Samui has become quite modern in just a few years; before that it used to be very traditional, the kind of place that hardly changed over decades. The same applied to the food. Once fairly limited, nowadays it offers every kind of fare possible, all of it cooked to perfection by world-class chefs, who may be Thai, or who may have come from anywhere in the world. Yet before it became a holiday destination, the island still abounded in great recipes and dishes. The Gulf of Siam cuisine in this latitude was mostly southern-style Thai, with a few fiery dishes and plenty of seafood. And then there were the dishes that were even more local, being confined to just the islands of Samui, Koh Pha-ngan and Koh Tao, which were then only very sparsely inhabited.
Many visitors to Samui these days believe that most of the local ways and traditions have been totally lost. But this is simply not true. Ask a local person where to eat local-style food and they’ll be able to tell you. The island’s roots remain intact – despite all the changes. And those in search of the old island ways can do no better than pay a visit to a restaurant that’s stood in exactly the same spot for 17 years; Krua Chao Baan is on the ring-road, just after Wat Sila-ngu, as you head south from Lamai to Ban Hua Thanon. The restaurant’s name is written in Thai only, but you can’t miss it; just look for a group of thatched roofs.
The restaurant is composed of several large, open-sided salas, which are perfect both for letting in the breezes and for views of the sea. Sit out on the terrace and you’ll be just a few metres away from the waves. Krua Chao Baan is a great spot for eating and is appreciated by everyone, locals, foreign residents and holidaymakers alike. It’s a very relaxed place and there’s no standing on ceremony. Everything’s kept simple, yet the food is dependably good.
It’s incidentally one of the relatively few places that still sport hammocks – you’ll find a couple down on the beach, just waiting to be used. That’s the kind of place Krua Chao Baan is. You may wonder what the name of the restaurant means. ‘Krua’ means kitchen, ‘chao’ means people and ‘baan’ means town. It transliterates as ‘kitchen for the town’s people’, or ‘everyone’s restaurant’. As you can expect from such a name, prices are reasonable.
It’s a family restaurant and is run by Samui folk. Thanks to expert chef Khun Wan and her team, the restaurant serves up an astonishing variety of Thai food. Many of the dishes come with carved vegetables as decoration and all of it is extremely tasty, with generous portions. It’s managed by Khun Kae and Khun Jack, who look after everything here and make sure that guests are satisfied. Krua Chao Baan is open every day, from 10:00 am until 10:00 pm.
Fish comes from the waters just off Samui, with freshness guaranteed. There’s a whole variety of it, and you’re sure to find something that’s to your taste. Prawn, crab, white snapper and pomfret feature strongly on the menu, and Khun Wan is able to cook them to perfection. There’s a whole choice of different methods for fish dishes: steamed with soy sauce or Thai herbs, deep-fried with green curry or tamarind sauce, for example. The restaurant also specializes in lobster, again done in various ways. You can have it grilled, steamed or with a Thai curry, or – a more Western take – baked with cheese.
But coming to Krua Chao Baan isn’t all about seafood; there’s plenty of meat as well, in fact almost as much meat as there’s fish. When it comes to chicken, pork or beef, you can enjoy a full excursion into all the goodness that Thai cuisine offers. You’ll find, for example, a full list of curries, all of them excellently done. An interesting variation is the green curry which is served with roti; use the bread to mop up the curry that’s left – and you’ll certainly want to do this as it’s so delicious.
For real Samui dishes, try the excellent yellow curry, which is southern-style and very spicy or ‘waii’, a dish of small octopi, served with pineapple. Then there’s a seaweed salad or deep-fried white snapper with garlic and pepper. Eat any of these and you’ll be honouring Samui’s traditional past.
Krua Chao Baan offers not just Thai but also international food, and thanks to the long menu, there are plenty of Western delights to be sampled. Browse the pages of the menu and you’ll see a range of burgers, sandwiches, spaghetti and if you’re not keen on Thai rice, you can opt for French fries. As you can see, the owners have kept the basic character of the food and the ambience completely intact, but they’ve catered too for all the diverse backgrounds of the guests who come here.
For desserts, there are Thai and international treats. A favourite up and down the country is mango with sweet sticky rice. Then there are syrupy dishes of beans or rambutan in syrup, banana spring rolls, or delicious ice-cream.
Having a languorous lunch or dinner at Krua Chao Baan will give you a look at how food used to be on Samui before fame hit the island, but there’s plenty else on the menu besides, as we’ve seen. The common factor is that everything on offer represents great value for money. And what could be a better accompaniment than the amazing sea views right from your seat?
For reservations or further information, telephone 0 7741 8589 or 0 890 095 560.