Good Morning, Sunshine!
Here’s what you can expect for breakfast in Thailand.
Breakfast. What springs to mind? If you’re a Westerner, most likely you’ll have a few staple breakfast dishes – foods that you wouldn’t usually eat for your evening meal, but have the exclusive honour of being your first meal of the day. On a weekend, or when you have a little more time, you might go for the ‘Full Monty’, which will include eggs done the way you like them, bacon, sausages, grilled tomatoes, mushrooms, baked beans and toast. If you’re in a rush, you’ll probably chuck back a bowl of cereal or a yoghurt, or perhaps some toast and jam. If you’re not watching your carbs, you may enjoy a continental breakfast with some muffins, croissants and other pastries, and if you’re on a health kick, fresh fruit and muesli may be your kick-start to the day.
Most of us wouldn’t think to have cereal for dinner, or a roast for breakfast, and in the West, dishes are confined to their designated meal times. Now while there are dishes that are popular for breakfast in Thailand, a local would think nothing of having a spicy curry for their morning meal. But, here are some of the most popular dishes a Thai would enjoy to start their day.
If there’s one food that immediately pops into mind as a Thai breakfast, it’s the thick rice porridge known as joke. It’s made of short-grain rice that’s boiled until it turns into a thick oatmeal-like porridge. It’s served piping hot with an egg cracked in the middle, some pieces of pork for flavouring, and garnished with slices of ginger and parsley. Joke would be the equivalent of a Western-style morning bowl of cereal, and you’ll see vendors setting up early to sell it, catching those on their way to work.
KhaotTom (rice soup) is closely related to joke, but instead of short-grain rice, normal long-grain Thai rice is used. The grains are boiled in water with flavourings, until they’re soft and floating in a ricey soup. Khao tom includes similar Thai breakfast toppings as joke, such as pork, eggs, ginger and parsley, and even seafood.
If joke is the on-the-dash cereal of Thai breakfasts, then khao neow moo ping is the energy and protein equivalent of ‘sausages and eggs’. A few satays of fatty grilled pork with a little packet of sticky rice is easy to eat on the go, and is a great way to start off a busy day in Thailand.
Those that enjoy a sugar boost for breakfast should keep their eyes and noses open for a vendor selling the Thai doughnuts called patongo. This slightly sweet blob of dough is deep-fried, forming a crunchy outside and a soft, fluffy centre. It’s served with a sweet custard dipping sauce or sweetened condensed milk. Breaded deep-fried sliced banana is also a great morning snack, and cheap too, at only about 20 baht for six big pieces. Little backed goods such as waffles with various fillings, are popular too.
Thailand has a strong Chinese heritage, so no doubt, the food has been influenced by Chinese ancestors. Dim sum dumplings are a popular breakfast food, including the steamed buns and the greasy pork dumplings.
Little banana-leaf packages of sweet, sticky rice are great on-the-go morning snacks. The rice, with a smoky flavour from being cooked on the open grill, sometimes encases banana or sweet red beans. You’ll find many different variations of this, and sometimes, the rice is cooked in bamboo too.
Eggs are served in so many ways in Thailand and very popular is an omelette, often filled with minced pork or seafood. But for a muscle-building breakfast, try kai luak, which is basically a soft-boiled egg served in a shot glass, and accompanied by a fresh cup of coffee.
From early in the morning, you’ll find vendors standing over hot coals preparing little chicken or pork satays, or various types of sausages and meat or seafood on a stick – food on a stick is the best Asian invention; no cutlery required.
If you’re after a healthy breakfast, there’s no shortage of fresh fruit vendors, who’ll present your purchase neatly chopped and in a bag with a wooden skewer used to pierce the fruit for eating. Usually only around 15 to 20 baht a portion, there’s no reason not to get your daily fruit dose.
Like the rest of the world, Thailand has fallen into the fast-food trap, and every Family Mart and 7-Eleven will sell a selection of off-the-shelf-and-into-the-microwave breakfast meals. There’ll always be an urn of boiling water so you can buy your pot of instant noodles, rice soup or joke, fill it up and walk away eating your breakfast on the go. You’ll also find grilled sandwiches that the friendly teller will pop into the toaster for you, as well as over-processed filled sandwiches, cakes and muffins. But with so many great fresh options available, such as homemade joke or some fresh fruit, there’s no need to go the fast food route, as the fresh options are equally as fast to be served.
