Now’s the time to relax, take it easy, and explore all that Samui has to offer.
Samui’s an interesting place. At first sight it seems that there’s not much here. Coming in on the plane, there’s not a lot to see. But don’t be fooled. Yes, it’s those lovely long strips of sand that lift your heart. And maybe that’s all you need: beach time and a space to recharge your energies.
The weather will be great, too: day after day of cloudless skies, yet not so hot it hurts – that’ll come later, in a few months’ time! But once the jet lag’s gone and you’ve settled-in, you’ll start to do what everyone does; wander off each night in search of great places to eat. And there’s no better place for this than Samui!
We’ve become a gourmet’s heaven. There’s everything you could ever imagine, from little local street stalls to the refined heights of fabulous fine-dining – and all at a fraction of the cost that you’d expect to pay back home. Enjoy!
Dining by Design,Cooking with Creativity
At Anantara Bophut Koh Samui Resort not only can you dine in unique settings, but you can learn the nuances of Thai cuisine from a master chef.
Even if you're driving by Anantara, you can see that this resort is a hidden gem. An old-style drawbridge spans a lily-filled pond, with the road leading deep into a jungly garden. Definitely intriguing, and for those who venture up that drive there are many, many surprises that await even the most seasoned globetrotter. The atrium, sumptuous enough by anyone’s standards, only leads the eye to a beautiful pond that stretches right down towards the restaurant, Full Moon Char Grill, and the sea beyond. The resort’s a world apart from the rest of the island, a get-away destination all of its very own.
Eating at the restaurant is an intimate enough experience in itself, yet the management go to extraordinary lengths to make settings, if wished, still more secluded. They've come up with an idea which is simply called ‘Dining by Design’. This doesn’t mean that you have to make up your very own menu from scratch, but refers instead to the way you can choose the setting and the décor, even before you get started on choosing one of the menus on offer.
For total seclusion, the amazing spa garden, which is entirely walled, guarantees the kind of privacy that usually only rock-stars and visiting dignitaries are used to. The setting is a small sala or pavilion at the far end of the garden. From your table you can look out onto old-growth trees, gently illuminated at night, and an exotic lawn.
Burma isn’t exactly known for its cuisine, so we take a look at why.
You’ll find Indian restaurants all over the world. The exotic ingredients and tongue-tingling flavours are both exciting and intriguing. It’s the same with Chinese food, but minus the spiciness. Thailand has the same variety and depth, but this time the stress is on chillies. France, too, has a reputation for the quality of its cuisine, although it’s more of an ‘old-world’ kind of thing. But when it comes to England, it’s a non-starter. If fact, if anything, it’s a non-cuisine entirely. Traditionally it has always taken the dullest of plain ingredients and cooked them until the flavour disappears. And the only place outside of the UK that you’ll find such a restaurant is where there are plenty of ex-pats to feed – although of course today English food has improved beyond recognition.
Let’s look at what I’ve just said. Thai food is great. So is French food. But English food doesn’t have a good reputation. Then add to this the fact that throughout history England and France have been at each other’s throats, and at war, on and off, for a very long time. Keep this in mind
During the 16th and 17th centuries, the known world erupted, as sailing ships began to go around the globe. This quickly led to a great land-grab, in which unknown countries were discovered, invaded and conquered. And in the course of it, Britain nabbed India and Malaysia, with the French coming in from a different angle and laying claim to Vietnam, before going on to invade the neighbouring Cambodia. And between these two hated rivals was Thailand, then called Siam.
Some people prize living in Asia just because they're close to the authentic tastes, flavours and ingredients of the dishes they love. This month’s recipe is typical of food that’s best savoured as close as possible to its source. However, you can certainly manage if you have a good supply of mussels to hand, and an Asian store or market so that you can get hold of the fresh lemongrass that this recipe calls for. (You can also make do with the dried kind, but first you'll need to soften it quite a bit.)
If you're in Thailand, you can be assured of finding fresh mussels. They're very popular in many dishes, and if you don’t know their salty taste, you should give them a try. They go extremely well with coconut milk and Asian herbs. There are plenty of variations on the coconut and basil theme, and if you're at all familiar with Thai food, you'll no doubt be able to create a few recipes yourself. It’s hard to go wrong. This recipe is a fairly basic one, but has all the ingredients you'll need to make a very satisfying dish.
You can have fun at the local market getting your supplies together – there’s definitely no need to shop at a supermarket. Make sure the mussels are fresh. At the market they should be on ice or packed in ice. They shouldn’t have a very fishy smell to them, and they should be alive when you buy them. It’s important that they come from unpolluted waters, but it’s well-nigh impossible to be sure about this.
