Samui Wining & Dining
Going Native

Joining the locals at Hek Miang.

 

Page-18It all started 20 years ago with a bottle of whisky and an idea. Sitting with a friend from Bangkok late into the night, Khun Apichart (known as Hia Meng) was excited to note down elaborate instructions and recipes. But while most dreamers would be nursing a large hangover and lots of tiny doubts the day after, Hia Meng set about the business of opening a duck restaurant on Samui.

      Many Thai eateries offer ‘up to you’ menus, with 17 kinds of fried rice or 12 soups (usually subtle variations of the same ingredients). Hek Miang is one of the few local specialty restaurants on Samui offering a short and concise menu on a single laminated sheet.

      Roast duck. Roast pork. Duck soup with or without noodles. Slow cooked pork with rice or noodles. Pork with Chinese sauce. Simple, right? Sort of like Thai fast food? Think again. Think slow cooked with elaborate care. Think careful preparation and complex ingredients. Think focus and attention to detail. In fact, don’t think - tuck right in. You can taste it in each mouthful.

     The steamed ducks are served in a tasty broth over noodles with fresh coriander, bean sprouts and greens. You specify the size and type of noodle: ‘ba mi’ egg noodle (green or yellow), ‘sen yai’ or ‘sen lek’ (wide or small noodles), or ‘sen mi’ which are very fine and light. It is a luscious

combination of sweet, spiced meat in a broth redolent with mushrooms and crunchy fresh greens. How does one make such a flavourful broth?

     The ducks for the soup are cut in pieces and stewed in a mix of ground and dried Chinese spices including cinnamon, anise, wolfberry, codonopsis (a kind of ginseng), a mixture of two different kinds of soya sauce, and water from mushrooms soaked overnight.

      “Yes, there’s a secret ingredient,” admits Khun O, Hia Meng’s son, who inherited the mantle of duck king of Samui, “but mostly the unique taste comes down to getting the sequence of preparation right. For example, I have to turn the burners on high to start, and then down to simmer at exactly the right moment.”

      His mornings are a tight choreography, as he works alone in the predawn hours adjusting the gas burners, chopping and dicing, turning on the rice cookers, and preparing the ingredients for the sauces. He is at work by 4:00 am. And he’s been doing this for 16 years. “I can’t miss a step,” he says proudly. Khun O has to ensure that by opening time, the steamed duck, roast duck, broth for the duck soup and the pork in its own broth are ready to serve. By 8:00 am the shop is open for trade, and he’s already put in four hours of intense focus to be ready for the day.

         For the roast ducks, for example, one has to clean the ducks, cut their feet off, and stuff them with a spiced sauce while the ovens are preheating. Fortunately Khun O has a brother, Khun Mongkon, who is charge of the roasting. He adds salt and sews up the ducks, pumps them with air to keep the skin taut during the cooking process, and ties them at the neck. Adjusting the cylindrical roasting barrels behind the kitchen to turn the heat on high at first, he then has to constantly brush the skin with oil to ensure that it crisps and does not blacken during roasting, as well as monitor the temperature throughout the three hour process. “It’s very important. We can’t have any marks on the skin when we serve it,” says O.

         Roasted duck on rice is served simply: sliced over rice with homemade pickled ginger, fresh cucumber and two sauces. One is a thick sweetish black soya sauce and the other an in-house piquant number combining lemongrass, pickled soya beans, two types of ginger, galangal, wild lime leaves, garlic and mixed Chinese spices. You are also always welcome to add sour, sweet, chilli or salty from the condiment tray provided.

         Another staple at the restaurant is ‘khao kha mu’ - slow stewed pork leg in a broth, similar to the duck soup but slightly saltier, with Chinese herbs, peppercorns, cinnamon, star anise and coriander powder. Again the broth is turned up high and then simmered for two hours. Served with pickled mustard greens over rice, and hard boiled eggs soaking up the gravy, the tender meat falls off the bone.

         Hek Miang is the Thai equivalent of a diner - service is fast and efficient with people calling their orders to Khun O, while he stands confidently with his cleaver at the cutting board, ready to serve their favourite daytime meal.

         Hek Miang was a local institution from when it opened in Samui’s capital Nathon, almost 20 years ago. In the days when the biggest supermarket and all the banks were in town, no trip was complete without stopping at ‘the duck shop’. You would meet all your friends, bump into staff from the land office or immigration.

         Hia Meng and his wife Khun Aradee moved the restaurant to Maenam, and then to Lamai, opening at its current location on the main ring road just two years ago. Coming from Chaweng, pass Tesco Lotus Lamai on your left, then turn left at the landmark 90 degree intersection at Lamai temple and drive about 800 metres. You will see the bright pink signboard with a duck logo on the left after the 7/11 as the road curves around. It’s open from 8:30 am – 5:00 pm daily except the 1st and the 16th of every month.

         

Annie Lee


 


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