Of course, if you’re staying at one of Samui’s many beautiful upmarket resorts, chances are that a buffet breakfast is included in your rate. Here you’ll get a spread of both Western and Asian breakfast dishes, so you can really mix it up and try a bit of everything.
No matter what you have for breakfast, remember that it’s the most important meal of the day, so having a nourishing meal in the morning can start your day on a good note. Thais will seldom skip breakfast (or any meal for that matter), and they’re one of the happiest nations in the world. Is it because they have a hearty breakfast? Who knows. Could be. But it seems to work for them, so grab a bowl of joke, some Thai doughnuts or a couple of satays and start your day on a delicious note.
Rosanne Turner (As written for the Samui
_ You may have seen a beautiful big sailing vessel moored in the Bay off Fisherman’s Village, its evening silhouette conjuring up imaginative thoughts of bygone days when sailing was not just a fun pastime, but a method of transport. True travellers are just as concerned about the journey as the destination, and a trip on the Naga begs the question, ‘Do you really want to reach your destination, or would you rather the journey not end?’
Originally called the Yarim Adali, Naga hails from Turkey before she started her long journey to the East Coast of Thailand. After spending a few months in Koh Tao, she has found her new home on Samui where she lies in Bophut Bay, now proudly sporting the name ‘Naga’, after the mythical sea serpent or water dragon.
For the sailing fundis out there, the Naga is a Ketch or Gullet, she weighs 103 tons and is constructed of mahogany and teak. As far as comfort is concerned, guests can lounge on sun decks, drink and be merry around the three metre wooden table on the open-air covered deck, or escape to the below-deck saloon or one of eight double cabins, complete with en-suite bathrooms and air-con. One only truly appreciates the size of this vessel when on board – she is like a floating guest house, and there is always a place to escape and find a place to chill and read your book or contemplate the view should you not feel like joining the party.
The Naga is ideal for special occasions and intimate gatherings. Weddings, birthday parties, office functions or any excuse really – and be assured, one does not need an excuse to spend some time on this elegant sailing ship. The galley is adequately equipped to cater to all functions and there is plenty of fridge space and ice on board to keep the bubbly chilled. Add to that friendly and attentive staff, music and the perfect backdrop of the Gulf of Thailand, and the scene is set for a memorable occasion.
The Naga, now managed by Samui Ocean Sports, offers both private charters as well as group trips, meaning that anyone can enjoy a trip on this mighty vessel, as joining a group does not mean breaking the bank. Routes offered include trips to the Marine Park, to Koh Phangan, around the island as well as sunset cruises. Full day, half day and overnight options are available.
The vessel’s size makes Naga family friendly, as there is more than enough space aboard for children to run about, as well as cabin space for little ones to rest. Should the weather turn bad, there is ample undercover space.
I recently had the pleasure of a trip on Naga, and I was instantly in awe. She is not just a mode of transport but a piece of art, beautifully crafted and lovingly maintained. Lying on the deck, looking up at the never-ending mast that seems to reach the sun, it is easy to drift away into a daydream. If you are thinking of trying something new, let this sailing quote inspire you to try a voyage on the Naga, ‘ You can’t change the wind, but you can adjust the sails’ (Author unknown).
© Rosanne Turner
Discovering the island via its resorts
My family and I try to explore the island on Sundays, in the way of visiting different resorts. The idea is that we have lunch at the pool side restaurant, use the pool and perhaps try out the spa. We have come across some spectacular resorts on Samui, many tucked away at the end of dirt roads. Without turning off the Ring Road, and ‘bundu-bashing’ as we say in Africa, we would not have discovered half of the amazing resorts out there.