Discovering some of the origins of commonly-used food-related sayings.
There are some questions that adults dread hearing from children. And often we’ll lie, or say, “Ask your mother/father.” Anything that starts with why, what, where or who tends to send an involuntary shiver down our spines. Though when the question relates to neither the birds nor the bees, we can gleefully launch into just about any explanation, knowing that if said with enough conviction, the little darlings will believe almost anything.
And in the same vein, we use everyday words and sayings that we really don’t know the origins of, many of which have culinary connections. Take the word ‘bistro’ for example. It’s a word that many an establishment will add to their name, perhaps to give a ‘continental’ feel to the place. However, it’s a relatively recent addition to the language, and came about due to a misunderstanding. One version dates it back to the Napoleonic era, and the occupation of Paris after the Emperor’s defeat. Russian Cossacks were among the troops stationed there, and café owners were keen to encourage their custom. As the soldiers always seemed to be in a hurry, they wanted to assure them that they would not have to wait long to be served. And so they learned the Russian word for ‘quick’, which in their French accents, sounded like ‘veestra’. Failing to recognise the word as Russian, the Cossacks presumed that it was the name for a French fast-food restaurant, and adopted the word. With another slight variation, bistro came into existence, and did what Napoleon couldn’t – get further than Moscow!
An invention that many of us have enjoyed after a meal is an Irish coffee. But it’s just as much a part of aviation history as anything else. During the 1950s, aircraft from the United States heading for Europe had to stop at Shannon Airport in Southern Ireland to refuel. Tired and exhausted from the then still long and wearisome flight, both crew and passengers really needed a good ‘pick-me-up’. Joe Sheridan, the airport’s barman, was quick to the rescue. He served the arrivals with a strong cup of coffee. To fortify it, he added a dash of Irish whiskey, topping his novel concoction with whipped cream. And thereby adding an additional supplement to many a restaurant bill ever after!
Boncafe’s expertise is unbeatable when it comes to supplying great tasting cups of coffee.
Coffee fans are legion, and there are hundreds of ways they like their drink. Baristas are great at catering to everyone’s wishes, but there’s still an equally important factor that's easily neglected – the actual rituals that surround the drinking. Take Klara, for example. A fitness competitor, everyone thinks she only drinks water and the evil-smelling vegetable smoothies that she downs with a grimace. But once it’s breakfast time it’s almost as if she’s a different person. Sitting in her sports clothes after an early morning run, she endlessly stirs her very pungent coffee with a stick of cinnamon. “This is how I like it,” she says. “Very strong. Two sugars and a teaspoon of milk. Has to be in this cup” – she nods towards it – “and from that machine.” Another nod. The machine in question: an ancient, pitted Italian espresso maker that rests on an antique electrical stove with a frayed flex. Her parents drank their coffee this way, off the same stove, and now she does; a tradition remembered. Coffee’s like that. No matter what the taste, or the effect, or whether it’s good or bad for you, it’s part of the daily habits of millions of people, the world over.
The world of empty calories, and how scientists hook us with ooze, crunch and bite.
It seemed like any other restaurant, except perhaps that it was unusually packed out, given the huge number of complaints the food received. The gripes kept arriving at the desk of the food inspector in the town in China where the restaurant was located. Finally he went to take a look for himself. He managed to get a seat – the place was incredibly busy – and ordered. When the food came, it was more than inedible, it was disgusting
Yet, over the coming days and weeks, he found himself increasingly drawn to the restaurant, going back again and again, taking a seat and ordering yet one more repulsive dish. To his own astonishment, even before it was lunchtime, he found himself thinking of the restaurant, hardly able to wait until he could set off for there again. The food? Dependably bad. He could barely stomach it. Finally he decided to analyse some of the dishes, took samples and sent them off to a local lab. They all contained small amounts of heroin.
The story, vaguely added to a bumper book of bizarre news stories may well be an urban myth. But it illustrates a point. If disgusting food can be addictive, what about tasty food? Why do we find crisps so irresistible? What is it about cellophane-wrapped products in convenience stores that keep us munching away? Is it really just convenience, or is there something more to it? We all know by now that there’s a lot wrong with western diets, and diets that rely on processed food. But what precisely is it about junk food that turns so many of us into food junkies? Are we, too, unwittingly becoming hooked, exactly like the Chinese inspector? Steven Witherly is a food scientist who has spent the last 20 years studying what makes certain foods more addictive than others. Much of the analysis that follows is from his report, ‘Why Humans Like Junk Food’.
