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Ko Samui

Eat and meet

An introduction to eating on Ko Samui

Samui has no limit in what it offers in the way of dining experiences, bars and clubs. Food ranges from roadside vendors serving up delicious and cheap Thai dishes through to fancy fine-dining establishments. Many expats have relocated to Samui meaning that one can savour authentic cuisine from all over the world. Excellent Italian restaurants can be found in all the main tourist towns, as well as French, German, Indian and even South African style barbecue venues.

Those wanting a Thai experience can choose from small roadside cafes to elaborate Thai buffets complete with traditional Thai dancing, hosted by many of the larger resorts.

Bars, restaurants and clubs line the main drags of Chaweng, Lamai, Bang Rak and Fisherman's Village and to a lesser degree in Choeng Mon and Mae Nam. Options are available in the quieter southern towns, but in that area most restaurants will be in the resorts, or destination venues such as the Five Islands Restaurant.

At night, the beachfronts often convert to romantic dining restaurants, as palm trees are draped with fairy lights and lanterns, restaurants set out seafood buffets, chill-out music sets the vibe and tables are put out at the water's edge.

Street food
On nearly every corner, one can find a small mobile kitchen selling their own speciality; try grilled chicken with sticky rice, noodle soup with an array of flavours, or one of the local spicy sausages, grilled on a stick. Food on a stick is very popular, and why wouldn't it be? No plates or cutlery required, and wooden sticks are biodegradable. It seems you can cook anything on a stick: various forms of meat and sausages, salty fish, squid and little balls of all kinds of things. The enticing aromas from streetside barbecues make it difficult to walk past without your nose twitching in the air like a sniffer dog following a trail.

Fresh fruit, kept cool on crushed ice, is an inexpensive snack at just 10 to 15 baht a portion, or sip on a young coconut, an excellent way to rehydrate. Those with a sweet tooth should make a stop at a roti stand; as the dough-based treat sizzles on the hot grid, select your filling or combination: Nutella, banana, raisins, jam, pineapple and nuts to name a few. A must-try is the combination of banana and Nutella, for around 40 baht. The roti is chopped into squares, and eaten with a toothpick.

For those after a caffeine fix, coffee stands are abundant, and in the tropical heat, an iced cappuccino is a good option, with beans ground and milk frothed while you wait, for around 30 baht. With all the fresh fruit available, it is no wonder that fruit shakes are popular with locals and tourists -- expect to pay 20 to 30 baht. The banana shakes are a great breakfast alternative.

A good place to experience an introduction to street food, with several options in one location, is at one of the walking street night markets. Each town hosts their own market on different days of the week, with the best being at Fisherman's Village on a Friday night and Mae Nam on a Thursday night. At these markets, one can sample kebabs of various sorts, spring rolls, grilled squid, pad Thai, omelettes, deep-fried insects, fried quail eggs, satays with peanut sauce as well as Thai desserts such as banana with sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves and various coconut-based sweets and desserts. Thai children walk around enjoying gelatinous desserts shaved from big colourful jelly blocks. Options are endless, and Western restaurants also put stands outside their venues on market night, expanding the options to global cuisine. Street food is cheap, with satays costing around 20 baht, spring rolls around 10 baht, and a plate of fried quail eggs only 20 baht.

Another version of street food are the "beach kitchens" one finds at the most popular beaches. From a tiny charcoal grill, a cooler box and a small chopping board, the vendor manages to produce a menu of grilled corn on the cob, chopped fresh fruit, spicy papaya salad, grilled chicken, fish and sticky rice. Mr Coppi on Choeng Mon beach does the best grilled corn, laced with butter and spice.

Those wanting to eat like a local should try a Thai-style barbecue, which are nothing at all like the Western type. They are very popular with locals, due to the value for money, eat as much as you like approach -- the cost should come in at about 100 to 140 baht a person on average. A terracotta dish containing hot coals is covered with a domed metal slotted dish, and placed on the table. A chunk of pork fat is placed on the top of the metal dome, and diners are given a kettle of boiling stock to pour into the base of the pan. A buffet offers an assortment of raw meats and vegetables. The idea is that the meat is cooked on the dome, heated by the coals, and greased by the pork fat, and the vegetables are cooked in the trough below, flavoured by the stock.

