Visitors or new expats arriving on Samui, start out insisting that they will only eat Thai food while in Thailand, after all, it is their favourite back home. This is when the surprise kicks in. Firstly, the gloves come off, as restaurants serve authentic super spicy or ‘maak maak pet’ Southern Thai or Isaan food. Farangs accustomed to ordering it ‘hot’ back home, now realise that the scale of heat vastly differs, and here ‘niknoi pet’ should apply. It’s rather amusing to watch a western guy sitting in a roadside restaurant, trying to impress his new Thai love, and ordering his curry extra spicy. The chef chuckles to himself, and gives him what he asks for, with a smug look on his face as the waiter delivers the fiery plate. Now the farang in question is trying so hard to impress, that he devours the entire plate, beads of sweat dripping from his brow, and countless bottles of water consumed in an attempt to put out the fire. ‘Aroi Maak Maak’, he says, with a grimace that is hard to disguise with a smile, but you can see he is suffering.
The other aspect that is different from Thai restaurants in Thailand, and those westernised versions back home, is that here, the menu descriptions are hit and miss, either only written in Thai at roadside cafes, possibly with pictures that don’t resemble the dish that arrives at all, or a rather strange English version. New farangs used to ordering their old favourites back home, with clear descriptions, decide to venture further than green curry or pad thai - after all, they now live here, and as the saying goes... when in Rome...This adventure often leads to a nasty surprise, usually involving something fermented and odd smelling.
After one has been here a while, our palates change, and like any addiction, the spice is never enough and we become accustomed to the chilli. After a few months, blisters no longer appear on our lips after a good bowl of green curry, and we find ourselves adding chilli to everything.
Something hard to admit to our friends back home, after adamantly insisting on only eating like a local on first arriving , is that some days, we just don’t feel like Thai food. Luckily, with so many expats from all over the world opening restaurants on Samui, we have endless options of authentic cuisine, be it a good Italian pasta or pizza from Cafe Cucina or Antica Loconda, or a steak from Bamboo, The Shack or Zico’s, or some good French bread and cheese. South Africans feeling homesick can even get a ‘boerewors roll’ or ‘bunny chow’ from the Reef Restaurant in Lamai. Endless delis and the newly expanded Macro offer every western ingredient available, sometimes at a price, but nevertheless.
One good western meal is all it usually takes to satisfy the palate for something other than Thai, and then the taste buds start calling out again for the chillies and exotic tastes of Asia. Some of our best meals have been at simple nondescript Thai restaurants or noodle bars that tourists would seldom venture in to, and at a fraction of the price of the fancier establishments. Granted, these places have limited English, so one either needs to know the names of the Thai dishes, or be prepared to take a gamble. All a part of the big adventure... so where are we going for lunch?