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Are We in Thailand?

Michael Babcock, Sunday, April 24th, 2011

Many of us travel to Thailand because we love Thai food. Some people travel for different reasons, particularly the beautiful beaches in Southern Thailand. On some streets, you wonder what country you are in.

Restaurant Signs

A stretch along Ao Nang Bay

One of the most beautiful regions of Thailand is the province of Krabi, particularly along the coast. It is filled with the beauty of lush greenery and limestone karsts. In the early years, Kasma would take her trips to stay at Ao Nang Bay. At the start there was only one place to stay on the entire bay; gradually, as people discovered the area, it became more and more built up until, now, it resembles some of the more crowded areas of Phuket.

(Click images to see larger version.)

This last year we visited Ao Nang again to catch a longtail boat out to do some snorkeling. I had to take a picture of the stretch of street pictured to the left. One right after another you see: 1) La Luna, an Italian restaurant with “Italian Management;” 2) Royal Tandoor Indian Food, serving “Indian food” & “Royal Thai Food,” and; 3) Beccofino – “Ristorante Italiano & Thai Cuisine.” If you click on the picture to the above left , you’ll see a larger version that reveals the signs more completely.

Food Sign

Thai food at Royal Tandoor

Actually, I learned something from the sign at Royal Tandoor Indian Food. They display a selection of their Royal Thai Food in the picture to the right. I had never known before that “Wiener Chicken” was a Thai dish. It’s in the lower left corner: click on the picture to see a larger version and also to see (to the right) “CHK-NUGGETS” (presumably “Chicken Nuggets”). Kasma has never prepared either of these dishes. I’d be a bit surprised if they appear very often on the menu at the Royal Palace. I have my doubts about the onion rings as well.

Of course, these restaurants reflect the economic law of supply and demand: if there weren’t enough people visiting the area who wanted to eat Italian food or Pizza and Indian food, they would not exist. Along Ao Nang most of the people you see are fahrang – Caucasian. I suspect that the vast majority are Europeans. Apparently, after awhile they long to eat the cuisine of their home rather than yet another Thai meal. A few doors down from these three restaurants is a Sushi Bar and Grill. For much of the street it’s hard to find a restaurant that serves only Thai food.

Sushi Hut Sign

Sushi restaurant in Ao Nang

And dishes such as Wiener Chicken and CHK-NUGGETS have sprung up to fulfill a need. Apparently someone orders them. I think part of it may be the Thai restaurant owners desire to please their customers: in fact, this friendly impulse can sometimes short-circuit a well-meaning fahrang’s attempt to get authentic Thai food. In many instances when a restaurant has served authentic, full-flavored Thai food, their fahrang customers were unable to eat it. So often, and probably more often in the tourist areas such as this one, they try to make food the way they think fahrangs want it. I think of it as dumbed-down Thai food.

Thai Restaurant Sign

Finally, a Thai restaurant!

This modified-for-fahrang-food is one reason that some people come back thinking street food is the best Thai food in Thailand: street vendors are less likely to dumb the food down. Kasma’s opinion, and I agree with her, is that the very best Thai food is generally found in restaurants, if you know where to go and how to order. One of our favorites is Ruen Mai, found on the road between Ao Nang Bay and the town of Krabi.

As we continued walking down the street, we finally came to a restaurant we might consider, one with the sign “E-san Seafood.” “E-san” is an alternate spelling of Isan (or Isaan, or Isahn), the region of Northeastern Thailand. Although NE Thailand is land-locked, it is bound by the Mekong river along much of its boundary, so “seafood” is still an integral part of the food there. Since Isan food is generally spicy and tasty, this place might be worth a try.

Of course, as we turned the corner what do we see but a pizza restaurant next to another Indian restaurant.

More Restaurants

Indian food? Pizza?

Written by Michael Babcock, April 2011

Takua Pa Food Treats

Michael Babcock, Sunday, February 7th, 2010

This blog is about the discovery of some delicious food in the small village of Takua Pa on the Western coast of Thailand, about 120 kilometers North of Phuket.

