Samui Wining & Dining
Catch of the Day

Finding out what king prawns are all about.


2-3The attraction of an island that’s teeming with seafood is that it’s all been caught locally. That’s the whole point isn’t it? Nature’s bounty and all that? The toothless old fisherman who hops into his boat and returns grinning to his shed on the beach, with a truckload of crabs and lobsters to throw on the barbecue? Hmm . . . well if that was true, then all you’d ever get to eat on Samui would be a few crabs, a squid or two and a handful of prawns of different sizes. Lobsters are hard to find, and most of them hereabouts come over from Phuket. Scallops are imported from all over the world, as are most sorts of oyster. Cockles and mussels, that joint staple of cooler climes, are rarely seen in the tropics. Crayfish and rock lobsters can’t be caught here as they live in freshwater environments. Fish, yes, you’ll see lots of those. And, of course, prawns.

      Ask an American to point at his car’s bumper, and he’ll show you his fender. His boot is a trunk and his exhaust is a muffler. And if you’re wondering what any of this has to do with the price of fish (quaint old English expression, but appropriate), ask him about prawns. He’ll shake his head and point at a plate of shrimps instead. Outside of America just about everyone calls them prawns. A couple of years ago, the Australian actor, Paul Hogan

(Crocodile Dundee) ran an American TV advert where all he had to say was, “I’ll slip an extra shrimp on the barbie for you.” It took all day, with numerous retakes, to get this done, because he just couldn’t stop himself from saying “prawn” each time.

      So what’s the difference between shrimps and prawns? I have to chuckle here, because the answer, to all practical purposes, is . . . none! Well, none that you can taste, anyway. (This is probably the point in the story where marine biologists start reaching for their pens to begin their letters of protest to the editor, so I’d better expand that last statement a bit.) Both shrimps and prawns belong to the same marine family of crustaceans and have hard outer skeletons (exoskeletons) and ten legs apiece. However, prawns have comparatively larger legs and have three pairs of them, which end in little claws. But when The Maker was handing out little crustacean parts, shrimps must have been further back in the queue, as they can be identified by having only two pairs of claws, not three.

      The other thing is that prawns can grow to a much larger size than shrimp. And when you get them weighing in at two (or less) to the kilo, and being as big as your hand, then that’s when we call them ‘tiger prawns’ or ‘king prawns’. (Or ‘jumbo shrimps’ if you persist in being American.) We’re back to nature’s bounty again, aren’t we? That abundance of seafloor wildlife that’s just sitting there waiting for someone to scoop up with their trawl nets, while they drift carefree under a star-spangled sky? Erm . . . not exactly.

     Prawns live on, and feed off, the seafloor. And around Samui they are very hard to find (other than the very small ones), as not only have they been over-fished but most of the waters are far too deep to reach them. But you will see them coming in, packed in ice, on the boats to the early morning fish markets around the island. And if you find that a bit of a puzzle, read on!

      For well over a decade now the warm southern Thai climate has encouraged and fostered the growth of hundreds of prawn farms on the mainland. For a long time the farmers maximised their return by harvesting the smaller prawns – it’s a quicker turn-around plus a higher income, as there is a lot of shell in one kilo compared to the same weight of bigger prawns. But, in the last few years, things have changed. The expanding European market is now paying as much as €35 a kilo for the largest king/tiger prawns, compared to, typically, just €3 or €4 if sold to local markets. In fact, Thailand is now the world’s biggest exporter of prawns, sending over 200,000 tons of them abroad in 2012. But in 2013, the Early Morality Syndrome (EMS) disease reduced Thailand’s output by half. However, such was the world demand, that this actually had the effects of putting prices up, rather than down!

       Yes, it’s a romantic thought, isn’t it, those happy old fisherman and their rustic shacks. But don’t let me spoil things! After all, do you really care where it all comes from? You’re on Samui. You’re dining out on seafood under the stars and wiggling you toes in the sand, lulled by the soft swish of the waves And it doesn’t get more romantic than that – king prawns or not!


Rob De Wet


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