Self-catering
With street food being so cheap, one has to wonder if it is worth the hassle of shopping and cooking if your accommodation has kitchen facilities. But for those really wanting a home from home experience, shopping at the markets and preparing a meal yourself may be an option. Each town has its own fresh food market, with an array of colourful vegetables and fruit, as well as seafood, chicken and meat. Enjoy browsing the vivid purple eggplants, red fuzzy rambutans, dragon fruit and rows of green and yellow hanging bananas. The meat aisle is generally not for the faint-hearted, with whole pig heads and chickens with feet in the air as if they keeled over in fright. Many of the fresh markets are located next to the fishing villages, and fishermen load their catch straight from the boats to the market. Fresh fish, prawns and squid are a good buy, perfect to prepare on the grill, flavoured with limes, chillies, coriander and garlic.

Samui has its share of supermarkets, and a Family Mart or 7-eleven can be seen on nearly every corner. Larger supermarkets stock every conceivable produce, both local and imported. There are three branches of Tesco Lotus, the main being on the Ring Road where Bophut borders Chaweng, and two smaller branches in Lamai and Nathon, as well as a couple of Tesco Express. Big C is located not far from the main Tesco, as is Macro, where restaurants buy their goods (though it's open to the public). Several speciality delis and bakeries exist, with the best bread coming from the French Bakery, which has two branches on the Ring Road, one in Lamai, and one in Chaweng.

Happening spots
A good party can be found just about anywhere on the island, but the most concentrated party scene is Chaweng. Ark Bar, located on the beach in the centre of Chaweng, has resident DJs that get the crowd going, and Wednesday afternoons they offer free barbecues.

Soi Green Mango is Chaweng's most famous party hotspot, with a huge nightclub vibe as one place flows into the next, and music can be heard pounding from streets away. Reggae Pub is another long-time favourite, as is Christy's Cabaret, where one can see lady boys in elaborate drag shows. Entrance is free, but the drinks are pricey.

Nikki Beach at Lipa Noi on the west coast is another venue where the trendy folk hang out for Sunday brunch or evening cocktails. Beach Republic in Lamai is the east coast's version of the happening spot with their 'Soulful Saturdays Pool Party' and 'Ultimate Sunday Brunch Club' or just chill on the couches for evening cocktails at sunset.

Drinking on Samui
Alcohol, especially imported brands, is pricey in Thailand, especially compared to the price of food. For the same price of a small beer, one can get a good Thai dish. However, if alcohol forms part of your evening entertainment, the following will guide you.

Local brands of beer include Singha, Leo, Tiger, and Chang, with the latter being the cheapest available. The most popular local spirit is known as Sang Som, and although called a whiskey, it is actually a rum. Sang Som forms the base of Thailand's infamous bucket drink, to which is added Coke and Red Bull -- you have an instant party and an inevitable headache. At walking street markets, food stalls are interspersed with cocktail stands offering mojitos and margaritas at 50 to 60 baht. Bartenders fling bottles into the air, and blast out the latest music to draw punters to their stands.

Samui's local rum is Magic Alambic Rum. Brewed from sugar cane and flavoured with local fruits, it is available in some bars, or sample it directly from the distillery in the south of the island.

Alcohol is readily available 24 hours a day from Family Marts and 7-elevens around the island, as well as from the larger supermarkets and wholesalers. A few good wine shops can be found in Chaweng, Lamai and Bophut.

Can't handle the heat?
If you can't quite get your palate to adjust to the heat, remember the Thai phrase, "Mai sai pet", translating to not with chillies. "Pet nitnoi" means just a few chillies, and "Pet maak" a lot of chillies -- bring it!


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