Samui Wining & Dining
Going Native

Joining the locals at Pens Food Shop in Chaweng for southern and north-eastern Thai cuisine.

 

25Every month our photographer, Khun Krit, and I take a wander around Samui and try out the food at small local Thai restaurants. Sometimes it will be on the beach, other times along a rough track at the foot of the mountains and, on occasion, I’m not really sure where we are. This month, however, we decided to make it easy on ourselves and try a place we pass by every other day.

Pen’s Food Shop always looks busy no matter what time of day it is (it’s open from 10:00 am to 10:00 pm). And finding it is simple. It’s in Chaweng and if you are on the Lake Road with the lake on your left and the shops on your right then drive to the top of the road. Turn right and it’s about 200 metres along on the right-hand side. There’s plenty of parking in front and behind it. Alternatively, if you’re walking along the northern end of the beach road in Chaweng you can go through the Green Mango area, veering left and the path comes out at the restaurant just beside the ornate Baan Boran Heritage Thai Cuisine building.

There’re half a dozen small Thai places on this spot and we went along on a quiet afternoon. Pen’s had around 20 customers come and go as we sat there, which was more than all the others had, put together. They have a large open-plan kitchen with lots of produce on display. I like to see this as it tells me they have nothing to hide and you can watch your food being made. And they’re fast at it, which I guess they have to be. The owner Khun Pen has had the restaurant here for about three years though she’s been cooking professionally all her life. Khun Diew and Khun Gai cook alongside Khun Pen and the latter was previously a chef at the popular Chez Andy restaurant in the middle of Chaweng. Over the years, Khun Pen has added a number of Western dishes to the menu though I only saw Thai food coming out when I was there.

She’s taken the time to make the menu diverse and interesting. It’s written in English and every single listing has a picture of the completed dish beside it. At lunchtime I’m not averse to just ordering a couple of appetizers and there’re plenty to choose from here. Spring rolls (59-79 baht), chicken satays with peanut sauce (120 baht), shrimp cakes with dips (149 baht), Thai soups (120 baht) and a host of spicy Thai salads (80-120 baht) fill up a couple of pages. There’re also non-Thai salads like tomato, mozzarella and herbs (99 baht), chicken or tuna (79 baht) and soups (60 baht).

You’ll find all the Thai main dishes you would expect to see plus some Issan specialities (it’s a region in the north-east of Thailand where Khun Pen grew up). Curries such as red, green, panang and massaman are 80-120 baht. Where items have a price range you usually have a choice of pork, chicken, beef, prawns or seafood with the former couple of ingredients being cheaper than the others. Sweet and sour is also 80-120 baht, pad Thai 50-80 baht, fried chicken with cashew nuts 80 baht and fried pork with basil leaves just 50 baht.

For something a little different, try the spicy larb salads (80-120 baht), the fried boar with red curry (80 baht) and the yellow curry with crab or shrimp (120-150 baht). They also have plenty of fresh fish and crustaceans and it all depends on what they decide to take from the nearby seafood market every day. Expect to see huge tiger prawns, squid, snapper and sea bass and, like most places, it’s priced by weight. You can have them cooked any way you wish such as with ginger or lemon, with garlic and pepper or with chili or sweet and sour sauce.

As I’ve said, they have a good selection of non-Thai food if that’s what you’re in the mood for. And then there’re pasta dishes (80-120 baht), pork chops with vegetables (180 baht), beef stroganoff (200 baht), salmon steak (200 baht), chicken fillets (159 baht), schnitzels (179 baht) and fish and chips (180 baht). They also have T-bone steaks (279 baht), beef tenderloin (249 baht) and sirloin (200 baht) all served with fries, roasted potatoes, rice or rösti. And you can have accompanying sauces like pepper or mushroom. To finish off, their pancakes with banana and honey (100 baht) are very good and they also have fresh fruit platters and hot fruit fritters. Drinks are very reasonable, there’s free water on every table, fresh fruit shakes are 40 baht (orange, pineapple, coconut, banana, mango and watermelon), beers start at 50 baht, wine is 80 baht a glass and they even have cocktails which start at 90 baht.

In the end, Khun Krit and I asked them what their three most popular dishes were and we had those. It turned out to be an excellent tom yam goong (a medium spicy prawn and lemon-grass soup). With some rice it’s comfortably a meal in itself. We also had a very nice pad Thai with prawns and you can add chilies and lemon yourself depending on how you like it. And we tucked into a panang pork curry with rice, it was medium spicy and full of flavour and you can ask for it hotter if you want. I do tend to just go with the flow of how a restaurant makes their curries. If you are keen to challenge your taste-buds, opt for some of the Issan specialities, they usually have a serious kick to them.

I enjoyed eating at Pen’s Food Shop; the kitchen and restaurant are very clean, the food was most enjoyable and the prices good value for a centrally located restaurant. Khun Pen and her team are also very bubbly and welcoming and they all speak pretty good English. When they weren’t going all-out cooking and serving, at least one person was going around chatting with customers and making sure everything was okay. I, like many others, will most definitely be back.

 


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