April sees the Thai New Year and the watery-celebrations of Songkran.
A holiday break is special. You can come to Thailand any time you want. But how many of you have come here this month just because of Songkran? If you haven’t then you’re in for a shock! But if you have, then you’ll know what it’s all about. But do you know how it all began? Or what the water really represents? Today’s festivities now have turned into the world’s biggest water fight, and this year it all starts on the 13th April.
Songkran is such a big event that the rest of the month may seem dull in comparison. Not so! Not on Samui. When all the excitement has faded away, then is the time to get out and about and discover what we’re most-famous for – our food. Not just the local eateries, but every kind of cuisine and all sorts of dining, from beachside barbecues to 5-star Silver Service. Samui is a gourmet’s delight, and we’ll spotlight those little off-the-track places, too – if they’re good enough!
Every month there’s something new at Samui Wining & Dining!
Fancy a traditional Brazilian Easter lunch? Head for RockPool where a dedicated duo of cooks will bring you perfection.
It’s said these days that when it comes to food, you can now find everything in Thailand. But the story’s still not complete. There are still items that you just can’t find here. The only option: bring them yourself. Pack everything into your luggage and hope nothing gets broken, damaged or spoiled. A little while ago, a traveller came through Bangkok airport with an array of goods that no supplier in Bangkok possesses. They were all Brazilian staples, exactly the type that are eaten at Easter. Their destination? RockPool, where they’re going to go into possibly the island’s most exuberant Easter lunch. Some 60 guests will be treated to a spectacular meal that will be hard to find outside Brazil.
The traveller in question is Luci Leonardi Varin, who’s a native Brazilian and completely new to Thailand. Yet, for all that, if you've ever eaten at RockPool, you'll already have come under her influence, without being the least aware of it.
Luci turns out to be the mother of RockPool’s executive chef, Lucas Leonardi Varin, and his chief inspiration when it comes to cooking. “It was my mother,” he says, “who got me into cooking. She’s brilliant at it, though she has had no formal training. She always loves making new dishes, and she’s very influenced by Brazil’s cosmopolitan heritage. I grew up with her cooking: we had food from all round the world. In part, I'm simply passing that on to my guests here.”
Nora Beach Resort has mastered the buffet format and turned it into an art!
Let’s get right to the point: there are two sorts of buffets. The first is the kind of mass-catering you’ll find at a cheap wedding. And the other is the sort you’ll experience at Nora Beach Resort & Spa. These are the two extremes, and they’re as different as chalk and cheese. Sadly, though, there are some people who hear the word ‘buffet’ and cringe. These are the ‘buffet victims’; those people who have had bad experiences with bad buffets in the past. And the best cure here is to go along to Nora Beach and find out what a quality beach buffet is really all about.
It wasn’t so long ago that Nora Beach was generally reckoned to have the finest beach buffets on the island. In fact they still probably do in terms of the overall quality and cost; it’s just that they only hold two of these super sessions every week now. At one time this was six nights a week, and each one on a different theme. Truly, Nora had elevated these to a high art; an alternative form of quality evening dining that was ideally-suited to a warm tropical evening.
The resort itself is extensive, and situated at the very northern end of Chaweng Beach Road, where the rocky hillside begins. This means that the grounds are laid out on lots of little terraces that the villas and walled cottages sit on, with a little twisty lane around them all for the golf buggies to navigate. This land drops as it gets closer to the beach. And then you’ll round a bend and have the sea in front of you, with Prasuthon restaurant just out of sight behind the trees on your left.
The Terrace at The Passage Samui is the ideal location for romantic dinners and more besides.
The Terrace has geared up to offer all manner of food and drink that’s been expressly designed to woo romantic couples, honeymooners and the just-wed. The beautifully situated restaurant is the ideal choice for many who come here seeking a relaxed dining experience in a maritime setting.
