Jan 02 2012

Food on Thailand’s Ko Lipe

Published by at 8:49 am under Andaman Sea islands

Cast relatively far out in the Andaman Sea, the tiny southwestern Thai island of Ko Lipe is geographically little more than a sliver of sand ringed by picturesque, coral-studded seas. Unlike similar islands of this size, however, Lipe has developed not into a typical resort island with lacklustre, overpriced food, but a true international enclave with a rich and eclectic mix of outstanding international and Thai cuisines. If you love food, you’re in for a pleasant surprise on Lipe.

"Where should we go for dinner?" Not now I'm adjusting my snorkel."

"Where should we go for dinner?" "Not now, I'm adjusting my snorkel."

Due to the large number of foreigners living and working on Lipe, and the fact that most of the local inhabitants are culturally distinct Chao Lae people, the island can feel like its own private little territory. If you forget for a minute you’re still in Thailand it may be time to head to one of the island’s excellent Thai kitchens.

Located towards the Sunrise beach end of Walking Street, Nee Papaya started out as a modest stand selling only som tam and gai yang (grilled chicken), but owner Nee now has a lively 30-plus seat restaurant that churns out traditional and delicious Thai favourites like tom yum, green curry, and rad na noodles along with with Nee’s signature unripe papaya salad, all at budget prices. Warning: if you ask for something spicy, be prepared.

Slow cooked massaman curry at Marooned: Stuck on an Island.

Slow cooked massaman curry at Marooned: Stuck on an Island.

A couple doors down from Nee Papaya, the new restaurant with the long name — Marooned: Stuck on an Island — will make you want to be stuck on Lipe for their “Thai food, Thai style.” Unlike many of Lipe’s seafood barbecues, Marooned serves their grilled fish with a sampling of authentic Thai seafood sauces. They also serve an authentic massaman chicken curry that’s roasted for hours the old fashioned way, so get there for lunch and watch the meat fall off the bone.

While Nee Papaya and Marooned offer traditional Thai food, some of Lipe’s kitchens have moved towards a creative Thai-international fusion style. Lavoy Restaurant on Pattaya beach offers a unique spicy cashew salad that makes the perfect mid-afternoon snack, and over on Sunrise beach the gang at Castaway Resort whips up a tempura-battered, fried som tam that’s ridiculously yummy.

Castaway's fried som tum; I hereby profess my love for whoever came up with this.

Castaway's fried som tam; I hereby profess my love for whoever came up with this.

A reflection of the relatively large number of Spaniards and Italians living on Lipe, there’s some outstanding Mediterranean cuisine to be found. On Sunrise beach, Paella Spanish Seafood has a great beachside Spanish barbecue, and The Box on Walking Street is the place for tasty tapas.

On the Italian side of things, La Luna, located on a sidestreet off Walking Street, offers pasta and sauces made from scratch, including a massive beef lasagne that’s to die for. Expensive but worth every baht, La Luna is a good choice for a candlelit dinner for two. Blue Tribes Resort on Pattaya beach employs an elderly Italian chef who makes some mean, home-style Italian food, and La Italia Pizzeria at the end of Walking Street near Sunrise beach (behind Ricci House Resort, look for the big Italian flag) is worth the walk for its perfectly crisp wood fired pizza that’s hands down the best I’ve tried in Thailand.

Fettucine bolognese at La Luna. Somebody stop me!

Fettucine bolognese at La Luna. Somebody stop me!

Rounding out the international and eclectic, Lipe’s only Indian restaurant — Charie Papa near Sunrise beach — is solid if you’re craving some nan and masala, and you won’t be disappointed by the T-bone steak and fries at Pooh’s on Walking Street.

Ko Lipe has no shortage of bakeries, and a yummy sandwich or sinful treat is never far away. Cafe Lipe on Pattaya beach wins a prize for its enormous, deli-style sandwiches made to perfection on their own fresh baked breads. Air-conditioned Harmony Bed and Bakery near Sunrise beach has some indulgent crusty croissants, and Pee Pee Bakery right on Walking Street offers apple and strawberry filled doughnuts that are stacked with home-made filling. May as well accept it now — you will be unable to resist Pee Pee’s streetside window display.

Coffee landscape at Elephant Bar. Is this really a tiny, distant island?

Coffee landscape at Elephant Bar. Is this really a tiny, distant island?

Finally, Elephant Bar and Books on Walking Street feels like it was plucked out of a trendy San Francisco neighbourhood and dropped on Lipe. Aside from having Lipe’s best coffee and an ambience that sucks you in and makes you want to stay for a while, Elephant has excellent crusty grilled cheddar cheese sandwiches with potato salad, and chocolate brownies that will make you want to sing for joy; this is perfectly acceptable since Elephant has plenty of guitars lying around and there’s usually a low-key sing along going on anyway.

So if you’re headed to Ko Lipe this year, make sure to venture from your guesthouse or resort and dabble in the island’s food scene. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself daydreaming of som tam in the sun, or coming up from the deep a little early for some fettucine.

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