Here’s an interesting fact for you – something like 20% of visitors to Thailand don’t like Thai food. Which to me is a little bit crazy – like going to America but not liking hamburgers. But it appears to be a fact. And the German, Italian and English-style eateries in Chaweng that are full every night seem to bear this out. Personally one of the reasons I came here in the first place was because of the wonderful Thai cuisine. But that doesn’t apply to everyone, or so it would seem!
But, then, here’s a thought for you. You’ve got Thai restaurants in your home town, yes? And you’ve no doubt enjoyed eating there; Thai food is one of the most popular cuisines in the world, after all. And so what did you think of the Thai food when you came over here? Was it the same? Better? Worse? Different?
My point is this: Thai restaurants all over the world change the food they sell to match what they think people want. In European (and American) restaurants you’ll usually find carrots and peas mixed in with the Thai food. One very popular Thai restaurant in New York, Ngam, sets the tables with chopsticks – even though Thais don’t use chopsticks (except for noodle soup) – simply because it’s what their customers expect.
And, so, when you come over here and experience ‘genuine’ Thai food, it can come as a surprise. But then we have to decide on what exactly ‘genuine’ means. So let’s just say it’s what the Thai people themselves eat. And that’s where the element of surprise comes in. Thais add sugar to everything. They frequently use MSG. Their ‘sour’ dishes are very sour indeed. They expect their beef or pork to be chewy, or their chicken to have bits of gristle in it. And you only have to look on TripAdvisor to see this surprise reflected in the comments!
However, for those of you who are seriously after ‘the real thing’, who genuinely want to experience the true taste of Thailand in an unspoiled environment, where there are many unusual and truly southern Thai dishes and the prices are not inflated, then head to Lamai. And drop in to Krua Chao Baan. This unspoiled little eatery is so genuinely Thai that you’ll drive past it because it doesn’t have any sign in English outside! (But it’s big and has a wide frontage with lots of parking space.) Going out of Lamai past the Grandmother and Grandfather Rocks, you’ll see the prominent frontage of Rocky’s Boutique Resort. Just past there is Chill-In Beach Club. And after another hundred metres you’ll see Flamingo Bay Resort –
at which point you will have just passed Krua Chao Baan, which is directly between these two.
If we go back to 15 years ago, then you really would have been ‘going Thai’ because this was the first beachside seafood restaurant in this area, and both the menu and the staff would have been 100% Thai. But today they have ramped-up their interface, and the menu is in Thai and English and most of the staff speak some English too.
It’s pretty! The restaurant is traditional Thai-style, with a wood construction and thatched roofs, forming a U-shape around a central grassed area with a water feature with decorative lighting. It’s in a small cove, right against the sand, but built above the water line with one of the main decks elevated – the restaurant can seat perhaps 100, but it’s big enough to not make things feel crowded. And in traditional Thai-style each of the tables (they can be quickly re-arranged to suit a
larger group) has a trolley next to it for the drinks – the waiters will circulate and top-up your glass as you eat.
And in true Samui style, it’s a family affair, with the owner, Khun Jack, coming from an old and important Samui family, which includes some of the staff, and also the fishermen who bring in and supply the seafood fresh each day.
The menu is extensive, with a great many dishes being featured, and a lot of these are in typical southern-style with creamy sauces, and curries being made with the plentiful coconut milk that typifies dishes from this region. There is a big range of soups, and more than ten sorts of papaya salad (you know from this alone that this is a truly Thai restaurant!). Plus a great many interesting dishes – such as the ‘Krua Chao Baan Omelette’, which is more like a curious egg-cake. Or the ‘Waii Krua’ – a chopped squid dish in gravy. Or the fascinating ‘Hor Muk’ – a curry-custard seafood dish served on a banana leaf.
Even though the menu is divided into European style sections (starters, soups, main dishes etc.), the way to do this is to forget about such conventions and go Thai-style to start with. Decide in advance that you are going to have maybe a soup, a noodle dish, a stir-fry, a curry (the ‘Thick and Creamy Southern-style’ curries are superb!) a whole fish (deep fried, steamed or with garlic and pepper), a selection of king prawns or a crab dish (try the ‘Fried Blue Swimming Crab with Coconut Cream’) and some sides, then get them all on the table in the middle and keep picking a little bit from each to go with your rice.
Yes, they do breakfasts too (open at 10:00 am, close at 10:00 pm), with all the usual suspects such as toast, eggs (lots of different styles), bacon and sausage combos. (Pasta and spaghetti dishes, too.) But don’t be surprised to get chipolatas or
Thai-style toast – warm white bread! And there are sandwiches and burgers, too if that’s what you’re after.
But you can get these things anywhere. What’s special about Krua Chao Baan is that the name means ‘local Thai kitchen’. And that’s exactly what you’ll find – if you’re genuinely after ‘the real thing’, that is!
Rob De Wet
For reservations or further information, telephone 0 7741 8589 or 0 7741 9889.