It is located at The Passage Samui, between Nathon and Bang Po, a tranquil stretch of coast that guarantees peace and calm. In addition, the resort is set a good half kilometre down a windy little lane and is remote from all traffic. There are no in-your-face signs suggesting you take that turning, and no pretension once you arrive at your destination. It’s quiet during the day, but once evening comes a hush descends over the entire area, which takes on a stillness of its own. The resort is chic in an understated way, and has a subtle glamour of its own. People love staying here – it’s very easy to feel totally at home here within a few minutes of arriving. Staff are friendly and welcoming, and if you're a repeat visitor, they'll certainly remember you from your last visit.
The Terrace consists of an open-sided dining room that’s spacious and elegant, as well as extremely comfortable. It opens out to, yes, indeed, a terrace, a favourite place to sit and watch those beautiful sunsets – the restaurant and beach both face due west. There are also views of the picturesque islands of the Angthong Marine Park in the distance. It’s a wonderful place for a cocktail or long drink while you gaze out at the magnificent views as the day fades, and the stars come out.
Make it yourself: Easy larb gai, or spicy minced chicken salad.
Larb is a dish that goes back a long, long way and no-one knows how it began. The dish was eaten by the Tai people, as historians call them, who lived in the north of Thailand and neighbouring Laos, but who could also be found in China and Myanmar. Larb has survived the passage of time, and remains one of Thailand’s most popular recipes. Over the border in today’s Laos, it’s no less in demand, and some refer to it as the nation’s national dish.
To say larb is versatile is a total understatement. It can be made in a huge variety of ways, and much depends on the area where you're eating it. It’s basically a spiced meat dish, and the meat can be variously pork, beef, chicken, duck, or even buffalo. Fish can also be used. If you're a vegetarian, no worries at all when it comes to larb, as the dish adapts well to chopped tofu, or more or less any kind of mock meat.
Larb’s variations aren’t just confined to ingredients; the very way the word is transliterated from the Thai to English gives rise to a bewildering number of alternatives just to the way it’s spelled. Google it up for yourself and you'll also find lahb, lahp, laarb, laahp, laab and so on. No one way is more correct than any other. The general procedure is to first settle on the meat you'll use, and then get creative with the spices. There’s no right or wrong here, but the stars of the larb show are definitely mint and chilli. Chinese five spice, lemongrass, coriander and a host of others may also make an appearance. The basic idea is to make the dish hot and spicy and then cool it down with plenty of raw, crunchy vegetables.
Discover the secrets of Thai cooking at Olivio restaurant.
Much more than just a cooking class, Thai Spice at Baan Haad Ngam Boutique Resort and Villas’ Olivio restaurant offers a rich and interactive immersion into Thailand’s world famous gastronomy, renowned for its artistry and balance between the four very unique flavours of salty, sweet, spicy and sour.
Select either of the two culinary programmes and you’ll learn about Thai cuisine’s cultural significance, health benefits, indigenous ingredients and cooking equipment, as well as convenient replacements to use when you are back at home. Choose from a select menu of authentic regional dishes from across Thailand, and cook your favourites in a step by step class at Olivio restaurant, situated right alongside a quiet area of Chaweng Beach, with amazing views across the translucent and perfectly turquoise sea.
Chef Chay, who originally qualified in electronics at a technical college, has been the chef at Olivio restaurant since it first opened, in 2003. He has a charismatic personality, with a great sense of humour. He jokes that he cooks great Thai and Italian food (having learnt the authentic Italian cuisine from an expert chef), but can also fix the kitchen blender or stereo!
It’s actually very easy to master Thai table manners.
Even though you're in a country that’s probably very far from your own, and which is renowned for being exotic, table manners aren’t so different to those back at home. And there's further good news in the fact that Thais are extremely tolerant, and are aware that holidaymakers are bound to make a few faux-pas when it comes to eating.
There are a few things to know, however, and the first of them is that unless you're eating in a western-style restaurant in Thailand, you're probably not going to see many knives in evidence. No matter whether you're eating at a night market stall or dining in a top-notch Thai restaurant, you'll be given a spoon and fork. Always use just the spoon for eating. Use the fork to guide the food onto the spoon. You'll find this arrangement quite practical most of the time. If you're tempted to eat with the fork, ask yourself how you feel back home when you see someone eating food off a knife – it’s the western equivalent in bad etiquette. And, by the way, Thais don’t normally eat with chopsticks – unless they're eating noodles.