One of the best restaurants at Fisherman’s Village is hidden in plain sight – look out for Krua Bophut!
Have you been there yet? Well, you will. Forget the temples and the elephant treks or safaris. If there’s one thing that absolutely everyone who visits Samui is guaranteed to do, it’s to drop-in at Fisherman’s Village. In fact most people go there a second time for a better look around, or to pick up some mementos they missed out on the first time. It’s much better at night, when all the lights come on and it turns into its own little fairyland. But it’s better still on a Friday, when it has its famous ‘walking street’.
Most folks go there by taxi, and it will automatically stop on the side street next to where the entrance arch is. And this therefore means that you’ve got a hundred-and-one distractions as you navigate the whole length of the ‘village’, from the ‘pier’ area (the actual pier has gone now) right along to the end of the strip. And that’s actually not the best of news. Because it means that you won’t pay much attention to the last few hundred yards or so – and that’s where you’ll find some hidden gems.
Take it easy in the hot season with RockPool’s chilled lunches and dinners.
While Europe and the northern hemisphere slowly start to warm up after winter, Samui is already basking in its hot season. It’s loved by most, though some will complain you can have too much of a good thing. Whatever, everyone agrees that the high temperatures mean that diners are less in the mood for hot dishes, and rather more drawn towards ones that are chilled. People crave food that leaves them feeling light and refreshed. Diners also want the appropriate venue to come and eat in, somewhere that’s cool and preferably outdoors, with plenty of shade. Up and down the coasts of Samui, there are many places, but relatively few can beat what RockPool offers its guests.
Situated at Kanda Residences Samui, a few kilometres north of Chaweng as you head towards Choeng Mon, the location couldn’t be better. Buggies take diners down to RockPool via winding flower-filled lanes. Once at the restaurant there's a choice between an elegantly tented dining room and a tiered terrace that steps down towards the water. Views are of the rocky coastline, with mysterious Koh Matlang, just a kilometre away. The sea is an ever-changing spectacle, varying between turquoise and at times an almost cobalt blue, but always lapping against the rocks beneath the restaurant. The coast here is a haven of tranquillity, and there are no crowds at all. It’s a decidedly romantic venue, as you can imagine, but it’s also one that’s never too hot thanks to the cooling sea breezes. Ideal for even the sunniest and hottest of days.
How to get around the communication barrier when ordering Thai food.
It’s a scene I won’t forget – a group of Japanese tourists. They had stopped a woman. There was some pointing and waving of maps. She nodded and started chattering at them in English. Blank looks. So she began all over again, slower this time, yelling every word clearly and distinctly, with predictable results. The next person did much better. She made sketches on their map, pointed and gestured, shook her head for ‘no’ and nodded for ‘yes, pantomimed driving, pointed at her watch to indicate time, held up fingers for numbers and had them all grinning like madmen in no time at all.
Communication happens in different ways. Even people with the same native language have problems. So over here, in Thailand, there are things you should know. English is the common tongue here for all nationalities. But you need to understand the Thai people. Not so much regarding the language, but about Thai society, their education and English skills, what words are common in both languages (‘menu’ and ‘burger’ for instance) and, generally, how to respond, and the attitude you need to get the best results.
How one of Samui’s best local seafood restaurants has stood the test of time and gone from strength to strength.
Samui’s got secrets. It’s always had them. Today they’re harder to keep. But 25 years ago, life was simpler – no smart phones or social media to spread the word; few people even had a cell phone. But there was one particular manager of a 5-star resort who’d thought about this. He’d drawn out by hand a detailed map of the island and added things to it. Often he’d get new staff coming from the mainland who didn’t know Samui. And then he’d sit with them, with this little map, and go over it with them in detail.
It showed the best seafood restaurants on the island, and all of them were Thai. Some were hidden away off an unmarked path that led to the beach. Others were in the middle of the jungle. Groups of tiny open-sided huts with strings of lights that looked like fairyland. Nobody there could speak English, and sometimes there wasn’t even a menu; visitors just asked for what they wanted, and usually got it. Sadly this delightful aspect of Samui life has all but vanished now. But there is one name on that map which still survives. And it’s Sabeinglae.
Samui has plenty of yummy alternatives to meat, fish and dairy produce.
A vegetarian's paradise? The lush, loamy soils of Thailand produce huge crops of every kind of hothouse fruit and vegetable. Visit any market in Thailand, and you'll find a huge amount of fresh produce. The stalls are piled high day in and day out. The market is a great place to start if you're a vegetarian and new to the country. You can stock up on some of the nature’s most exotic bounty for very little money.
