Samui Wining & Dining
Going Native

Joining the locals at Krua Chao Baan.

 

18A crescent bay with various small craft bobbing in the shallow waters. A thin line of coral reef marks the beginning of the deeper blue gulf beyond, stretching out east to forever. The wide clean-swept beach seems private, with just a nearby watersports operation taking up the northern end near the rocks. The ring road is close by, but the hum of traffic is only a vague murmur harmonizing with the gently lapping sea. It’s a grand spot to sit down and order from a comprehensive seafood menu.

      You almost didn’t get a chance to allow the view to sink in, what with the friendly wait staff leading you to your seat, promptly producing the aforementioned menu and standing by with pads at the ready. It’s not a hard sell approach and when we ask for a bit of time to take it all in, the waiter backs off sweetly and hovers nearby.

      There are not many restaurants on Samui so amenable for all day and night dining, and certainly few with such a sweet location. Open from 10:00 am to 10:00 pm, Krua Chao Baan is a good choice for any meal and for a snack any time in between. Facing east/south-east over the water you can relish the clear morning light or the piling up of late afternoon clouds blushing pink at sunset. At night the squid boats ring the horizon and bring us back to the business at hand - the treasures of the sea.

      The menu is comprehensive all right and reflects the clientele, which includes Thai and foreign tourists and locals. The staff are geared up to match your order to your taste with fiery spicy southern food if you can take it, or toned down if you can’t.

       We skip over the appetizers such as fried spring rolls, fish cakes and spicy salads and start with rich coconut cream soup with squid, delightfully soured with young tamarind leaves. My companion has never tasted this dish before. It’s a delight to both of us as Thai food adventurers that even after more than 15 years on Samui there is still unexplored territory.

         I push the envelope and order spicy seaweed salad with ‘hoi jo’ - a mussel of some sort that is apparently prised off the rocks. Now I’m in unmapped territory myself, but there be no dragons here, only a medley of divine flavours. The seaweed is fresh and looks like tiny branched coral. It’s also crunchy, and served with tart green mango, scallions and a dash of fermented shrimp paste (kapi) that all blend sublimely with the salty briny mussels. If you close your eyes you can imagine a cool crashing sea on some wild rocks.

         Hor mok, a mousse of coconut cream with curry, fish and seafood steamed in a banana leaf is another special southern dish. Krua Chao Baan’s version is not too finely minced, and I rather enjoy finding small shrimps or whole bits of fish baked into the mousse. For variety we order pla sai tod khamin - a rather small fish fried in fresh turmeric. The seafood sauce accompanying this dish is a must-try as the lime and chilli cut through the fried fish taste perfectly. There are other local specials on the menu such as the house omelette stuffed with seafood, chicken and mushroom. The pork sautéed in wild lime leaves is also noted for a return visit.

         The variety on offer is impressive - from soups to somtam and everything in between. There is pork, chicken, beef, prawn, crab or seafood. There are Indian, massaman, yellow, sour, sweet green or roasted duck curries. Spaghetti can be served Italian style as say a marinara or Thai style with crab meat.

         There are steaks and burgers, as well as a fine selection of local fish including white snapper and pomfret. And did I mention blue crabs, mud crabs, shellfish, mussels and oysters? King prawns and lobsters can be prepared baked, fried, in panang sauce, in massaman curry, stewed or baked.

         The ‘up to you’ easy-going ambiance and variety is best reflected in the dessert menu. I’m hard pressed to decide between the (rare-on-Samui) black sesame dumplings floating in a hot ginger sauce, and a classic bowl of chocolate ice cream. You can also choose between classics like mango and sticky rice served with coconut cream, a variety of parfaits and ice creams including fried ice cream. I consider it out of my mandate as a food writer to try everything. If you want to know what that tastes like, you’ll have to go yourself. I didn’t eat breakfast either, but here again you have no shortage of options what with Continental or American, eggs bacon & sausages, pancakes, waffles, roti, Thai rice soup, or stuffed omelette.

         The restaurant is quite large with tables for four or six that can be arranged for bigger groups in several separate thatched structures. It’s reassuringly popular, so if you fancy a seaside table or if you are a large group, come early. On the weekends and during Thai holidays, the place is full of eager diners. But have no fear as the service is fast, friendly and efficient.

         You’ll find Krua Chao Baan on the sea side of the ring-road, about midway between Hinta Hinyai and the village of Hua Thanon. If you are coming from Lamai it’s south of Rocky Resort and it’s best to slow down passing the temple on your left as you’ll come across it quite suddenly at the bottom of that hill. There’s plenty of parking out front.

         

Annie Lee


 


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