We have come to the conclusion that the more discreet an entrance is, the more impressive the resort. Some of the best resorts on the island have rather understated entrances. Zazen in Bophut has to be one of the most impressive resorts Samui has to offer, but driving along the Ring Road, you would have no idea without venturing in. On the other hand, some resorts have elaborate entrances, creating a great first impression, and are then a let-down once you past the entrance. It seems as though many resorts only focus on their beachfront entrance, and their main entrances are an after-thought. The problem with this is that a ‘walk-in’ customer, driving along looking for a place to stay has no idea what is behind drab walls, or at the end of inconspicuous dirt tracks. Surely this must affect business? Sure, a large percentage of business comes from the internet and booking agents, but a fair amount of guests arrive on the island with the intention of finding their own place to stay – or perhaps they are booked in somewhere via their travel agent, but want to return the following year, and are looking for something else to their liking. As focal as some of these resorts may be from the beach, most people drive around looking for accommodation, as wheeling luggage along the beach while looking for a place to stay is not an option. Having previously owned guest houses in South Africa, I know that an inviting entrance draws walk-in customers.
During our Sunday outings, we have come across some resorts with a rather narrow-minded management approach. We have a few old favourites that we visit frequently, that offer great food, friendly service, set around a pool or on a pristine stretch of beach, however, sometimes we feel like trying a new spot. On arriving at reception, we ask if day visitors are welcome on condition we have lunch, and usually we are welcomed in - after all, business is business and why would anyone turn away a few thousand Baht spent in the restaurant? Occasionally we are turned away, or asked ridiculous rates to use the pool – even if we are eating at the restaurant. I cannot understand this narrow minded approach. This negative response often comes from the resorts that are empty, with few rooms booked. Now surely income from the restaurant is as good as income from a room?
All expats on the island will get visitors at some stage, keen to find out what their wayward, long lost friends are doing having left civilisation and moved to paradise. We may not always be able to host these friends or family in our homes – or may not want to! This means that local expats are always on the lookout for good resort or villa options for visitors. Short-sighted managers need to keep this in mind when turning away locals, as it is not only the lunch turnover that they are missing out on, but possibly countless future bookings.
A note to resort managers: Look after the locals too! They are your best word-of-mouth advertising, and will support you in the quiet months. A note to locals: Dare to drive down the dirt roads; you may just discover your new favourite spot of paradise!
© Rosanne Turner
Before moving out here, I told myself that I would not once again be caught in the routine trap – I would shake it up a little, and not be predictable or a creature of habit. Well some habits or customs are worth forming, becoming part of your weekly routine - even looking forward to them, with a daily countdown.
‘See you down at Lucky’s on Thursday night?’ is a phrase frequently used in my vocabulary now. Lucky is a lovely lady. She has a Mojito stand at the Maenam walking street market on Thursday nights, just in front of the Fish ‘n Chip shop. The fact that Lucky and her brother make the best Mojitos in town, (and possibly in the world) is a known fact. This open secret was at first only realised by a privileged few. The secret is now out, and each week, the queue at her Mojito stand grows and grows as her circle of followers expands.
For 50 Baht a glass for this magical, minty potion, can you really go wrong? Sure, there are other cocktail stands offering their version of the Mojito at the market, but trust me when I say that they are not a fraction as delicious as Lucky’s! Don’t waste your time sampling them all – make your way straight down to Lucky’s stand, and order a few rounds at a time. Don’t bother ordering only one, you will be back for more anyway. For new devotees of Lucky and her Mojitos, you will only have to wait three nights to once again savour her magic potion (also knows as a truth serum – you’ll see why), as Lucky is now also down at the Lamai market on Sunday evenings. If twice a week is still not enough for your new ‘fix’, not to worry, she has a bar on the Ring Road in Maenam.
Part of experiencing a new culture is finding out what the locals’ gastronomic delights are, including the liquid variety. I was told that all ladies drink Spy, so I gave this a try, but found it a little too sweet for my liking. I stick to whisky and soda when I can’t make it to Lucky’s Mojitos. Speaking of whisky, I’m sure that everyone has had a run-in with the infamous Sang Som. Although it is called a Thai whisky, it is strictly speaking, a rum. (Or paint stripper, depending on your experience with it) Sang Som forms part of the infamous buckets made famous by the Full Moon Party, and now introduced to bars on the island. Added to the mix, is Thailand’s more potent version of Red Bull, some Coca Cola, and a dash of ice. I have yet to partake in a bucket experience, but I have been told that each bucket consumed will lead you to reveal at least three secrets you would rather have kept to yourself, and results in a rather serious headache.