So far so good. But once you find yourself eating out, you'll see that pork, chicken and beef seem to be present in about half the dishes. Then there’s the seafood. Plenty of it, too. But don’t despair and above all don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you're doomed to eating nothing more than rice, noodles, fruit and veg. It can be a little tricky getting the hang of vegetarian food in Thailand, but if you persevere you'll have plenty of variety in your diet.
A lot of food in Thailand is cooked from scratch at the time of ordering. There are many advantages to that, not least that the food is totally fresh. But for vegetarians it can be an extra boon, since you can explain to the waiter or waitress exactly what you want in the dish and what you don’t want. A good restaurant should then be able to take all your wishes into consideration, and produce the dish that you’d ideally like. There can however be a bit of a language problem to explain all of this, but in most cases, people understand. On Samui, as with all areas that have many holidaymakers, restaurants are used to vegetarians and can usually cater for them. With a few tips under your belt, you're in for a good time as a vegetarian or vegan.
Thai cuisine is pretty popular these days (to put it mildly), and lots of visitors to the island already know even before their plane has landed what they're going to be eating. For some it’ll be pad Thai, for others a green or red curry, and for still others tom ka gai. All lunch and dinner fare. Very few people will even mention breakfast. Even some of the most avid fans of Thai food may have difficulty in defining exactly what a Thai breakfast is. The thing about Thai breakfasts is that they're certainly more than the sum of their many parts – if only we knew what those parts were. The truth is that for most visitors to the country the Thai breakfast is a mystery. How come?
Firstly it’s because you never see signs saying ‘Thai breakfast here’ – it’s almost as though it doesn’t exist. Or perhaps it’s pushed to the side by that mighty culinary juggernaut, the western breakfast: a fry-up featuring sausages, eggs, toast ... and well, you know the rest. From a cardiologist’s point of view it’s an eye-brow raiser of the worst kind, yet it’s almost universally craved. Ever stayed in an international hotel that doesn’t serve it?
The ancient Egyptians were buried with lots of them. And the Babylonians believed that chewing its seeds before they went into battle would make them invincible. On the other hand, in Greek mythology, Persephone ate just six seeds and was condemned to spend six years in the Underworld. It was the personal emblem of the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximillian. The French called it a ‘grenade’, because it looked like one. They then went on to name the island of Grenada after it. Also the drink, grenadine and the gemstone known as the garnet. And today, the pomegranate has become so popular that Starbucks introduced a pomegranate frappuccino in its honour.
Unlike most tropical fruits, this one’s been known for a very long time – ever since history started being recorded, in fact. It’s a native of the warmer, Mediterranean areas, and there are references to it throughout Greek and Roman history, myth and legend. And in the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, it crops up all over the place. It even plays a part in the Creation Myth of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. In translation, Genesis refers to it as an apple, but that was a convenience – something that the masses could relate to. Apples didn’t exist in the place and time that the ancient texts were created. Yes, the ancestral tree of the pomegranate is certainly laden with the fruit of symbolism
Jewish tradition teaches that the pomegranate is a symbol of righteousness, because it’s said to have 613 seeds – which corresponds with the 613 commandments of the mitzvoth of the Torah. For this reason (and others) Jews eat pomegranates to celebrate one part of their new year – Rosh Hashanah. The Greeks are pretty keen on it, too. It features in their weddings and funerals, and is the traditional first gift to be brought to the owners of a new house; it’s seen as a symbol of abundance, fertility and good luck. Even the Koran refers to pomegranates as one example of the good things God creates – and which was once a fruit found in the Garden of Paradise.
From the moment curious humans began putting goblets to their lips, they have challenged themselves to describe the experience of consuming wine. And it has not been easy. What does a wine smell like, anyway? And how does it taste? Does it remind you of fruit or flowers, or mushrooms and brambles? Possibly those metaphors are too literal and mundane. Maybe the overall effect is of a symphony orchestra, or a Jimi Hendrix guitar solo, or crumpled sheets the morning after something special. You could, of course, just say, “it smells like grapes and tastes like wine” but you‘d be laughed out of the posh wine tasting club. And to differentiate among wines, even if just for yourself, you should, at least, have to make the effort. Trouble is, most efforts focus solely on aromas and flavours, which seems to make sense because they are a wine‘s most immediately striking characteristics.
But another important distinguishing feature is not detectable by eyes, nose or taste buds. That is texture - the tactile sense of wine on the mouth, tongue and throat. If it’s difficult to find words for the aromas and flavours of wine, how much tougher it is to describe the feel, or even, emotion.