Thailand is a very convivial country, and people are used to eating together as strangers. If you're in a supermarket food court or small eatery, you may find yourself facing lots of packed tables. Where to sit? Just take a seat anywhere that looks free, perhaps nod and smile before you sit down, but definitely don’t do a high-wattage big grin. If you're not sure if the seat’s spare, then raise your eyebrows in a silent ‘OK?’ gesture. Once you've made yourself comfortable, don't try to engage your new neighbours in conversation, however. Thais are used to being by themselves in crowded spaces and chatting isn’t expected.
Barbecue time in Mongolia. It’s not like at home, where it’s sausages on a grill and the cooking is of the genteel kind that doesn’t scare off the faint-heated. Your Mongolian cooking manual gives the following easy-to-follow yet disquieting instructions: ‘Slaughter a young goat and eviscerate it. Next take whatever spices and vegetables you have to hand and stuff it with these. Then stuff as many heated rocks into the carcass as you can, to allow the goat to cook from the inside. Place on the barbecue, if you have one, to heat through from the outside and to burn off the animal’s fur. Otherwise use a blowtorch instead.’
That’s pretty clear. As a variant you can substitute a marmot for a goat. What you're cooking, ‘boodog’, is just one example of a Mongolian barbecue, where hot stones are perfectly acceptable instead of a fire. Incidentally, when the cooking is done, the stones are taken out first and given to everyone present. They rub the warm, greasy stones between their palms as it’s a widespread belief that this ritual will boost energy and take away tiredness. For an equally smoky treat, Mongolians savour a type of barbecued meat that they call ‘khorkhog’; it’s to be found from one end of the country to the other. It is usually made with mutton, which is cooked inside a pot containing hot rocks, which in turn is heated on an open fire.
The Ultimate Seafood Barbecue at Buri Rasa Village Samui offers a superlative treat in beautiful surroundings.
It wasn’t so long ago that when you stayed on Samui, most resorts would put on exactly the same fare night after night. You couldn’t blame them: things had to be kept simple, because supplies weren’t so easy to obtain; a single night boat provided everything. Nowadays, all that has changed, and Samui offers its guests everything when it comes to dining. Once a rarity, buffets, with their wide-ranging treats, have now become quite commonplace, and tend to liven up anyone’s hotel stay. Better still, they're all open to non-guests. Everyone is welcome, in other words.
But not all buffets are created equal. A few seem to have a primary focus on nigh impossible to find foodstuffs while a few others go to the opposite extreme, offering a rag-bag of offerings from the local market that are negligently thrown together. Samui tends to do buffets well, so these are the exceptions. In between, however, there are scores of different variations on the buffet theme, making it really hard to pick which one to go to.
At Buri Rasa Village, you'll find a buffet that’s run by one of the island’s longest-standing chefs, Don Lawson, who also helps lead the island’s Culinary Circle, and seems to be the go-to guy for just about anything to do with food and drink. He has a serious pedigree when it comes to making great food, and was snapped up by the Rasa Hospitality Group, which runs Buri Rasa; he’s now the culinary manager, overseeing everything in the group’s six properties. This means that he’s often travelling, and has to be able to come up with ideas that his teams can implement. As you can imagine, he makes sure that those teams are expert in all that they do. For the buffet, he sat down with the executive chef, Khun Somkid Pokkuntod, and put together ideas for what to have. Khun Somkid had plenty of ideas, according to Don, and they worked together with Khun Suchart Thongyoi, the food and beverage manager, to perfect all the food for the buffet. It involved a lot more than just the choice of food; equally important was how it was to be made and presented.
The delightful restaurant at Banana Fan Sea Resort is another one of those hidden gems we keep finding for you!
Take a stroll along Chaweng Beach Road. At first it’s perhaps a bit confusing. It’s full of shops, stalls, restaurants, pubs, bars, massage places and a whole load more besides. But after a while you’ll start to notice things. For instance, all but a small handful of the resorts are located on one side – the side that runs on to the beach. There’s quite a distance between the road and the beach, and some of these resorts have a very wide frontage, too. But the one thing they’ve all got in common is that you can’t see inside. There are probably 100 resorts here of all shapes and sizes. But you can’t see into them like you can with the restaurants and shops.
