Samui Wining & Dining
Worth Its Salt

Salt means more than just a quick shake at Anantara’s Full Moon restaurant.

 

Worth Its SaltIt’s one of our most valuable resources. The ancient Aztecs mined it. The Romans used it as money. The British built a 2,000 mile barrier around India to prevent it from being stolen. American pioneers planned their wagon trails via salt lakes and mines. And, even today, camel caravans still form the same ‘salt trains’ across the Sahara as they first did hundreds of years ago. Salt is one of the key elements needed by the human body. It maintains the fluid in our blood cells and is essential for the neural processes in our nerves and muscles. It’s often taken for granted but it’s also frequently misunderstood. And it comes in two sorts: good and not-so-good!

 

The problems come when it’s mass-produced and refined. Natural salt contains 84 different minerals and also trace elements. But commercial processing uses brine and ultra-high temperatures to rapidly boil away the water. This quickly causes the ‘salt’, sodium chloride, to crystallise out. But it unfortunately destroys 82 of those minerals in the process. And then it’s ground to a powder and chemicals are added to prevent moisture-absorption and caking. You’re left with a substance, ‘refined table salt’, that’s a very close relative of white rice and white bread. This kind of salt is bitter to the taste and 90% of it is used by industry in the production of cosmetics, fertilisers and plastics. The other 10% ends up on restaurant tables – but not at Anantara Bophut!

 

‘Anantara’ is one of that breed of large, luxurious and laid-back top-end resorts that you’ll find on the north coast around Bophut, running expansively between the ring-road and the beach. Like all quality resorts, it has a restaurant to match; in this case two. As you emerge from the lofty reception area you’ll descend and pass the cool and shady High Tide, the resort’s all-day restaurant. And, following the path through the lush greenery and past the murmur of the water features, emerge close to the beach and Anantara’s signature Italian restaurant, Full Moon.

 

It’s an elegant eatery, simple and modern in style, on two floors and with an open-sided aspect that faces the sea. The furnishings and décor are correspondingly ‘no-frills’, solid and understated, and the lighting is soft and intimate. And, as befits an up-market al fresco restaurant on a tropical island, there’s an extensive selection of seafood-based dishes, a highly-personal level of service with tableside cooking and a resident wine sommelier. But what’s a little more unusual is that there’s a salt sommelier on hand, too.

 

Don Lawson, the resort’s Executive Chef and also President of the Samui Culinary Circle, has his finger firmly on the pulse of contemporary trends in dining. And he’s now knitted ‘fine-salt’ into the Anantara dining experience. “It’s exactly the same approach as with wine,” he explained, “although, obviously, the wine ethos is hugely more subtle and complex. But it’s true to say that certain dishes are noticeably enhanced by the use of a specific type of salt. Each of the salts we use is not only healthy but also has a distinct flavour. And our salt sommelier provides an individual approach for each diner, recommending and tailoring the choice of salt to match each of the dishes.

 

In fact, the idea of gourmet salt is not a new thing. As trends go, red, black, grey, pink, smoked, Maldon, French, Sicilian, Hawaiian and Himalayan salt (et al) have been lurking in the wings for a while. But what is new is the recent and proactive approach to deploying them. Salt, it seems, has now come out of the cellar and is confidently being wheeled around to meet its public, face-to-face.

 

And doing all the wheeling at Full Moon is their resident salt sommelier, Khun Ekkaphong Treechum, more informally known as Khun Boy. The trolley he conveys from guest to guest is attractively laid-out with four crystal jars; one each for the Himalayan Pink, the Hawaiian Red, the Hawaiian Black and the Smoked Sea Salt. There’s a set of chunky grinders, and dozens of neatly stacked ceramic ramekins to convey the final offerings to the tables. Khun Boy consults each diner and, according to the choice of dish, proffers the appropriate salt. Each of the salts is pure ‘rock salt’, crystalline in nature, and varying in dimension from the size of grains of rice up to that of small, irregularly-shaped garden peas. The selected salt is then carefully hand-ground and decanted into the ramekin and placed on the table. And by all means do ask Khun Boy to let you sample them. Each of them has a distinctly different taste.

 

But try this. Track down some refined table salt (and you’ll probably have to do this away from the gourmet environment of Full Moon!). Now taste it. It’s almost like sucking a lemon; astringent and bitter. The flavour is invasive, even after a long drink of water. But with the gourmet salts, natural and untreated, it’s a different experience: a mellow flavour that varies with each and with no lingering aftertaste at all. The Himalayan Pink is probably one of the healthiest supplements to be found anywhere, as it contains a healthy mix of sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium and iron and 84 trace elements. The Hawaiian Red has traces of alae clay which seal in moisture, making it ideal for roasted or grilled meat. The silky Black Hawaiian is naturally combined with activated charcoal, adding detoxifying benefits as well as flavour. And the Smoked Sea Salt is faintly tangy and brings joy to everything that’s pasta-based.

 

The ancient Romans didn’t have refined table salt. If they had have, then they would probably have slung it at their slaves. No, back in those days, all the salt was clean and pure and worth its weight in gold. There’s a lot to be said for progress, but not in this case. When it comes to salt then there’s only one way to go – the way that nature intended. And that’s just what you’ll find, courtesy of Chef Don and Khun Boy, at Anantara Bophut’s Full Moon restaurant.

 

Rob De Wet

 


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