rub’, as Shakespeare may well have put it. You’ll come across so many different approaches to making Thai food that it’s almost bewildering. A great many restaurants ‘tone’ their Thai cuisine down to suit Western palates. And then there’re all the regional variations, too. Northern dishes are less spicy and influenced by the neighbouring Burma. The south uses lots of coconut milk and Muslim spices. The central area is the home of such favourites as tom yam and pad Thai. And the rural north-east is influenced by Laos to the east, and dishes tend to be salty, tangy and flavoured with chili, garlic and lime. One way or another, it’s almost impossible to know where to find authentic ‘Thai food’ that’s served in the right setting and with just the right balance of items on the menu. But one such eatery is the Khaoneaw restaurant in Chaweng.


The food here is totally authentic, being an intriguing mix of traditional dishes from the north-eastern region of Issan with selections from the other Thai regions. If you wish, they’ll make the food less spicy, without changing the flavour in the least. The offerings are healthy, with no animal fats or MSG used in the process. The menu is in both Thai and English and the staff, particularly the owner, speaks good English. The ‘restrooms’ are excellent: clean, fresh and modern. The location is easy to find, there are four separate dining areas you can choose from and the car park is huge. All in all, this is the perfect spot to explore real Thai cuisine and just the place to go if you’re feeling a bit adventurous and in need of a change.


Khun Thatchakorn Parinnarit, more usually-known as Khun Jeab, is petite, cheerful and talented. She’s now been on Samui for more than six years, is busy running and developing this restaurant and also studying for her Master’s Degree in Business Administration, as well as taking care of two young bouncing daughters. “My life is really busy,” she told me, “but I love to cook! And I’ve made a menu that’s not only varied and original but healthy, too. We’re growing our own vegetables and quite a few of the dishes are vegetarian.” Her health-awareness and her sound knowledge of English she puts down to having been a student in Australia for a year. And she’s certainly put together an unusually varied menu that she’ll be delighted to explain to you and also recommend a complementary selection of dishes.


The best way to dine here is to do what the Thais do. Rather than pick out several individual courses, order a variety of dishes – a soup, a salad, two main dishes and several sides and so on – and then keep adding portions of these to your plate of rice. There are 24 different dishes on offer from Issan, some of which are not often seen. And the name of the restaurant itself, Khaoneaw, means ‘sticky rice’ and is an Issan speciality. The roti laab woonsen is a variation on the theme of spring rolls, but with a roti wrap, a firm texture and tangy flavour. And items such as the roast catfish with sweet and sour sauce or the fried spicy boar each come in their own individual sauce that twangs the taste buds instantly. There are all the usual curries, noodles and salad dishes, but also whole fish fried in garlic and pepper, and a splendid seafood basket. But the best thing to do is to ask. Chat to Khun Jeab and request her to make the decisions for you; it’s something she just delights in doing! And, by the way, if you’re pondering upon what all of this is going to cost; don’t worry. Everything’s at authentic Thai prices, too!


Probably the most effective way of dining here is to come after dark. There’s no real need to make a reservation as there’s comfortable seating for around 50 people. The lighting is low and atmospheric and the myriad of white fairy-lights add a local ambiance that’s impossible to experience in the daytime. You’ve a choice of sitting on a broad deck or in a short row of roadside tables, screened from the traffic by a bushy border. There’s a self-contained ‘dining room’, too, or you can opt to eat on a sheltered terrace alongside this. The furniture is solid and modern and the service is superb: you’ll find that an order of five or six dishes takes the three chefs around 15 minutes or so to create (but you’d best allow longer if they’re preparing a whole fish for you).


And the drinks are served Thai-style, too. There’s a wide range of local beers and the inevitable ‘Regency’ brandy. But if you’ve a yen to sup something different, then simply bring it along. The approach in Thailand is that if they don’t sell it then there’s no problem about bringing your own.


And you can always drop in if you’re passing during the day. The restaurant is open from 11:30 am right through until last orders at 11:00 pm. It’s cool and shady, you can street-watch or opt for seclusion, and there’s free WiFi. It’s a pleasant and grass-roots alternative to the more-usual coffee-houses or bistros and there’s also a selection of shakes and juices as well as tea and hot or iced coffee. Just keep your eye out for the big green sign that says ‘Khaoneaw’, on the ring-road midway between BigC and Makro, and on the opposite side of the road.


Rob De Wet


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