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Ko Samui - Search for Southern Curries

Updated: Oct 21, 2021

We'll quickly eat lunch, have a glass of wine, and then explore the nearby Chaweng and Fisherman Village. It was a good plan, based on a thorough study of maps and guides on one of Thailand's most famous island - Ko Samui. The pitfall of Lamai, where I spent the extended weekend, is that any research further makes no sense. A glimpse of the seaside and an alcoholic happy hour at the Black Pearl Restaurant were reason enough for chronic laziness. When I already departed from the Thai capital by night train, which is regularly two hours late, then there is no need to rush. An enjoyable catamaran ride from the provincial capital of Surat Thani reveals the magic of the South Thai coast, and excitement grows with the thought of the mysterious curries that this part of Thailand is known for.

Samui gathers all kinds of tourists. Most are middle-aged Europeans and Americans, dressed in lightweight shirts and fiery red in the face of the blazing sun, but families and even backpackers who find it expensive to go to neighbouring Ko Phangan Island, known for fierce partying, can also be found here. The author of this article went for Lamai, a place on the east coast of the island, after spending weeks in congested and hot Bangkok. A light breeze helps with the most-spicy dishes, Chang and Singha beers flow endlessly, and the wine is unusually good and cheap when it comes to Thailand. Above all, the Lamai has a beautiful horizon. There is no land at all from this beach to Borneo Island, more than 1500 kilometres southeast. The problem of such empty spaces is, of course, the high waves, so swimming does not take place according to European standards.

Another wine, and after that goes sightseeing! All this with a smile accompanied by the whole army of employees, in a restaurant with a couple of guests. The place, which is awkwardly named after a movie with Caribbean pirates, instead after the local descendants of the legendary Sandokan, is located directly on a white sandy coast, surrounded by palm trees. There are so many places like this on every corner of the Lamai coast, along with small bars and outdoor Thai massage parlours. A stroll along the coast can take all day, from breakfast overlooking the sun, through the excruciating moans of those unaccustomed to Thai elbows in the back, a pleasant and rich seafood lunch, and ending with the first stars in the sky, because in Thailand it is rare anything works deep into night.

Lunch of the day - Panang curry with seafood. Samui is an island where you can find everything your palate wants, from fried grasshoppers to beluga caviar, but most of the local food is kow gaang or rice and curry. Panang and Massaman are curry types that can be found in southern Thailand and depend on the imagination of the chef. Panang curry usually consists of dried chili peppers, galangal, ginger, lemongrass, kaffir lime zest, kaffir lime leaves, coriander roots, coriander seeds, cumin seeds. Despite its many ingredients, this is one of the simpler curries. In addition to vegetables, meat or seafood, coconut milk goes to Panang, and peanuts, tamari sauce and basil are often found here, and usually Thai people put fish sauce in everything. Panang in Black Pearl is delicious, creamy but not as rare as the typical Thai green and red curry. It is also the sweeter of the two curries and is one of the less spicy Thai foods.

Massaman curry is also popular in Samui as well as in the entire Thai south. This curry is similar to Panang but has a slightly different composition and exudes Indian influence, so cinnamon, anise, cardamom, nutmeg can be found in it. The dish has an interesting history. It emerged as the best blend of Indian and Thai culinary influence in the 17th century at the court in the former Thai capital, Ayutthaya. These spices and their blend were brought to Siam by the Persian merchant Sheikh Ahmad Qomi, who fell in love with Thailand so much that he stayed there, and his heirs became the Thai noble Bunnag family. Still, the name of the curry itself most likely comes from the Malay word masam, which means sour (though this curry is not). In the late 18th century, Prince Itsarasunthon, later King Rama II, wrote a song about Massaman curry in honour of Princess Bunrot, later his wife and queen Sri Suriyendra, and talks about – what else than love going through the stomach! The prince was delighted with the fragrance of cumin and strong spices in the curry made by his love.

"Another glass of wine?" Asks the smiling waiter as the third glass of wine imports from Australia went dry. Suddenly awakened by the daydream of curry preparation at the royal court in Ayutthaya, I refuse, pay lunch, and head to the hotel room. Lamai and its liquids have wasted the seasoned gastro-nomad, who now needs a bit of a breather. The legendary Chaweng, with the longest and most beautiful beach on the island, where the sand is incredibly soft and the sea is surprisingly clear, can wait for the next day.

After all, just ten minutes walk from the hotel is Lamai's greatest natural phenomenon, Hin Ta Hin Yai. Translated, Grandpa and Grandma Rock. Local legend tells of an old couple Ta Kreng (Grandpa Kreng) and Yai Riem (Grandma Riem) who lived with their son in the southern Thai province of Nakhon Si Thammarat. One day they decided that their son had to be married. Therefore, they went to sea towards the neighbouring province of Prachuap Khiri Khan to arrange a wedding with daughter of Ta Monglai. There was a storm during the voyage, and the old couple drowned in the sea. They turned into rocks to show the unmarried bride and her family how they sought to reach them. How do we know that these rocks are their remains? Pardon my language, by the genitals. The pictures speak more than a thousand words, but not a single word tells what happened to the son and whether he remained a bachelor forever. Beautiful views from the cliffs are the perfect place to fill everyone's Instagram, but tasting cocktails at an adjacent bar is only possible if you are shirtless.

Since Samui is an island, the fish is assumed to be excellent. And this is where many tourists are wrong. It is generally the author's opinion that freshwater fish is much better in Thailand than sea fish. Still, going to the Lamai Night Market (consisting of cheap jewellery, souvenirs and clothing) ends with a visit to one of two of Lamai's best seafood restaurants: Mr Dang and Nang and Big Wave. Since I didn't meet Dang and Nang, I went to try the fish offer at Big Wave Restaurant. It was a futile attempt to give sea fish delicacies a chance in Thailand. The barracuda steak with sweet sauce and cooked vegetables was good quality but nothing special. However, all of this will be compensated for the next day, and the Thai massage was well received to forget about the gastronomic “delicacies” of the Gulf of Thailand.

The next morning, it's nice to walk along We Green Farm & Restaurant, a somewhat new concept of eco-production on the island, to the beautiful Russian Orthodox Church of the Assumption of Our Lord. The blue-coloured church serves many Russian tourists as well as Samui residents who have decided to replace Russia's harsh climate with Thailand's subtropical climate. It's Sunday, and the church is full. Sunday in Lamai means something else too - Sunday Night Market!

Unlike the daily cheap flea market, the entire part of Lamai closes on Sundays evenings to give space to trained artists, souvenir sellers, singers and dancers, and - to me, especially interesting - food stalls. With all sorts of sausages, fish, green and yellow curries, the passer-by will be especially pleased with crocodile meat skewers, fried silk worms, grasshoppers and crickets, and a variety of fruits and vegetables to which the name is unknown. The flavours are varied and as a rule depend on the sauces. For curries, it is important to take one that is constantly boiling to make it more comfortable to Western stomachs, and grilled meat can be roasted freely a bit more to kill any unwanted elements of a tropical street. Exotic food with small and disgusting animals is really nothing special - pure wood-flavoured proteins also gain their gastronomic significance with extra spices or as salty chips that can be swallowed in kilos while sipping an excellent Thai beer on the beach.


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