Samui Wining & Dining
Going Native

Joining the locals at Horm Lamai restaurant.


16Awake at dawn? You may hear sweeping from outside as someone is almost always up clearing leaves in the garden. It’s 8:00 am sharp when you hear the strains of the national anthem broadcast from loudspeakers; if you are in the city or a train station you’ll see almost everyone come to a complete standstill at this hour, and again at 6:00 pm.

    But noon is unmistakable. It’s the hour when pens drop, the national water table probably dips as toilets flush, and the boardroom, factory or office clear out for the lunch hour. Thai people take their food seriously, and you’ll find an animated, curious and eager crowd heading out to forage for something to tease the palate and satisfy the mood of the day.

  At Horm Lamai, close to the entrance of Tesco Lotus in Lamai, lunch is ready. Bank tellers, local businesspeople and passersby who have timed their midday stop well, are pouring in to peer over a glass display case with dishes owner and chef Khun Chaweewan (Jim) has been preparing all morning. For a group of work colleagues, or a single person needing a lunch fix, the ready-made foods offer a wide choice.

       Local regional specialties may include geang som, a sour super spicy curry with pickled bamboo shoots, or khua khling which is usually finely chopped beef or pork dry-fried in chili to the satisfying radioactive level that

southerners appreciate. But there will be plenty of milder options such as fried fish, coconut curry, mixed vegetables, pork fried in garlic, or khao khluk kapi - a one plate dish that satisfies with a diversity of textures and flavours, and consists of rice steamed in shrimp paste, strips of braised pork, crisp

vegetable toppings, shallots, lime and a thin omelet. If you prefer, there’s an a la carte menu to choose from, with traditional Thai favourites ranging from appetizers to stir fried and even some foreign dishes.

      I have a friend who always orders omelette in a new restaurant to test the chef’s ability. I decide to do the Thai version with a ‘fried rice test’. A simple fried rice can be the barometer for a restaurant. The rice should be cooked but not too oily. The egg should be in chunks, not mashed to pieces. You should be able to taste the salt and pepper. The vegetables (normally tomatoes, onion and kale, but in this case with the addition of broccoli and cauliflower) should not be overcooked. I order a seafood version and it’s a generous portion with prawn, squid and fish. It’s delicious, hot and all the criteria are met, and I don’t mind that it’s ever so slightly oily for my taste. I love that there is no MSG in any of the food. This assurance is not easy to find in Thailand.

      Khanom chin is another well-loved favourite here, with four types of sauce to add to the rice noodle base. These range from the super spicy gaeng tai pla (fish innard sauce) to the milder green chicken curry and even a sweet sauce so that you can go half and half. To temper the heat of any sauce, you will be presented with a tray of over 20 vegetables and herbs, both pickled and fresh, to tweak this deliciously healthy brunch or lunch dish to your taste. These can range from familiar items such as cucumbers, green beans, Thai basil and cucumber relish, all the way to exotic sataw (lovingly translated as ‘stink bean’), wing beans, cha-om or fresh banana flowers. Usually I find kanom chin too light for a satisfying lunch repast - but having two plates, or eating it with a boiled egg is perfectly acceptable way to get around that. Or you can sneak in well before the lunch crowd, and make it a brunch experience.

      From 7:00 am when it opens, the restaurant serves traditional Thai breakfast offerings. Rice soup is the ubiquitous traditional Thai breakfast. A rice broth with a pork, shrimp or fish base is a kind way to start the day for your stomach - nutritious, easy to digest yet filling; it’s also the universal Thai panacea for hangovers, tummy aches or anyone feeling poorly. The house recommendation is rice soup with fish - the chef tells me she only uses large-bodied white snapper specially sent from Suratthani. The soup is acclaimed by regulars as ‘sud yod’ (superb)!

      If you don’t have time to sit down to a bowl of soup, grab a salapao - a light puffy rice flour bun with a variety of fillings (pumpkin, sesame, black beans, pork with salty egg) that makes a handy morning mouthful with coffee or tea.

      Or there are bite-sized steamed dim sum (or khanom jip in Thai) that are all home-made to an original family recipe. I saw three kinds - mushroom, fish wrapped in tofu and pork and prawn. Served in the bamboo containers in which they have been steamed, these morsels are best dunked in soya sauce or in a reddish paste of pickled soya, vinegar and chilli.

   Owner Khun Somporn (Lek) is from Samui and Khun Jim grew up in Trang. They met in a Samui bank where they both worked. “We learned about service there,” says Khun Lek, “but we enjoy meeting customers, and sharing views with friends.” Adds Jim, “I have always been busy and happiest in the kitchen, so this seemed the natural thing to do.”. p>      Horm Lamai has been open for six years now, and while it’s located on the main ring road with seating overlooking the street, it also has a lovely garden setting out the back, with a large table under a thatched roof, and another five smaller tables under an awning.
   Open from 7:00 am, the kitchen closes at 3:00 pm. Until 4:00 pm you can still stop in for a variety of coffees and teas, from the traditional ‘ancient coffee’ out front, to a snazzy coffee machine spewing out cappuccinos in the back. It’s closed on Mondays.

     Horm Lamai is a true local establishment where it’s always time for a friendly and refreshing pit stop.


Annie Lee


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