On the subject of headaches, a certain brand of beer apparently contains a dangerous chemical called formaldehyde, used for preserving dead bodies among other things, and can lead to a bad case of a ‘Changover’, sorry, I mean a hangover.
So how do you overcome a feeling of death after a night of a liquid diet? Sip on an ice-cold fresh young coconut, packed full of electrolytes and vitamins, guaranteed to perk you up again – until the next Mojito evening that is...
© Rosanne Turner
Footnote: Chang is a brand of local beer. There is a constant debate as to which brand is best, between Singha, Leo, Tiger and Chang. Everyone has their favourite, and it's hard to convince them otherwise. There are Chang devotees out there that swear it is the The men in my circle all agree however, that Chang leads to a nasty hangover, due to its chemical content.
To truly discover a new place, once should incorporate all the senses, not just sight – It is all very well seeing a place through a camera lens, but occasionally put the camera down and experience the destination, or you may as well stay at home and watch the travel channel. Travel and food are intertwined, fused together, inseparable. Smells and tastes can define a location as much as the scenery and it is often these senses that trigger memories of a good holiday. Why would someone travel to a new country, only to eat the same fish and chips that they do back home, when they can offer their taste buds a gastronomic adventure?
Throughout my travels, I have always been determined to eat local wherever possible, which has sometimes led to disastrous situations. Let me add at this point, that I am a vegetarian, so getting my point across of ‘no meat – vegetables only’ in a foreign country can prove to be quite a challenge when the locals don't speak English. Mime and gesture works for non-plant foodstuffs such as beef, chicken, fish or even pork, but have you ever seen anyone act out a squid, without looking as though they are having an epileptic fit? It's not a pretty sight, but laughter will get you through most situations. Add to this the fact that in Thailand ‘Moo’ refers to pork and not beef as one would expect, and you can see where I am going with this.
My curiosity will not let me walk past a food stall selling something out of the ordinary. This doesn't mean I will try it, but I have a burning need to find out what it is. Food on a stick is very popular I have discovered, and why wouldn't it be? No plates or cutlery required, and wooden sticks are biodegradable. This idea of food on a stick should be introduced to the rest of the world, but somehow it seems to be an Asian trade secret. It seems you can cook anything on a stick: various forms of meat and sausages, odd little balls of who knows what; fish, frogs and other unfortunate flattened creatures that resemble road kill. But as bizarre as some of these foods may appear, the enticing aromas cause an olfactory overload and you can’t walk past without your nose twitching in the air like a sniffer dog following a trail.
In my quest to eat and cook local, I have visited the Bophut fresh market several times. This is not a quick event, as I ponder and pause at each stand, trying to familiarise myself with completely unfamiliar fruits, vegetables and other fresh produce. From vivid purple eggplant, and red fuzzy rambutans, to the aptly named dragon fruit and rows of green and yellow hanging bananas, walking down the fruit and veggie isle is visually overwhelming.
I do wonder if anyone not born in Asia knows the difference between the vast array of Asian greens. My cooking repertoire would previously include your garden varieties of lettuce, cabbage, spinach and even, for an adventurous dinner party, pak choi. But here the selection of greens is endless, and I have absolutely no idea what they are called or how I should prepare them. Trial and error it shall be.
The meat isle at the market is not as appealing to the eye as the fruit and vegetable section, with whole pig heads and chickens with feet in the air as if they keeled over in fright. After recently purchasing a bird for a dinner party, I tucked its head away as a sign of respect, and because I just couldn't stand it staring at me anymore, eyes pleading 'I don't want to leave this earth as green curry!' So my food adventure continues, as I am determined to conquer the vast unknown.
A day at SITCA
No one can dispute that living on a tropical island is the life. But if I have to be honest with myself, there are days when I just don’t feel like going to the beach. For friends sitting abroad in the cold, this may seem hard to believe, but it’s true. So what to do on such a day?
If anyone else has experienced this dilemma, I highly recommend a cooking course at SITCA (Samui Institute of Culinary Arts). A day at SITCA will stimulate all the senses. The moment you walk through the door, you experience a ‘sensory overload’. From the exotic aromas wafting from the kitchen, and the smell of sautéing curry paste tingling your nose, to the vibrant colours of an array of chillies, used to prepare the Thai curry pastes, and all inhibitions about cooking with professionals fade away, as you are in awe of your surroundings. Cooking at SITCA is not quiet affair. The sounds of pounding and grinding of ingredients for pastes and marinades, sizzling, chopping and laughter and chatter fill the air. Finally your sense of taste is satisfied, as you enjoy the feast that you have prepared. Students may ask a friend to join them at the end of the course to savour this meal.
