Ko Samui is so big, we've split it up into areas, select one of the below for detailed accommodation and food listings in that area. Sights and general overviews for Ko Samui as a whole can be found via the icons above. Don't know where to start? Read an overview of Ko Samui's different areas.
Flying in to Samui at night, you’ll see an odd green glow over the water. It’s caused by the green fluorescent lights on the squid fishing boats. These lights attract the squid to the surface, making them easier to catch. Squid is dried and eaten as a snack, which is available at most of the markets as well as mobile vendors – it’s an acquired taste. At walking street markets you’ll see whole squid on charcoal grills, a firm favourite with locals.
Another popular and cheap street food is omelette filled with mixed seafood or a prawn pad Thai. Also at the markets you’ll find whole fish, often crusted with salt, slowly turning over an open fire, or steamed and served with a sweet and sour sauce, or local herbs, lime and chilli. Noodle soups, available from many roadside vendors or at food courts, often contain fish balls, or little balls combining prawn and pork.
No matter which restaurant you pick, be it a cheap roadside cafe or a fancy five-star spot in a hotel, there’s bound to be seafood on the menu. The five-star joints sometimes serve seafood that is not sourced locally – which seems a bit bizarre, as there’s so much available right on their doorstep. But if customer demand calls for scallops, even if they’re not from Thailand, then scallops are flown in.
Prawns are caught in the bays off Samui, so can be bought at a reasonable rate from the local markets – ranging from 100 to 300 baht per kilo depending on the size. They can be ordered prepared in various ways, but some of the most popular are simply grilled with black pepper and garlic, breaded and deep fried served with a sweet chilli dipping sauce, in fried rice, or as tom yam goong, a spicy, fragrant clear soup with prawns. For a light and refreshing lunch, try a spicy Thai glass noodle salad with mixed seafood. The Gulf of Thailand doesn’t have lobster, so if you see it on the menu, it’s come in from the Andaman coast — so although not local as such, at least it’s Thai lobster.
If you’ve decided to rent a villa, why not try cooking your own seafood? There are several fresh seafood markets around the island. The fresh market at the end of Bang Rak just before Big Buddha stocks seafood directly from the fishing boats moored right outside, so you know it’s fresh. The Bophut market, near the traffic lights by Fisherman’s Village, also stocks prawns, crabs, whole fish and squid as do the big supermarkets, Macro, Tesco Lotus and Big C. Hua Thanon just south of Lamai is home to the local Muslim community’s fishing village, another good place to buy fresh fish.
If you see ‘horse shit crap’ on the menu (seriously) don’t worry. It’s in fact mistranslated, and should read ‘horse shoe crab’. We’ve spotted several menus with this humorous misprint. If you want to know how this crab got its name, turn a fresh one over at the seafood market, and it looks exactly like the underside of a horse’s hoof. Although not very meaty, it’s a local delicacy.
Fancy a break from the beach? A cooking course at SITCA is great fun and very informative. You’ll learn about the ingredients, prepare the dishes yourself, and then enjoy them afterwards.
If you fancy something a little more special than a roadside cafe, go to one of the many seafront restaurants that line the beaches. It’s best to go in the evening when the beach transforms with fairy lights and lanterns, and restaurants display fresh seafood on ice. Here you usually pay by weight, so be careful if you’re on a budget. Fisherman’s Village and Chaweng beach will have a large variety of restaurants doing seafood barbecues.
On a final note, if you’re allergic to seafood, be sure to tell the waiter, as many Thai dishes contain fish sauce or shrimp paste to flavour, but this can often easily be replaced with soy sauce on request.
By Rosanne Turner
Last updated on 24th March, 2015.