And that means you’ll just keep walking past them. There might be some of the finest restaurants and spas on the island tucked away here, but unless you have a good reason to go inside, you’ll never know. Well that’s something we can fix right away. Because when you get to the delightfully-named Banana Fan Sea Resort, slow down. Walk up the steps and smile your way through reception, following the path towards the sea. You’ll come out by the side of the pool, so follow the path around the pool to your right. And the very good reason you are doing this is that you’ll then come right into the resort’s signature restaurant, Baitong.
Baitong restaurant is typically tropical; an open-sided roofed space, in this case on two of its sides. But there are also outer terraces, too, and on some occasions they’ll set up right on the adjoining sand as well. The décor is contemporary; stylish and subtle with rich, sturdy wood, terracotta and natural fabrics, and with live orchids and fresh blooms on the tables to enhance this. And you’ll additionally discover that all the staff are memorable: they’re really friendly and helpful, and will go out of their way to assist you and put you at your ease. In fact, after a while, you’ll genuinely begin to feel you’re part of some kind of family – it’s that relaxed.
The Siam Residence is all tied up in blue ribbons.
When we see or hear the term ‘cordon bleu’, our minds immediately go directly to food, and quite probably French food, as the term is most commonly applied to cuisine, and the wording is from that language. But have you ever considered the literal translation or the origins of the term? And if you have, just how is it relevant to food?
Cordon bleu translates literally into English as blue ribbon. According to Larousse Gastronomique, cordon bleu originated back in the 16th century, when King Henri III of France established L'Ordre des Chevaliers du Saint-Esprit (Order of the Knights of the Holy Spirit). From 1578 to 1789, it was the most exclusive order in France, and each of its knighted members were awarded the Cross of the Holy Spirit, which hung from a sky-blue ribbon, known as Le Cordon Bleu. All members had to be at least 35 years old and Roman Catholic, but there were a few exceptions based on royal connections. These 100 knights were then called Les Cordon Bleus.
So, how did this term become related to food? Well, after elaborate ceremonies for these highly-respected knights, there were huge sumptuous banquets held in their honour. Over time, these feasts became legendary for their prestigious and high-quality food. By extension, the term has since been applied to cuisine prepared to a very high standard and to outstanding chefs. It is surmised that the analogy no doubt arose from the similarity between the blue ribbons worn by the knights and the generally blue ribbons or ties of a cook's apron. For anyone who has ever attended a country fair in The United States or Europe, it is generally the ’blue ribbon’ that everyone wants to earn. Whether it was for the biggest pumpkin or the best apple pie, if you earned the blue ribbon, you were the best of the best.
"So they took it away, and were married next day By the turkey who lives on the hill. And they dined on mince, and slices of quince, Which they ate with a runcible spoon."
Extract from ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’ by Edward Lear (1812 – 1888).
What on earth is runcible? And who took what away? And what’s quince? Who wrote this stuff anyway? And runcible doesn’t mean rusty, either (it’s actually a fork curved like a spoon, with three broad prongs, one of which has a sharpened outer edge for cutting). And, a quince is a sort of bitter apple – unless it’s a tropical quince, that is. And then – well actually it’s quite sweet.
Well, that was a different way to begin this month’s Tropical Pick. We aim to please (if not to annoy). And so, without further ado, let’s go and look at the santol. Or maybe not. First let’s consider cashew nuts.
Fact: nuts grow inside shells or husks, which are the fruit of trees. Peanuts, chestnuts, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts – they’re all the same. Except for cashew nuts. With this one, the fruit comes up looking like an apple. And then, a little lump appears on its wrinkled bottom. A few weeks later, this lump becomes recognisable as a baby cashew nut – growing outside, on the surface. It’s one of nature’s less serious fruits. Nature, being fickle and liking a joke now and again, decided to have some fun – and so created a whole family of similar fruit trees – the Meliaceae family. And the cashew is one of the members of this family.
Religion and food are bound together in lots of different ways.