SITCA offers two cooking classes a day, Monday to Saturday - one starting at 11:00am, and the other at 4:00pm. Each day the menu is different but you can make your choice from the website, choosing the menu that suits your palette best. The fact that the menu is not the same every day, means that should you enjoy the experience, (which I guarantee you will) you can come back another day, to further your skills in the art of Thai cooking. Besides the daily introductory classes, SITCA offers intensive programmes for professional chefs or experienced cooks. There is the option of a one week or two week course, which takes a hands-on approach, covering all aspects of cuisine, as well as instruction in the techniques involved in Thai cooking.
During my visit to SITCA, I was lucky enough to spend part of my day with a group of professional chefs attending the intensive programme. They hailed from three continents, including Australia, Canada and Chile. These chefs had only the highest praise for owner, Khun Roong, who is the main instructor for this programme. Jimmy Shu, a master chef from Australia who has travelled extensively and has a passion for Asian food, enthusiastically insists that ‘this is the best cooking course he has ever attended’, a powerful statement from someone so respected in the culinary world. Jimmy has a passion for ingredients, as well as a mission to find authentic ingredients back home. He has been known to smuggle fresh produce back into Australia, occasionally being caught at customs – so powerful is his quest, that he is not deterred by this risk. Jimmy took me around the kitchen, showing me ingredients that Khun Roong had purchased for the day. ‘Is this not the best ginger you have ever seen?’ he proclaimed with delight, as he stuck a large fat root of this fragrant spice under my nose. As I was preparing my own curry paste, the professionals kept calling me to ‘taste this’ or ‘smell that’. Their delight was contagious, as they included me in their devotion to all things gastronomic.
Khun Tim was my instructor for the day. She has decades of experience in the hotel industry, before joining SITCA. Khun Tim does not view her role at the cookery school as just another job, but enjoys informing her students about Thai food, imparting valuable information about the ingredients, as well as preparation methods and ways to maximise flavour. So often cookery schools only see their students as numbers, taking their money and pushing them through the system. This is not the case with Khun Roong and Khun Tim. They want their student to understand the methods and why one ingredient is used and not another, why we use one spice for this curry paste, and a different one for another. Khun Tim knows the medicinal advantages of all the herbs and spices she uses in preparation, and shares this knowledge as she demos how to chop, grind and prepare the food.
Each menu includes making a Thai curry paste from scratch. This process in intensely satisfying, as you mix the ingredients, and pound them together into a paste, the heady aromas of spices, herbs and garlic being released into the air as you do so. In Thailand, we are lucky to be able to buy curry pastes at the market, each stall having their own family recipe, and each differing in strength. In saying this, it is great to be able to make your own paste, and the process is surprisingly simple and not at all time consuming. Mix more than you require, and it can be kept for up to a month. Knowing what ingredients go into the paste, makes the enjoyment so much more, and helps you differentiate between the Thai curries available. A newcomer to Thailand seldom knows the difference between a green, red, yellow, Panang, or Massaman curry. Attending a course at SITCA makes one understand what goes into which curry, as well as which curries originate from which region.
My menu for the day included Homemade Yellow Curry Paste, Yellow Curry with Chicken and Potatoes, Glass Noodle Soup with Tofu, and Deep Fried Fish with Turmeric. Students are provided with a booklet of the recipes - theirs to keep and make notes in. They also receive a DVD to take home, with the recipes and photos, demonstrating the steps in the preparation and cooking process.
My day at SITCA was a truly memorable experience, one that I will be reminded of every time I prepare a meal from the recipes learnt. I will definitely be back to expand my skills in Thai cooking, and I recommend it to anyone living or visiting Samui.
Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all. ~Harriet van Horne, American journalist.
tel: 077 – 413172
Classes are twice a day – 11:00am and 4:00pm and the cost is 1950 Baht per person.
For information on the intensive cooking courses, or fruit carving, visit the website.
© Rosanne Turner