Samui Wining & Dining
Mad Fads

Are things getting sillier or have food trends, fashions and fads simply become a normal part of daily life?


18Over here, on sleepy ol’ Samui, we take a kind of pride in the modest fact that the island is bang up to date when it comes to food. We’ve got some of the world’s most innovative and avant garde chefs, and restaurants that are second to none. We’ve even got a clique of cutting-edge kitchen pioneers playing around with low-temperature vacuum overnight cookers and molecular gastronomy. And, for those of us more interested in eating food rather than experimenting with it, there’s a whole spectrum of fast food choices like McDonald’s, Burger King and Pizza Hut.

But, out in the big wide world, things are not quite so well-ordered. Crazes, fashions and fads come and go with bewildering rapidity. Magazine and TV adverts blare about stress and health and diets, and the more we worry about our health the more stressed we get. We dash about like headless hamsters, gobbling vitamin pills and protein supplements as we rush off to work whilst grabbing a coffee and a sandwich on the hoof. Modern urban living is everything but relaxing!

Ever since the first railways came along, there’s always been a platform café of sorts to cater for the crowds. But the big cities now have bigger railways and multitudes, not merely crowds, to go with them. The pace of life is accelerating and that means that fast food’s just not fast enough. So now we have the cafés that aren’t – because that word just can’t apply to a food shop with glass walls, no seats and no staff. Well, two of the walls are usually glass anyway, but the others are made up of a floor-to-ceiling bank of glass-fronted, coin-operated food cubby-holes plus another wall of banked microwave ovens. Dash in, grab your low-cal, no fat, frozen TV lasagne dinner, nuke it in the oven and head at a trot for the tracks. And you’ll now find just such a chain of ‘kiosks’ (for the want of a better word) all across the UK, going by the appropriate brand name – Rocket.

But for every action there’s an equal and opposite one. And where you find fast and furious food, now you’ll also come across little oases of green in amongst all the smog and flurry. It’s hardly a new thing to be ‘green’ or organic (although not so long ago this was seen as a ‘fad’ in itself). But what is new is that these eateries are now springing up right in the midst of the madding crowds. And there’s been a new trend of late, with tiny, charming privately-owned cafés and restaurants selling homemade and organic dishes right where the throng is thickest.

But for some people, organic just isn’t good enough. Food has to be locally grown and sold, too. Many Japanese supermarkets now have bar-code scanners that show shoppers how far the produce has had to travel. Over in the UK, this has become known as ‘food miles’ and a favourable label is guaranteed to sell your produce, causing micro-breweries and even micro-cheeseries to spring up in backyards everywhere. But the best example of this trend has to be the restaurant next to Amsterdam’s Centraal Railway Station that actually has its own vegetable garden outside so you can see your next meal growing whilst you eat!

Yes, the so-called ‘civilised world’ is worried sick about what all the additives and fast food are doing to it. And this has forced a whole new genre of comestibles into being – the heady arena of ‘Premium Foods’. If there’s no alternative to eating processed grunge for some of the time, then compensate for this by enjoying the best of the best when time does allow. But these ‘luxurious essentials’ don’t come cheap: there’s America’s Montgommery’s Raw Milk Cheddar, Nimman Ranch’s USA beef and the Woodcock Smokery’s Irish fish fillets, amongst many others. Ditty’s Bakery in Ireland, for example, ship their wheat in small quantities so it isn’t ‘damaged’ and hand-grind their own multigrain flour. And at ten Euros a loaf they can’t keep up with demand!

It’s probably this need for quality and variety that’s caused another upsurge – the ‘Asian Invasion’ –and noodles now seem to have become the new pasta. Today, it looks like there’s food from Japan, India, Malaysia, Korea, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and China on everyone’s lips. All these cuisines are healthy, quick to prepare and have an enticingly exotic flavour. This, in turn, has raised interest in the ingredients, causing more Asian ‘delis’ and markets to appear, too. And, on Samui, such is the demand for learning how to cook Thai food that every decent resort now has its own cookery class!

But perhaps the peak of dietary anxiety is symbolised by the emergence of nutracuticals. Essentially these are the good old basic foodstuffs, but that have been doctored with a pinch of the very latest pharmaceutical know-how and technology. Current examples include breakfast cereal that inhibits heart attacks, bread that fights depression, chocolate that combats cancer and even Coca-Cola that reduces the effects of Alzheimer’s disease, but this last one’s still on the drawing board (if I remember correctly).

Doesn’t it all make you just long for the golden days when everything was so much simpler? There are indeed many people of ‘a certain age’ who yearn for the simplicity and certainty of bygone times and this has caused a boom in the growth of comfort-food and retro-recipes. A good example of this is the UK’s Marks & Spencer where you can re-live the 1970s with dishes, packaged in authentic retro-styling, such as Prawn Cocktail, Chicken Moussaka, Chicken Kiev and Black Forest Gateau. And over in the USA meatloaf sales are booming and old flavours and brands of chewing gum have been resurrected.

I started by saying how up-to-date with it all we are here on the island, but I was wrong. We’re not. We don’t really know what stress is and nobody has to worry much about what they eat. (Drinking; well, now that’s a different matter!) Nobody’s munching vitamins and our idea of getting ‘fast food’ is driving to that restaurant on the beach instead of walking there. But what you will find here is the equivalent of all those ‘premium’ foods, as that’s what most of us eat every day anyway, but at a fraction of the cost and, in that respect, Samui’s probably got the best food trend of them all!


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