Samui Wining & Dining
Going Native

Joining the locals at Starry Seafood.

 

4Eating out with others is half the fun of enjoying Thai food. Instead of choosing one plate with fish, vegetables and carbohydrates as Westerners are wont to do, here the style is to order an array of dishes - the more the merrier - and share. You get to enjoy a variety of tastes and textures, which together combine to create a satisfying concert of flavours.

      There are a number of spots on Samui where the ring-road hugs the beach, and the land is just wide enough to accommodate a string of seafood restaurants that light up neon signs at dusk to beckon passing trade. The ambience is usually casual, and there are enough small establishments in a row to ensure that if your favourite is hosting a big party, you won’t miss out.

      But which eatery to pick? Reassuring signs are always the presence of other diners, especially if there are Thais enjoying a night out. The setting may be relaxed and uncontrived, but Thais are fussy and sophisticated food cognoscenti who vote with their forks. An extensive menu in a simple plastic file folder, basic seating, and an array of tanks containing the live catch of the day are also good indicators.

      Starry Seafood, about two kilometres north of Nathon, in the northwest corner of Samui called Ban Makhaam, fits the bill. If you are coming from the north, head south past the Four Seasons, and once the hill levels out, you will pass a road on the left marking Angthong Soi 11. You will see the signboard for the restaurant on the seaside 100 metres further on. Open daily from 11:00 am to 9:00 pm, you could stop in at any time for lunch or a snack, and watch the kite surfers when the wind is up. Our arrival is marked by sunset highlighting the marine park. Later the lights of fishing boats pearl the sea, strung out along the horizon as crabs scuttle along the shoreline below our table.

       The restaurant has five tables outside under the trees, and another five under a simple roof. Alongside are the tanks of fish bought from neighbouring Phaluai Island, and now potentially our dinner.

       Inspired by the proximity of the fishing lights we start with ‘Pla Muek Yang’. This charcoal grilled squid is delicious with the seafood dipping sauce. Here lime, garlic, sugar, fish sauce and chilli are perfectly combined to make a triumvirate of salty, sweet and sour - each flavour still a strong force, but together ruling supreme.

      Unfortunately, the restaurant had been busy all day, and was out of crab. Normally there are two kinds served in a variety of ways, including my favourite in yellow curry. Instead we choose two ‘yams’ or Thai salads - one advertised as charcoal grilled eggplant with shrimp, and the second a lemongrass with fresh shrimp.

      The eggplant turns out to be dry-fried, not charcoal grilled, but is a zesty and delicious surprise, imparting a fresh contrast to the tantalizing lemongrass ‘yam’, which is served with powerfully flavoured dried and deep-fried squid. Both are served with delicious morsels of fresh shrimp, soaking up the salad juices.

      In addition we delighted in the ‘Gung Op Woonsen’ - tiger prawns in a blanket of glass noodles, redolent with garlic, coriander root and black pepper. Unusually for Thai food, this dish is baked in a cast-iron pot. Gung Op Woonsen is one of those dishes that are normally prepared with bacon. It’s worth noting that if you don’t eat pork, you may want to let your server know before you order certain Thai foods as most can be prepared without.

      Starry’s selection of fish is sourced fresh, except for the snapper which is sea-farmed. In short, you can’t go wrong with a tender pomfret steamed in lime and chilli, to your taste. But there’s no need to limit yourself: depending on the fish (and Starry also offers grouper, giant sea perch, mackerel, red snapper, threadfin, rocket fish, trevally and mullet) there are many options of preparation. Whether fried, steamed, or grilled most fish can be prepared with Chinese plum sauce, in lemon and chilli, sweet and sour, with soya sauce, with three flavour sauce, salt-roasted, in coconut milk, in yellow curry, fried with spring onion or Thai herbs (Pad Ja), or deep fried with garlic. Instead of being overwhelmed when making an order, you can trust the server to guide you to make the best choice according to the type of fish.

      There are also noodles, grilled pork, beef or seafood served Korean style, crabs, mantis shrimp, lobster, oyster, sea snails (we didn’t enquire!), duck, chicken, and of course vegetables. There are even burgers and sandwiches with French fries, which could placate a child perhaps not used to Thai food, but could constitute a dining sin for an adult when there are exotic dishes like fried sea cucumbers in curry paste on offer.

      We challenged the owner about serving shark’s fin, but were reassured that these were locally sourced shark that were not butchered just for the fins, but that the entire fish was eaten. Opting to be kinder, we ordered vegetables (pak liang) with egg, and the fresh delicious local greens stir fried were a delicious final note to balance our meal.

      As in most Thai restaurants, the sweet course is an anti-climax for dessert lovers, but Starry had a fridge of commercial ice creams and we managed a little chocolate high to top up our waning sugar levels.

      It was late and the lights of the boats and the starry sky seemed brighter than before, and the gentle lap of the sea on the soft beach beyond the coconut trees sang a song of bedtime and sabaai - relaxation, satisfaction and comfort...

      

Annie Lee


 


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