Samui Wining & Dining
Going Native
Joining the locals for lunch at Kuai Tiao Ga Laa in Hua Thanon.


Going NativeOur photographer, Khun Krit, has been telling me about this month’s recommended Thai restaurant for some time. It’s a favourite haunt of his when he’s on assignment down in the south of the island. And whilst it can be accurately described as a road-side noodle shop, Kuai tiao ga laa is in a different league to most of its contemporaries – it’s that good.


You may well have passed it as you’ve been touring around the island as it’s on the ring-road. Coming from Chaweng, head south and just after Lamai you’ll see Rocky’s Boutique Resort on the crest of the incline on the left. From there, the restaurant is one kilometre further ahead on the left-hand side just beside the white painted walls of Villa Nalinnadda.


There’s no sign for the restaurant but locals call it kuai tiao ga laa which means ‘rice noodles in a coconut shell’. You’ll likely see the words kuai tiao on lots of menus but there are no strict rules about the spelling of transliterations from Thai script to English and, as such, you’ll find the words written alternatively as kuay, kwai, koai, kway, teaw and teow, but they all basically mean the same thing – rice noodles. Noodles are a staple of the Thai diet and the locals take their preparation and presentation very seriously. And that’s how this restaurant came to be.


Khun Nokie owns the small eight-roomed boutique resort of Villa Nalinnadda and has lived on the island for many years. “Grabbing a bowl of noodles at lunchtime is a way of life for Thai people and I’ve been to dozens of places on Samui. Some are very good but, as a hotelier, I always think things can be better. And guests at the resort are always asking for recommendations for authentic Thai restaurants that they can visit during the day. To cut a long story short, I had some discussions with a chef friend of mine and we converted a covered pick-up truck into a mobile noodle shop serving what we considered to be the best noodle dishes on the island at normal everyday prices. We started off by having a space at the Friday night ‘Walking Street’ in Fisherman’s Village, which we still have. The food went down a storm and we were asked to cater at functions and at lunchtimes at government offices in Nathon. And so about a year ago I decided that we should set up a permanent little restaurant, which operates as an independent business from the resort, and see how it went. So far the response has been fantastic and we’ve been packed out.”


It’s open from 10:00 am until around 3:00 pm every day except Saturday. There are seven sturdy bamboo tables that can seat four people beside the van where Chef Juan takes care of the cooking. And even in the midday sun the trees above offer plenty of shelter. Just take a seat and one of the staff will come over and tell you what’s on the menu that day or you can walk over and have a look.


They have five different kinds of noodles to choose from with three styles of protein, herbs and spices. The Sukhothai style is hot, sweet and multi-layered, there’s also one with roasted spare ribs and another with roasted chicken and shitake mushrooms giving 15 variations in all. They’re served in a coconut shell either with a flavoursome clear soup, a tom yam style soup or you can have the soup on the side. You get chopsticks and a spoon to eat with but you can ask for a fork if you find chopsticks a little cumbersome.


They also have three rice-based dishes every day, served on very nice crockery with good cutlery (that doesn’t bend with the wind). Preparation for these dishes starts the day before and the meats are marinated overnight. You’ll notice not only the incredible tastes but also the tenderness of the meats. Each day they have roasted spare ribs that just melt in the mouth, a roast chicken dish and a daily ‘special’ which changes depending on what the chef feels like making. They serve them with just a little of the liquid or sauce but just ask for a ladle or two of the sauce when you order if that’s how you like it. All three of these dishes are in large covered hot woks on a table beside the van and you can smell the aromas as you walk past. All the dishes, whether noodles or rice-based, are only 35-50 baht and one bowl of noodles is just right for lunchtime. But as you’re probably on holiday and not in any hurry to rush off, I’d recommend taking your time and ordering a few different dishes to try.


Each day they also have a freshly squeezed fruit juice on offer at just 50 baht. It changes every day depending what’s in season and available at the local markets. And Khun Nokie and her team do like to experiment. “Last week we made fresh lychee and mint which is very cooling on hot days. And at the weekend kiwis and peaches were on special offer so we bought a case of each intending to serve two juices. However, as we were preparing them I wondered what they would taste like together – and they were delicious! So we mixed them and sold out that afternoon.”


They also have Vittoria coffee, Australia’s number one pure coffee brand, both hot and as an iced-coffee and again it’s just 50 baht. “It’s a quality coffee and my favourite,” Khun Nokie explained. “We just tried it out one day with a small machine and people liked it, particularly the price; it’s normally more expensive but we’re running a roadside noodle shop – with a few additional touches – and we’ll keep the prices in line with that concept.”


Locals flock here, the quality of the food and service is excellent and it’s great value for money. Lunchtime noodles just don’t come better.


Johnny Paterson


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