Samui Wining & Dining
A Hidden Delight

Discovering a secret dish at The Patio Restaurant in Lamai.

 

19It’s not often that you visit a restaurant and discover that you can order a dish that’s not on the menu. But at the Patio Restaurant in the Pavilion Samui Boutique Resort in Lamai, there is a hidden delight and we’re going to convince you all to get down there and try it, so that it can earn a permanent place on the menu.

      But first a little background because this is no ordinary dish and its origins include tales of a Chinese island, a First Lady and foreign diplomats.

      So first… the Chinese island. Off the south coast of China is an island called Hainan, the smallest and southernmost province of the People’s Republic of China. The majority of Samui’s Chinese population have ancestral roots in Hainan. Its claim to fame is a very special chicken dish called Wenchang chicken. It is made from small, free-range chickens from Wenchang, on the east coast of this island. Visiting Hainan without eating Wenchang chicken would be like visiting Thailand without eating pad Thai.

      Now, let’s go back to 1917, and meet a young Chinese lady called Soong May-ling who has just graduated from Wellesley in the USA. In 1920, she met a handsome young man called Chiang Kai-shek, 11 years her senior and a prominent politician. Even though their marriage was initially shunned by many (he was married when they started dating), they went on to have a partnership lasting 48 years. He later went on to become the president of the Republic of China, hence giving her the title First Lady. She became a key player in Chinese politics, and she and her husband were a formidable team. In 1937, they both made the cover of Time magazine as ‘Man and Wife of the Year’.

      Now, foreign diplomats. Well, it is rumoured that when Madam Soong May-ling was First Lady, she would make sure the traditional dish of Wenchang chicken was served whenever she hosted international guests. It is a nice simple dish with easily identifiable ingredients (but full of flavour), and since then, it’s become not only the most popular dish in Hainan, but also an important dish in Hong Kong and other parts of Southeast Asia.

      So now you know how important this dish’s history is, you’ll understand why The Patio are now keen for it to get the recognition it so rightly deserves. So let’s tell you a little bit more about it.

       The chickens are free-range and fed coconut meat and peanut bran which gives the meat its unique texture and taste. The meat is boiled in a concentrated chicken and pork stock and is therefore incredibly tender and moist. It has a fatty but grease-free texture, the skin is typically yellow and the taste is simply delicious. To serve, the meat is sliced and then eaten with a sauce containing ginger, garlic, salt, soy sauce and freshly squeezed citrus. It is often served with rice which has also been cooked in a special stock to give it more flavour, and some cooks even add coconut milk.

         Please don’t be fooled. It all sounds incredibly simple and in a way, it is. But you really have to taste it to believe it. The Patio serves this dish even though it doesn’t appear on the menu, so you have to ask for it. When you order it, you will get one plate with the sliced chicken meat (with the skin still on); a dish of rice; a dish of a very special sauce and another small dish with chillies, garlic and ginger which means you can make the dipping sauce as spicy as you like. Simply take some chicken, then some rice, splash some sauce over the top and enjoy.

         Then something extra - the chicken is best eaten alongside a Thai tom yam soup. The owner of the Pavilion, Khun Virach, describes it beautifully saying that the chicken is Chinese and is the man, while the soup is Thai and is the woman. Together, they marry and their tastes complement each other perfectly. And he’s right, the taste of the chicken and the spicy dipping sauce taste almost sweet alongside the seemingly sour taste of the tom yam. But, together, they make a great combination. I would highly recommend you try it. It really deserves to be advertised as their signature dish, especially with its fascinating history.

         There’s a saying on Hainan Island that “If you don’t have Wenchang chicken, a feast is impossible,” and after tasting it, I can understand why.

         Speaking of signature dishes, The Patio Restaurant has a very nice signature dessert. Now even though I know you would have already eaten the delicious Wenchang chicken and rice, you absolutely have to leave just a little bit of room for the ‘Hot Chocolate Soufflé’. I’ve never been so happy to break open a dessert and have it ooze hot, squidgy chocolate sauce all over my plate and then have to scoop it all up with ice cream and cream. Heaven on a plate, a true holiday treat.

         So two special dishes to be found here. One hidden and one not, but both utterly delicious. Remember if you don’t have Wenchang chicken, a feast is impossible!

         

Colleen Setchell


 


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