Catholics don’t eat meat on a Friday, Muslims can’t eat pork, Hindus say no to beef and Rastafarians are vegetarians. And I’m leaving Buddhists until last, because we’re in Thailand, and that’s something different again! All regions, all over the world, have do’s and don’ts when it comes not simply to beliefs, but to what food is and isn’t allowed, too. Well, at least, that’s the theory. But in many cases it’s not observed everywhere or, at least, not all of the time.
On the surface of things, it’s all very confusing. But that’s because there are all sorts of things muddled-in and tied together. Firstly, there are the roots of it all; each of them different in different religions. Then there are practical reasons woven-in with ethics. On top of that there are symbolic aspects – some items have evolved to become icons of different elements of a particular faith. And then there are all the different degrees of observance, as opposed to strict fundamentalists – for example, I’ve known Muslims (in many parts of the world) who have been quite happy to take a drink now and again, Buddhists who aren’t too concerned about killing animals, and Christians who never go to church.
To begin to get to grips with the thinking about food, diet, and religious beliefs, we need to go back to where it all began. Almost all of the major religions started to evolve between two and three thousand years ago. There were no systems of food preservation other than drying and salting, and even this depended on the subsequent conditions of storage. There was no understanding of our bodies and the way they functioned, and what was needed to maintain growth and health. Nor was anything known about the causes of disease and the way in which they spread. Back then, all of this was supposition and guesswork, and it varied from continent to continent, and from culture to culture.
Dr Frogs Bar & Grill commands an amazing view while spoiling diners with top-quality food and drink.
Craving Italian food? If you're on Samui then you won’t have far to look before you come across a dependable Italian restaurant – there are many. Most are good, too. But if you're looking for a really superlative place to eat and drink, with affordability in mind, then there are far fewer. And still fewer if you'd like a great location too.
Dr Frogs Bar & Grill, just south of Chaweng on the ring-road, offers the entire combination of great tastes, good prices and a beautiful setting. Walk in through the door and you find yourself in a dining room that has a massive wooden decked terrace, from where you can look out over the entire bay of Chaweng. The blue of the sea is incomparable, and contrasts the strips of white sand beach in the distance. But despite the distinctly tropical surroundings, the feel of the restaurant itself is totally Italian. And that’s not because it’s filled with scads of Italian knick-knacks (there aren’t any), it’s completely down to the team who’re in charge of Dr Frogs; they make it what it is. Massimo Marianni is in charge of the cooking, while Simone Marchiori is the food and beverage manager here. They come from the same area in Italy, and their parents were friends before they were. They indulge in a lot of light-hearted banter, and it really feels if you're in some laid-back restaurant back in Italy.
Ever been in a riot? Taking to the streets has always been a last, desperate attempt to persuade the ruling powers to implement immediate changes. The causes of riots are usually drastic. But perhaps one of the strangest riots ever to take place was over a simple drink - gin. It took place in 18th century England. The rioters wanted access to it; the government wanted it controlled. To modern ears it sounds frivolous, but it was far from it.
The government had let things get out of hand. From 1689, they had promoted distilling as they wanted to increase trade with their colonies and to prop up low grain prices. They were utterly successful, and the distilling of gin got completely out of hand. There was no quality control, and frequently the drink was mixed with, of all things, turpentine. To get a licence to distil gin was easy; people just had to apply and wait ten days. The drink became ever more popular and was beloved of the poor, who were able to get drunk for little outlay.
Gin Lane, by popular artist William Hogarth, depicts gin drinking as leading to infanticide, starvation, madness, decay and suicide. He wasn’t exaggerating; horrendous crimes were committed not only under the influence of gin, but in order to finance their gin habit. Some people feared that gin would become like opium. By the 1730s, consumption in London had risen to the equivalent of two pints per week per Londoner. The riots took place in 1743, and the government had to lower the licence fees and taxes in order to restore peace. By 1750, over a quarter of all buildings in St Giles parish in London were gin shops, with most doubling as receivers of stolen goods and locales for prostitution. Of the 15,000 drinking establishments in London, not including coffee shops and drinking chocolate shops, over half were gin shops.