Samui Wining & Dining
The Real Deal

Not only is The Tongsai Bay delightful, but it has really authentic Thai food – at Chef Chom’s!

 Not only is The Tongsai Bay delightful, but it has really authentic Thai food – at Chef Chom’s!Shhh! It’s something of a secret. Not many people know. You won’t find it on any of the tour lists. It’s hardly a national park, but it is an area of great natural beauty. And it’s full of insects and birds that you won’t see anywhere else – it’s a natural geographical conservation area, all by itself. Not only that, it was the very first 5-star resort built on Samui, back when there was no road to this cove, and you had to get there by boat. It’s not only unique, beautiful and secluded, but it also has some of the most outstanding and genuinely authentic Thai food on the island. Its name is The Tongsai Bay. And it’s tucked away in seclusion right up at the very north-eastern tip of the island.

And no, it’s not some kind of crumbling antique resort! It’s super-modern and stylishly fitted-out, but was conceived and designed, back in the mid-1980s by a most unusual and cosmopolitan man. Khun Akorn Hoontrakul, then the chairman of the Imperial Hotel Group, fell in love with the location and set about building not only a hotel, but also a holiday getaway for his family.

It’s the island’s largest resort-plot, sitting on a huge 25 acres of private woodland. But here’s the interesting thing. Whereas the resorts that subsequently followed were designed in the traditional Thai style, with complex layered roofs, lofty dark ceilings and elaborately carved woodwork, this one wasn’t. Khun Akorn was well travelled.  Not only is The Tongsai Bay delightful, but it has really authentic Thai food – at Chef Chom’s!And so his visionary resort-cum-getaway was influenced by the Mediterranean elements that he loved so much. The result is that you’ll see plain sturdy timbers, simple stucco-plastered walls, a central piazza-style courtyard and roofs with terracotta tiles.

But, just for a moment, forget about the private beach in its own small cove. Put to one side the tranquil setting. Overlook the unique styling and congenial layout. Even ignore the enormous nearby organic farm that provides the resort with fresh vegetables, herbs and spices. Because this place has food to die for! It has really, genuinely, authentic Thai food. Yes, I know they all say that – what else! But here it’s special.

“Thai food today isn’t really ‘Thai’ anymore,” mused Leisa Kenny-Protsat, the resort’s General Manager. “It’s been slowly changing over the years. The idea of using ingredients such as carrots, broccoli, potatoes or sweet corn would have been unthinkable a couple of generations back. And the kinds of herbs and spices used have changed, too. However, for the last several years, we’ve been collecting traditional, old Thai recipes from all of the regions, and sourcing herbs, spices and vegetables that today aren’t so commonly found. And the result is a menu that I’ve never seen anywhere else. It’s totally unique. This really is ‘authentic’ Thai food.”

This makes a lot of sense. Talk to an Aussie, a Brit and a German about their experience of Thai food in their own countries, and you’ll get three sets of different answers. And then ask them about their experience of the food in Thailand,  Not only is The Tongsai Bay delightful, but it has really authentic Thai food – at Chef Chom’s!and you’ll get three more – and you’ll get a whole set of different replies if you take them to eat out on the streets! Currently there really is no such thing as ‘Thai cuisine’. Thai food, yes - you’ll find food everywhere. But authentic Thai cuisine, like they used to eat everywhere in Thailand before the advent of the internet, gasohol or Sponge Bob Squarepants, has all-but died away. It may well be that Chef Chom’s restaurant has become the last outpost of an endangered species . . . that of real Thai cuisine!

Chef Chom, by the way, is the legendary chef who catered for Khun Akorn and his family in the beginning, after having originally been in the service of Princess Vibhavadi Rangsit at the Royal Palace. Today she’s retired, but is still retained to advise on the recipes here and their authenticity. And, to augment this, all the staff have been set an ongoing project - to ask their grannies for their old recipes!

There are three chefs at work, busy behind the scenes. Khun Jan is the Executive Sous Chef, widely travelled, experienced and cosmopolitan. Khun Nancy is the specialist in Southern Thai cuisine. And Khun Pasouk has been here for 17 years, has absorbed the methods and techniques of every master chef she’s ever worked with, 5-4and can usually be seen with a wok in one hand and a saucepan in the other, juggling adeptly between the two. And, under the genial management of Leisa, they’re the driving force behind the unforgettable dining experience at Chef Chom’s.

The menu specialises in Southern Thai offerings, but also has items from all the regions of Thailand, every one of them equally and genuinely traditional. The motto in the kitchen is simple enough (albeit a lot of hard work!) – ‘do it like it used to be done’. And so you’ll find that all of the curry pastes are regularly hand-made in small batches – nothing from the supermarket here. Even something like the ubiquitous ‘tom yam’ soup is special: there’s no handy pot of stock to dip into, the stock is made from the prawn scraps, and it’s freshly made each time.

And the presentation is what can only be called ‘Thai gourmet’. Take the unusual southern dish of ‘Khao Yum Pak Tai’, for example – basically jasmine rice with roasted coconut. But it comes in a basket with seven ‘condiments’ (dried shrimp, bitter bean, green mango etc.) which are added and mixed for you at your table, to your preference. Or the traditional ‘nam prig’ dips, which at one time accompanied every meal, but are now rarely seen in this form. Even the ‘khantok’ combinations are a blast from the past, coming in the old traditional ‘pinto’ cones. And the menu itself is beautifully printed, with full details of the dishes and ingredients, plus helpful side-notes about what each item or section is about.

I could go on! I haven’t even begun to delve deeply into the details of the huge range of dishes they’ve assembled. But it’s impressive. Thai food is everywhere and it’s impossible to know if you’re being offered the genuine article. But there’s probably only one place in the island to go for this: Chef Chom’s at The Tongsai Bay – if you’re after the real deal, that is!

          

Rob De Wet


 


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