Fried Chicken Vendor

Fried Chicken Vendor

Many of my fondest memories of Thailand are food-related. This should not be a surprise given Thailand’s reputation as an open-air food market. Kasma’s trips to Thailand had a heavy food emphasis, from stopping at markets whenever possible to sampling local food specialties wherever we go. Years ago Kasma used to pick up Thai travel magazines to get ideas for her trips. Each article would spend at least some time pointing out where the best food was and often there was an article devoted to a particular regional specialty. The most recent Wednesday Photo was on one of these stops – Ranong Buns.

(Click on an image to see a larger version.)

Crispy-fried chicken

Crispy-fried chicken

Kasma’s Southern Thailand trip always started off by snorkeling at Mu Koh Surin National Park and then continued further South on the coastal highway 4. One of my favorite stops on the whole trip was the small town of Takua Pa. I always ate a very light breakfast that day because I knew what awaited us when we reached there later in the morning.

Crispy-fried shrimp treat

Crispy-fried shrimp treat

First stop was the local morning market. As you drive down the coastal highway from the North, the market (actually called talad sohd, or “fresh Market”) is to the right of the road, right behind the bus station. where I could never refrain from eating two delicious treats. The first is Southern-Style Crispy Fried Chicken (Southern Thai, that is). I’ll have to content myself with adding a picture of this delectable treat because there is no way to describe how delicious it is, with it’s very crispy, lightly salted outer skin and succulent meat inside. The other dish is also crispy fried, in this case small, delicious shrimp with a local green of some sort, breaded together and fried up. Yummy. I seldom see it done as well elsewhere. The market is also a good place to stock up on fruit – there are several vendors with beautiful produce and such fruit as rambutan, sala and mangoes.

Sign for roti restaurant

Sign for roti restaurant

Cook flipping a roti

Cook flipping a roti

The market, however, was merely an appetizer for the next stop, which is at a small family-owned restaurant that specializes in roti, the Thai Muslim version of roti, that is. Southern Thailand is a good place to find roti and we take full advantage of this when we travel there.

As you travel down highway 4 from the North, when you reach Takua Pa, keep a sharp eye out the left hand side for the sign here – it’s for the roti restaurant. It’s on the main highway,  just past a traffic light (two doors down) at Thanon Wattana. It’s formal name is Thai-Muslim restaurant.

In addition to roti they have another one of my favorites, Kao Moek Gkai, what Kasma calls (and used to teach as) Muslim Yellow Rice with Chicken and Roasted Spices. It’s delicious chicken served over rice that has been cooked with turmeric (hence the yellow color) and various other spices, such as cinnamon, cardamon and cloves) roughly in the style of an Italian Risotto.

Beef curry and roti

Beef curry and roti

Like most roti restaurants in the south, it is owned and operated by cheerful Muslims. We’ve been visiting here for many years and they always greet us with big smiles and words of welcome. After we eat, Kasma functions as unofficial family photographer and takes many individual and group pictures, to be dropped off on our next visit. Perhaps the best thing about Thailand remains the friendly people.

The main event, here, is the roti. Be warned: it’s a breakfast food and can sell out by mid-morning. We order it in at least three different forms: plain roti to be eaten with (very delicious) beef curry, stuffed roti  (roti mataba), and sweet roti, both plain roti sprinkled with sugar and condensed milk and banana-stuffed roti. Sometimes we’ll also get egg roti. They also have Thai tea and coffee, to accompany the meal.

Stuffed roti (Mataba)

Stuffed roti (Mataba)

The roti here is especially good – crispy and delicious. It’s always fun to watch roti being made, as the cook flips out the rotis and then fries it to a golden, crispy perfection.

Like to try your hand at making roti or Muslim yellow rice? Check out Kasma’s recipes:

Muslim yellow rice with chicken

Muslim yellow rice with chicken

Written by Michael Babcock, February 2010 & May 2020