Samui Wining & Dining
Going Native

Joining the locals for lunch at Mai Tai Restaurant in Ban Tai.

 

21Each month our photographer, Khun Krit, and I take a wander off the beaten track and try out some local Thai restaurants. They’re usually tucked away off the main ring-road and offer very good food at exceptionally favourable prices. Most are family-owned and –run, and attract people who live in the area and passing visitors who’re keen to get away from the tourist traps.

This month, we went to the north of the island, more or less half-way between Chaweng and Nathon on the west coast. The area is known as Ban Tai and if you’re coming from Chaweng you’ll pass through the traffic lights at Bophut. After another 10 minutes or so you’ll come upon another set of traffic lights in Maenam. From there the turning you want is 3.2 km further on. Just before it you’ll see a large shop sign on your right for ‘Zhulian’, that’s your cue to slow down and indicate right. Another 100 metres on and there’s a side road signposted for ‘Ban Tai beach’, it’s quite a small sign so do look out for it. Follow this road for about 600 metres and you’ll come to a crossroads and Mai Tai Restaurant is right on the corner. And there’s plenty of parking behind it.

As I said earlier, this is a family affair and Khun Suchat oversees the restaurant. Just beside it is Baan Kuasakul Resort, a collection of eight tidy bungalows set back off the road. If a few days peace and quiet is on your itinerary then you should take a look. They rent for 400-700 baht per night, there’s a swimming pool and it’s just a minute or so to the beach. Khun Chairat looks after the bungalows with his wife Khun Supalak, Khun Suchat’s sister.

If you carry on another 100 metres at the crossroads you’ll come to the beach and an almost deserted stretch of sand that very few visitors know about. I’ve walked along this beach several times and apart from the occasional Thai fisherman I’ve rarely seen anyone else around. It’s perfect for getting away from the crowds and beach-road shops and the neighbouring island of Koh Pha-Ngan appears so close you can make out individual houses. This part of the island is very different and more than worth just a drive-by. And you should take some towels with you as the sea is crystal clear and very good for swimming at most times of the year.

Mai Tai is built from bamboo, as are the tables and chairs and its open on three sides so you can watch the world go by. They’re open from 10:00 am until late into the evening and have a huge English-written menu. And, with around 175 items on it, you’re not going to be stuck for choice. If you’re out early you can tuck into a nice breakfast omelette or some warm pancakes with honey for just 50 baht. Rice and noodle dishes are 35-50 baht and you can have them with chicken, pork, beef, shrimp, squid, tuna, vegetables and different sauces. There’s a page of appetizers (50-120 baht) with firm favourites, such as spring rolls, crispy pancakes with shrimp, prawn tempura and chicken or pork satays with peanut sauce.

Over the page they have around 15 soups and whilst you might not think about ordering soup on a hot day, some have cooling properties. And a soup is always an integral part of a Thai meal, usually just one bowl on the table that everyone can share. Under the section ‘Thai Food’ there’re 20 or so dishes (60-70 baht) that are stir-fried quickly. And again you have a good choice of proteins and vegetables and sauces like sweet and sour, fried with cashew nuts and chili and ginger. You’ll no doubt be familiar with them.

As you would expect, there’re plenty of curries like green, yellow, red, jungle, Massaman and panang and at 50-70 baht they’re great value. There’s a page of vegetarian dishes (45-60 baht) and lots of freshly caught fish (120-200 baht), which can change depending on what’s on offer at the market that day. Over the years they’ve added in Western-style dishes (120-200 baht) like fillet steak, pepper steak, pork chops, beef stroganoff and schnitzels and pasta dishes, snacks, sandwiches and pizza, which is handy if you have the kids with you. Beers are very cheap with Chang at 35 baht, Singha at 45 baht and Heineken at 55 baht, strong cocktails are 100 baht and they have a good choice of juices and shakes for around 30-40 baht.

On the day we visited, Khun Krit and I opted for prawn tempura, a spicy shrimp salad and barracuda fillet with green peppercorns. The portions were bigger than I imagined they would be and I was impressed with all three dishes. Arriving with a sweet chili sauce, the prawn tempura had a nice spicy kick to the batter and the shrimp salad was in the upper ranges of spiciness but was also zesty and crunchy. And the barracuda was a huge portion for 120 baht and the peppercorns didn’t overpower the fish, they added a subtle underlying flavour that worked.

And what makes Mai Tai Restaurant really worth visiting is that the people at the restaurant are very friendly, speak good English and make everyone feel very welcome.

 


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