Samui Wining & Dining
Going Native

Joining the locals for lunch at Whan Tok restaurant near Nathon

5Every month, Grit our photographer and I take a wander around the island. We're looking for small Thai restaurants that are popular with locals, but are usually unknown to visitors. The sort of places that you don't find in guidebooks but that serve great Thai food at value for money prices. And that are worth your while going out of your way to find for a real taste of Samui.

    Our featured restaurant this month is Whan Tok which is on the northwest of the island close to Nathon. If you're coming from Chaweng, head north on the ring-road towards Bophut. Go along the north coast passing through Mae Nam and at the only set of traffic lights there set your odometer to zero. The restaurant is 10 kilometres further on and sits on the beach. When you're coming down the big hill towards Nathon, the Four Seasons Resort is on the crest of the hill, you'll pass a large sign for The Passage Resort. Keep going and Whan Tok is 700 metres after the sign. You won't see the name of the restaurant written in English, only in Thai, but if you see Johm Tong restaurant (written in English) you've gone a couple of hundred metres too far.

     Whan Tok has been owned and run by Khun Thipaporn and her family for the last eight years. She's lived on Samui for nearly 25 years and spent much of her early career as a tour guide and travel agent and as such speaks English very well. In Thai the word for 'sunset' is transliterated as pra aa tit tok, however in the local Samui dialect it's called whan tok. And if you're at the restaurant in the late afternoon you'll understand the inspiration for the name of the restaurant. From the beachside tables there're uninterrupted views of some of the closer islands in the Ang Thong National Marine Park and the sun sets each evening just behind them. It's a beautiful sight, so have your camera handy.

      Whan Tok is open from 11:00 am until 10:00 pm every day and can easily seat 50-60 people. Half of the restaurant is covered, and to one side there's a huge tree that offers shade from the midday sun for a couple of the tables on the terrace. They've strung a hammock from the tree if you feel like lazing around for a bit. And beside it there's a rope swing tied to a coconut tree that dangles over the sea. It's a great photographic opportunity at dusk as, if you time your swing correctly, it looks like you're sitting on top of the sun!

 

Half of the restaurant is covered, and to
one side there's a huge tree that offers
shade from the midday sun for a couple
of the tables on the terrace.

 

      They have an English language menu and it's all Thai cuisine. Many of the recipes are local specialities that you're unlikely to find in other restaurants. Seafood takes centre stage, which is hardly surprising when you see the number of longtail fishing boats that are moored around this stretch of the island. They have all kinds of salads, soups, stir-fries, noodle and rice dishes and curries all with plenty of choices of seafood, chicken or pork and cooked with a variety of herbs, spices and sauces. Prices are on average 80 baht per dish with seafood priced by weight, and it's not expensive. And beers start at just 35 baht for a Chang.

       Grit and I decided to go with four of Khun Thipaporn's recommendations. And they all contained local seafood with Samui-style recipes. As is customary, the dishes came out as and when they were ready and in no particular order. First we tucked into a coconut soup with young tamarind leaves and squid stuffed with fish roe. It has a slightly pinkish hue, isn't spicy and has delicious creamy overtones. With a bowl of steamed rice it would be a meal in itself. Next was a spicy papaya salad with fresh, local crab. Like a traditional som tam, this has quite a kick and is on the upper end of the spiciness scale. In addition, the crab is raw having been marinated overnight. It's a Samui delicacy but you can ask for the crab to be cooked if you wish. And I can assure you that neither Grit nor I, nor the thousands of other people who've eaten it have had any adverse effects from it.

       Our final two dishes also had spicy elements to them with the latter testing my limits of endurance. The whole fish with a spicy salad on top and served with a sweet tamarind sauce was excellent. Clearly the fish had just been grilled and fell off the bone. The sweetness of the sauce combined well with the chopped salad, and I mixed some steamed rice into it just to take the edge off the chillies. And our final dish was one that I've only seen on menus a couple of times over the years. It's sea-flower and seaweed with a very hot curry sauce that catches you out a few seconds after you take a mouthful. Don't get me wrong, it's delicious but you do need to enjoy Samui-style spicy food. If you do order it, keep it aside and eat it last as less complex dishes will be overshadowed. And ask for a big bottle of water and a bucket of ice, and take a towel - you're going to get a sweat on, but in a good way.

      Whan Tok is a great little Thai beachside restaurant. Khun Thipaporn and her family are very welcoming and they serve authentic, local dishes that are quite different from the fare you find in tourist oriented places in Chaweng or Lamai. It's excellent value for money, has fantastic views and is well worth stopping off at when you're touring around the island.

 

 

Johnny Paterson



 


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