Samui Wining & Dining
Nathon Noodles

Eating out in Nathon means exactly that for the local community.


Nathon NoodlesYou’ve probably passed through Nathon if you’ve taken a tour of the island. But have you really stopped to have a good look around? There’s more to it than just the main thoroughfare, particularly gastronomically.


Nathon is the main administrative town on the island where most of the government buildings are located. It also has the only state hospital on the island and is the main car-ferry port for boats to the surrounding islands and the mainland. And it’s where the bulk of the fishing fleet lands its catch every day. It’s not a tourist town as there’re only a few hotels and no nightlife to speak of (although there are many souvenir and T-shirt shops selling their wares at much cheaper prices than those in Chaweng and Lamai). And it has a much different feel to it; locals live and work here right in the town and there’s an old community spirit to it that Chaweng and Lamai lost many years ago.


During the day it’s a bustling town and there’re plenty of shops and restaurants around and an old Chinese temple tucked away just off the main shopping area that’s worth checking out. If you park up on the main road coming from the Chaweng/Bophut/Maenam direction you can take a stroll around and walk through to the beach or seafront road. There’s actually a ‘middle’ street that has lots of small businesses and old-style wooden houses. And this road is closed off from Saturday afternoon until late and becomes a pedestrian’s only ‘walking street’ which becomes lined with interesting goods for sale.


When you get to the seafront, in front of the main car park between the two long piers, you’ll see a collection of food stalls complete with tables and chairs. Most people I know call it the ‘Nathon noodle place’ and it’s been there for a long time. There’s a couple of dozen food stalls that start opening up at around 3:00 pm and close around 11:00 pm. It may have started out as a place where you could only get noodle but nowadays there’s a whole lot more on offer too. Street food from around the entire country is now represented and that may stem from the fact that since tourism has developed on the island people from all around the kingdom have come to live and work here. And they’ve brought local dishes from their home regions with them. If you’ve ever wandered around Bangkok, you’ll know that many side-streets have food stalls lining the way. But depending on which part of the city you’re in one street can have a dozen or more stalls doing the exact same thing. Nathon noodles is a little different.

For one thing you aren’t on a dusty road breathing in car fumes; you’re sitting near the water’s edge. And you’re facing directly west so around 6:00 pm you have the beautiful sight of the sun setting across the sea. That alone will make your day. There’s also a nice community atmosphere and you’ll be made very welcome. It’s a place where you’ll see kids eating with their mums after school, bank managers sitting beside street cleaners, giggling teenagers texting each other (even though they’re standing just two feet apart) and some tourists keen to eat freshly made local food, at local prices.


There’re plenty of tables and chairs beside the stalls and even though all the signs are in Thai they’re used to visitors and will be able to tell you in English what’s on offer. Lots of people also stop off here on their way home from work and grab a take-away. And unless you’re a 400 pound monster, you won’t be able to eat all the tempting food on display so just ask them to put some in a bag for you. I’d suggest grabbing a soft drink or a beer (there’re stalls with draught Chang and Singha) and walk around first rather than dive straight in. Look upon it as a walking menu that has specials and chef’s recommendations on every other page. You need to flick through it a few times before making your mind up.


You will see several places that serve traditional noodle soups with pork, liver, vegetables, herbs and several different kinds of noodles. And they’re all tasty and just 40 baht. They’ll bring some condiments over to your table so you can add dried chilies, limes and sugar which most Thai people do. Be careful with the chilies though they definitely have a kick. The best bargain for me is the pork and chicken strips on a stick (5-10 baht), I like the way there’s a little fat left on the pork that keeps it moist and succulent. As you wander around you’ll also see pancakes with banana, honey and strawberry jam fillings. There’re bowls of different curries (40-50 baht) and you can ask what they are and how spicy they are if you want or take the ‘lucky dip’ option and be surprised. For what it costs it’s not a big deal if you don’t like it. Quite a few stalls do barbecued chicken and one does ‘buried chicken’ with rice at 40 baht. From observation, it looks like the chicken is boiled, covered in spices and buried in savoury rice.


There’s a couple of stalls that do Thai sausages including some from the Issan region. They have a distinct flavour and are often left in the sun before cooking to mature. A bit like Marmite, you’ll either love them or hate them, but again, at 5-10 baht it’s worth trying them out. A few stall holders have barbecued fish in banana leaves and they’ve been cleaned so are ready to eat straight off the griddle. One stall does a northern-Thai speciality, miang kham, which is best described as Thai-style tapas. There’re 8-10 ingredients and you put a little of each into a slightly bitter chaphlu or green leaf, wrap it up and pop it into your mouth. They sell each ingredient in a little bag so you can take them away if you wish and try it out later; it’s a delicious snack that combines all the sweet-sour-salty-spicy-bitter flavours that Thailand is famous for.


Dotted around are stalls with sliced fresh fruits and juices that are made to order, a coffee stall and one or two that sell Thai-style cakes and pastries, and all are ridiculously cheap. Don’t just drive through Nathon, stop off and take some time to appreciate the non-touristy side of the island. There’s a good chance you’ll feel right at home.


Johnny Paterson


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