Yummy, fast food, but Thai style – where would we be without it?
Once you start living on Samui, you’ll find yourself following local ways more and more. And when it comes to food, you’ll be seduced by some of the simplest dishes around – the Thai staples that up and down the country everyone finds so moreish. Exceptional food is what has made Thai cuisine so popular the world over, but you don’t need to eat it in a 5-star temple of fine dining to get the best of it. Thai food comes plentiful, cheap – and above all tasty.
And Thai food doesn’t need to be fiery. Not all dishes rely on chili or curry pastes. A good many hail from China – mild yet tasty. A street stall, hole-in-the-wall eatery the food court at the supermarket – all are venues for great eating.
50 Baht or less will provide you with a substantial snack, if not a meal. This is culinary grazing at its best. Food is made fresh and you can watch ingredients being thrown into woks and cooked right in front of you. You’ll hear the hiss of flames but never the bing of the microwave. Everything is still done the traditional way – this is a pestle-and-mortar approach.
The main ingredient is the expertise of the cook. Each has his or her own way of making dishes. The results may be so outstanding that with a bit of media attention even a simple stall may become famous.
Here’s a brief round-up of what’s as popular on Samui as it is in the rest of the country.
Grilled food: drive along the ring road (but don’t for a second take your eyes off it) and you’ll see smoke coming from stalls and gaps in walls. You can be sure that these are tiny eateries focused on grilled chicken or pork on skewers which will be served with sticky rice and handed to patrons in a plastic bag.
Customers don’t hold back. Watch them as they select skewers of meat and place them over the barbecue to warm them up. They do this by themselves, and it’s quite OK to do so, though some will just nod or point to what they want. Other times, if the meat is cooked, they will use tongs and place barbecued chicken on a plate which the vendor will wrap for them.
Curries and pre-cooked meals: especially popular at food courts, you’ll see trays of cooked food that you can point to and the vendor will serve up along with white rice. Be warned: dishes can be quite hot and spicy (phet). Prices hover around 50 Baht for one topping, and maybe 75 Baht for two. The curries tend to be meat or fish, but you’ll also see some vegetable dishes, with mixed vegetables always popular.
Also popular are pad Thai and Thai omelet on rice and stewed leg of pork. All these make for filling meals and never seem to fall out of favor.
Som tam or papaya salad: if you’re on the street and you hear the pounding of a pestle and mortar, chances are that there’s a cart nearby and the vendor is busy making som tam. Although som tam has a lot of fruit in it, it’s classified as a salad. Expect to find fish sauce, chilies and maybe some tiny crabs even. Each vendor has his or her own particular way of making the som tam. What unites absolutely all vendors is that a lot of chopping and pounding is required – this is a dish that takes effort. Everything is done at speed and right in front of your eyes. Som tam is often sold from a motorbike with a stall attached. Each order is made from scratch. It’s up to you how spicy you’d like your som tam – just say how hot you’d like it. Vendors tend to appear at the same time of the day in the same place before moving on to their next destination.
Sausages: it might seem unlikely but Thais absolutely adore sausages. You’ll easily find western-style cocktail sausages and you can even buy them at convenience stores. For a more traditional snack, look for the delicious fermented pork sausages which are grilled over a barbecue. They are very mild but when your vendor gives you your sausage in a plastic bag, he or she may well ask you if you’d like chilies too. Eat the chilies at your peril.
Fruit carts: even if no cooking is required, Thai fruit can be all part and parcel of a meal. Or it can just be a snack. Either way, it’s incredibly popular. Long before Foodpanda and Grab ever got going, carts were busy delivering fruits round the neighborhood. And they still are. The fruit cart may come down your street twice a day and you’ll be able to get staples such as pineapple, papaya and watermelon. The vendor will cut up a big slice and give it to you in a plastic bag. What could be more convenient?
We’ve covered the tip of the Thai culinary iceberg here. There’s a lot, lot more besides. But living on Samui means that you have the time to explore to your heart’s content. If you’re serious about food, this exploration is going to be measured in years and definitely not months. It’s guaranteed to be fun, exciting time with many happily memorable meals along the way. Bon appétit!