Going Native – Joining the locals at Khao Man Gai Go Loong.

Going Native

Our Going Native series looks at some of Samui’s lesser known eateries. Some of the simplest places serve remarkably good food. Unfortunately you may not even notice them. Not every restaurant blows its culinary trumpet, and not all are easy to find. If you go to Khao Man Gai Go Loong in Chaweng, you’ll find dependably good dishes – you just need to know how to find it.

Something that strikes everyone about this restaurant is how spotlessly clean it is. You really could, for example, eat straight off the stainless-steel tables – it’s pristine here. Staff are always cleaning up when they’re not cooking and serving, and the restaurant is a monument to cleanliness, even though it’s on the main road and is open to the elements.

Going NativeIt’s a humble eatery, friendly and workaday, with plastic chairs, and fans for cooling. If you know Thailand you’ll know that there are thousands of restaurants just like this, offering simple dishes in a friendly setting. They’re family-run businesses with varying degrees of quality, but here, that quality is definitely on the high side. The restaurant name sounds a little unwieldy to foreign ears, but translates as ‘Go Loong’s chicken rice’. Go Loong is the present owner’s father; the restaurant is named in his honour.

Most people who come here are locals who live or work in the immediate area, a busy part of Chaweng. They’re mostly Thai people, along with a few foreigners who know about the place. The restaurant’s right on the ring-road, about a kilometre south of Tesco-Lotus. If heading south, go past the traffic lights, and be prepared to stop close by the third 7-Eleven you see on the right-hand side. Khao Man Gai Go Loong is right next door to Pepenero Italian Cuisine. There’s plenty of parking off-road. Opening hours are long; you can eat here any time from 7:00 am till 3:30 pm. Normally the restaurant’s open every day, but occasionally you’ll find it closed for a holiday.

Going NativeKhun Samat, the owner, manager and chef, used to have a similar restaurant in his home town of Nakhon Sri Thammarat. It belonged to his parents who taught him everything about cooking. He eventually took over from them, and later decided to move the restaurant to Samui. What made him do that? Khun Samat says, “I came to Koh Samui for a visit and found that the style of chicken I cook wasn’t really so well done here. So I decided to come here, and first set up in Tesco-Lotus, just up the road.” That was 11 years ago, but for the last two, he’s been in the present location. He’s basically making the same dishes that his family made back at home, and judging from all the people who come in to eat, he’s very successful. Indeed, the food is very tasty. Prices remain extraordinarily cheap, and you can eat a dish such as chicken on rice for as little as 50 Baht. Water comes free – help yourself to the pitcher on the table; the staff will bring a glass with ice. Or you can have bottled water or other soft drinks at minimal price.

There are just nine dishes, along with soup. It’s a very small menu, but Khun Samat and his team simply stick to what they’re expert at. The simplest dish is the understated, yet ever popular, boiled chicken, which comes atop rice. There’s also a clear soup that comes with the dishes, or you can opt for a delicious noodle soup. As well as boiled chicken, you can have it breaded and fried, which gives it quite a different taste, or you can have pork on rice, either red pork, crispy pork or pork leg.

Whatever you decide to have, it’ll be cooked right at the front of the restaurant. You can see chickens hanging there in a glass-fronted case. Everything is prepared on a gas-fired burner. When you’re sitting down you can see the cooks working, chopping and dicing and making food for whoever comes in. Many people sit at the tables to eat, but some just come for takeaway, to eat in their offices or homes nearby. The staff don’t really speak English but there’s no issue, as there’s a menu on the far wall in both Thai and English. In addition there are also pictures and English descriptions right above the food counter, too, so it’s really no problem when it comes to language. It’s an extremely friendly place and there’s no need to feel even the slightest inhibitions.

Going NativeEach table gleams with cleanliness as we’ve mentioned already, but on each you’ll find a set of condiments. The restaurant makes its very own rich dark brown sauce to go with the chicken. It’s a little spicy, but not overmuch so. You’ll also find a sweet soy sauce that adds a piquancy to chicken. Try either one, or both – they have totally different tastes. In addition, you’ll see each table has a small dish of garlic cloves and tiny green chillies. Simply add to your dish. The chillies, by the way, aren’t as powerful as they look. Certainly not mild, but not too fiery either. Caution’s advised if you’re not used to hot spices, however.

The dishes by themselves are mild, and it’s up to you to spice them up as you wish. If you’ve had your fill of fiery heat, then head to a place like this which proves the point that not all Thai food is spicy. Children come here to eat, some not much older than toddlers, and seem to get along with the food just fine.

Popular amongst the locals, Khao Man Gai Go Loong deserves to be better known, and once you’ve had a meal here, you’re sure to want to come back and try another dish or two. The restaurant’s a brilliant find.

Dimitri Waring