Samui Wining & Dining
Going Native

Joining the locals at Sabb Samui & Steak Lao for some genuine Issan food.

 

18It’s tricky finding perfect spots for Going Native articles. What we at Wining & Dining look for are places that strike a balance between being thoroughly local and also foreigner friendly. So when Khun Chat, the owner of a much-loved past Going Native restaurant, contacted us to say he’d opened another, we just had to check it out.

    Sabb Samui & Steak Lao is located in Lipa Noi, right on the island’s main ring road, opposite Koh Samui School, so it’s easy to find – but it’s probably best to bring this newspaper with you to identify the sign because it’s not in English. (The menu, however, is in English so you needn’t worry about that.) Luckily for me, I had our resident Thai-speaking photographer, Khun Grit, with me.

      Khun Chat opened this second restaurant about six months ago, and has been very hands-on in getting it up and running. He even helped build it, and crafted decorations. But it didn’t stop there – he also planted and grew the flora that’s dotted around the restaurant and in the surrounding gardens

Khun Chat informed us that most
people who dine there get a few
dishes to share. So that’s what we did.

 

      The décor is rustic, local Thai style. High wooden beams criss-cross over your head, potted plants hanging from them, each hand-made from locally sourced wood and coconuts. And the same is true of the lighting fixtures – bulbs are cocooned in sections of yellow-painted bamboo branches and coconut shells. Wooden tables and chairs comprise the majority of the seating, but there’s also a traditional, northern Thai, kantoke-style dining area, where you sit on a raised platform, on comfy cushions around a low table.

       Now, if you’re looking for fantastic value on Thai food made with fresh, local produce, then 'Sabb Samui' will be right up your street. The prices are truly local. The Thai dish, steak lao, costs only 49 baht. And yet the quality of the food reflects that of some of your pricier Thai restaurants. That’s the kind of value you get by going a little bit off the beaten track.

      And certainly food doesn’t get much fresher than at Sabb Samui – I can say this with conviction because Khun Chat grows much of it himself. Out in his back garden he has veggies like spring onions and sweet basil on the go, and has plans to expand the plot to eventually supply all the vegetables on his menu. The ingredients he doesn’t sprout in-house are bought fresh from the market every morning.

      Khun Chat informed us that most people who dine there get a few dishes to share. So that’s what we did. We let him order a selection of his favourite signature dishes for us to sample, and the chef immediately got to work in the outdoor kitchen. The smells erupting from the kitchen were fantastic – as each fresh herb was chopped, pounded in the pestle and mortar, or tossed into the pan, the aromas shifted. What an incredible way to whet the appetite! And by the time the dishes were plated up and on the table, the initial hungry salivation Khun Grit and I had experienced had developed into full-blown, unashamed drooling. We were ready to eat.

      We were presented with a wonderfully colourful array of dishes: gaeng aom (a spicy soup bursting with fresh herbs), fried papaya salad in a spicy dressing, barbecued catfish stuffed with lemongrass and pork steak lao served with steamed vegetables. This restaurant serves Issan food, which, for those who don’t know, packs a punch in the spice department

      Starting with the fried papaya salad was an absolute delight. It consisted of both fresh and fried green papaya pieces tossed in a zingy dressing, along with tomatoes, green beans and peanuts. It was refreshing and hearty at the same time. Trying steak lao for the first time was a great experience too. It was a highly flavoured, thin piece of tender pork meat served alongside beans, carrots, potatoes and two chili dipping sauces. Then was the gaeng aom, which was brimming with fresh spring onions, lemongrass and shredded cabbage, in a sweet and sour broth. Scraping away pieces of catfish off the bone is a true local experience – and one that Khun Grit took the liberty of performing. The lemongrass had infused into the flaky, barbecued fish meat, which was served with a tangy tamarind and ginger sauce.

      Halfway through the proceedings, Khun Chat’s ‘other half’ arrived. He motioned to her and said, “This is my wife. The real boss!” She greeted us with a warm smile and stopped for just a quick chat, before leaving us to devour the remainder of our dishes – this food was too good to waste.

      And as we polished off our plates, patting our full bellies appreciatively, we really were sad to leave. But we’ll be back again. And when we do I have no doubt that Khun Chat will be there to greet us – as he will be for you if you choose to dine at Sabb Samui. And to top it all off, they even have free Wi-Fi! Now that’s service.

 

Christina Wylie


 


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