Samui Wining & Dining
Nibbles ’n’ Sips

We take a cautious look at some of the strange snacks and drinks on the shelves of the small local stores!

p5Last week, I accidentally stumbled across some Japanese websites (as you do) and had something of a surprise. These guys are into some quite interesting things! But this is a family paper and, of course, I’m on about the sorts of things they like to eat and drink. It seems that the Japanese nation just loves their soft drinks and they get through an incredible hundred million of them every single day. But some of the things they’re drinking got me thinking. I mean there’s Pepsi Ice Cucumber and also Fanta Furafuru Shaker that’s mixed with orange jelly, not to mention Bilk (70% beer and 30% milk) and the unappetisingly-titled Coolpis liquid cabbage drink, amongst dozens of others!

But what all this suddenly got me thinking about was the similarly strange things we have here on Samui. Pop into into any local convenience store (like those ones with numbers instead of a name) and you’ll see all sorts of bizarre bottles and packets; yes, many of the snacks are decidedly strange, too. The biggest problem is that the majority of these, and in particular the homemade or locally produced nibbles and biscuits, are only labelled in Thai, so you don’t know what the heck they are.

One neat little trick that partly solves this is to go off on a hunt for your midnight snacks at one of the mega-stores, such as Tesco-Lotus. Because even though most of the packets or bottles are only labelled in Thai, the store’s own price-tags beneath are in English too. But this comes with its downside as, if you’ve any sense of adventure at all, you just won’t find the fascinating range of weird-looking bags and bottles that the smaller shops are able to stock.

Because rice is the basic ingredient of Thai cuisine, you’ll discover lots of rice-based snacks. And you’ll find goodies like: puffed rice brittle, expanded rice wafers and cakes that look like big fluffy potato crisps, often with additions such as sesame seeds, herbs, spices and quite often chilies! But a word of warning. Be prepared for some surprises, particularly with innocent-looking sandwiches or croissants. The Thai nation has a wickedly sweet-tooth and there’s a 50-50 chance that you’ll end up with a mouthful of what seems to be an excruciatingly sweet custard filling!

But, on the safer ground of factory packaging, look out for the fish. Yes, the Thais also love their fish and you’ll see bags of teensy crunchy dried fishes, usually anchovies, on sale just about everywhere. But one huge favourite is the dried and rolled cuttlefish and squid. Looking like they’ve been run over by a truck, these wafer-thin, corrugated fish snacks are quite chewy but with loads of flavour. And you’ll also see the same thing selling in the form of long thin strips, like flat straws. But if this doesn’t ring your bell, then take some home for your pet. Cats and dogs go wild for them!

If some of this sounds a bit confusing, just wait till you check out the drinks! After half an hour in my local 24-hour corner convenience store I finally got it figured, but at the cost of a spiking headache. Firstly, let’s touch upon the range of bottled teas. There’s the standard ‘iced tea’, and green and black varieties, but then there’s a whole range of fruit and flower teas, too. There’s hibiscus, roselle, chrysanthemum, tamarind, pomegranate and ginseng, amongst others. Most of the ones that I came across were only in the Thai language but you can easily identify them as they’ll be in with the other teas and they all have pictures of the flowers or fruits on the label.

And, into deeper waters, keep an eye out for all the health drinks. Possibly I should say a ‘wary eye’ as some of these might raise an eyebrow. Jumping firmly on the bandwagon of the Coenzyme Q10 I found some promo that informed me that “… Q10 plays a key role in the production of adenosine triphosphate which is needed for cellular energy production. It is also a super antioxidant that helps guard against free radicals.” I suspected as much. And there’s others with ‘GAC’ fruit oil in them and some with soy peptides or lycopene. They all seem to come in bottles coloured in pastel blues and pinks that would look more at home on the deodorants shelf and are crammed full of (quote) ‘natural sugars’ for energy. ’Nuff said.

And then, down in the depths, you’ll come across the so-titled ‘beauty’ drinks. Actually named ‘Beauti’ they look just like bottles of shampoo. But they are full of collagen (1,000 mgs per bottle), grape and lemon juice, ‘fibre’ (how can a clear liquid have ‘fibre’ in it?) and vitamins. And, unlike many of the others, the sugar content is quite low and they taste really very good indeed.

But I’ve saved the best until last. One of Thailand’s most stupefying fruits is the durian. It’s as big as a football and covered with wickedly sharp spikes. The taste is divine but it stinks to high heaven and many Asian countries have banned its consumption in public! It’s hardly something you could take home as a souvenir – not that I suppose you’d really want to. Except that … you can. In many of the shops I’ve been talking about you’ll also find bags of sliced, dried fruit. I spotted the universal banana slices, then mango, papaya, rambutan and longon. But you can also get bags of sliced fried durian chips. And for those of us, myself included, who can’t abide to be within ten feet of a durian, this is just the job. Delicious, crunchy and utterly odour-free, take some home for your friends to sample, along with a photo of the real thing!

Here, in Thailand, we might not be quite as advanced as the Japanese when it comes to weird and wonderful drinks and snacks, but we don’t do badly, thank you. All it takes is the spirit of adventure and maybe a willing Thai friend to help with the translation. Wining and dining is a fine and reliable Samui pastime but go on and take the plunge. There’s fun to be found in the ‘nibbles and sips’, too!


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