Samui Wining & Dining
Totally Shellfish

If you’re a lover of shelled molluscs, then you’ve come to the right place!

 

16No matter where you eat in Samui, you can be sure of one thing. Shellfish will proliferate on the menu. And so it should; it’s plentiful in these waters and absolutely delicious to dine on, and Thais know exactly how it should be cooked. You may have fears about food poisoning when you travel abroad, but it’s far more likely that you will suffer illness through too much sun, an excess of alcohol or riding a motorbike without a helmet. A few even fall victim to all three at the same time, but that’s just God’s way of weeding out the stupid!

Unless you have a specific allergy, trying out the shellfish on Samui is a must. As a general term, shellfish is used to describe shelled molluscs and crustaceans used as food. Shelled molluscs include clams, mussels, oysters, winkles and scallops. And crustaceans most often found are shrimps, prawns, lobsters, crayfish and crabs. Squid, octopus and snails, although edible and biologically similar to mollusc shellfish, are generally not considered to be shellfish. Some other marine animals such as sea urchins are also considered to be shellfish, but they are less commonly eaten.

In Thailand, as well as the rest of the world, shellfish can be categorised into two main types: those harvested from natural grounds only; and those that are also produced through culture, or farming. Those obtained here from natural grounds only include: short-necked clams (hoi lai); razor and jackknife clams (hoi meed koan); surf clams (hoi ta lab); window-pane oyster (hoi chalab); and the turban shell (hoi ood). Those used for culture include: green mussels (hoi maeng pu); horse mussels (hoi kapong); cockles (hoi kraeng); oysters (hoi nang rom and hoi ta krom); and the gold and black lipped oysters (hoi muk jan and hoi kala pang ha).

Several of these are of particular importance to Samui economically. And the green mussel is the most important mollusc species in Thailand. They’ve been cultured for more than 70 years from a type of stationary fishing gear called the ‘bamboo stake trap’. Bamboo poles are driven into muddy, shallow coastal waters, where the larvae settle and are allowed to grow until of marketable size – usually six to ten months. They are mostly sold fresh, shell-on, directly to restaurants and fish markets. Cockles are a popular mollusc consumed on Samui and they’ve been cultured around the Kingdom for more than 100 years. In fact, so popular are they that large amounts are imported from Malaysia, most often into the port of Songkla in the south of Thailand.

Oysters are another universally loved shellfish that in many countries come with an expensive price-tag. However, that’s not the case here. One reason is that the waters around the Surat Thani Province, of which Samui is a part, provide most of the large species of oysters in Thailand. And local demand is such that there’s no export market. Oyster culture has been practiced here for about 60 years. Farmers use stones and branches for collecting spat (the spawn of shellfish) and then grow them in shallow waters, often taking several years before reaching marketable size.

Nutritionally per 100 grams, mussels will have 106 calories, clams 114 and oysters 86. Like most shellfish, they contain protein, calcium, iron, potassium, sodium, zinc, magnesium, small amounts of fat, a number of different vitamins and, most importantly, omega-3 polyunsaturated acids. Omega-3 acids are believed to originate from plankton in the sea and pass via zooplankton to ultimately end up in fish and shellfish. Our bodies don’t produce omega-3 and there’s been clear evidence to suggest that these acids can reduce the risk of heart disease. The reason for this is assumed to be linked with the ability to make the blood less likely to clot and thereby less likely to block the blood vessels. Some evidence has also suggested that certain omegas help reduce blood pressure and can keep the heart beating more steadily. Furthermore, omega-3 has been shown to aid in brain development and intelligence, which is why expectant mothers are advised to eat omega rich foods during the last trimester of their pregnancy. There’s also limited evidence suggesting that aggression can be reduced and that omegas can help combat depression. Research and trials have also been conducted into nerve and eyesight problems using omegas and it’s been demonstrated to aid arthritis patients.

As you stroll around the restaurants and resorts of Samui you’ll see a myriad of display cases and tanks holding a whole manner of shellfish. And most of the resorts will have ‘Seafood Extravaganza’ theme nights, which not only allow you to try just about everything; it also gives you the opportunity to talk to the chefs. Most of them will be down the markets early every day and they’ll usually be delighted to take you along, if you can get up early enough that is!

You can dine on shellfish here every single night at a fraction of the price back home. And don’t worry if the thought of peeling and scooping from shells seems a bit messy, they’ll shell them for you if you ask. But, then, where’s the fun in that!

 


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