Travelling is a way to see and experience new cultures and traditions. For me that also meant trying as many different dishes and types of food as I could. Thai cuisine is, in lots of ways, different from what we know in the Western world.
But over the years it got renowned for its rich flavors and the use of many different fresh ingredients. Nowadays there are not many cities in the world where you won’t find a Thai restaurant. Still nothing beats trying the food in the country of origin.
Simple, But Delicious
In Thailand you will find food stalls and little restaurants on almost every corner as well as numerous mobile food stalls dotted about. They drive around selling food along the way and this can be anything from local Thai fruit, grilled or deep-fried snacks, to little fully functional kitchens selling noodle soups and stir-fries.
There is scarcely a Thai dish that is not sold by a street vendor or at a market somewhere in Thailand.
Some specialize in only one or two dishes, others offer a complete menu that rival that of restaurants. Some sell only pre-cooked foods, others make food to order.
Night food markets, in the form of a collection of street stalls and mobile vendors, spring up in parking lots, along busy streets, and at temple fairs and local festivals in the evenings, when the temperatures are more agreeable and people have finished work.
Even though Koh Tao is a small island in the Gulf of Thailand, there are many different restaurants to choose from. A lot of them serve dishes from all the corners of the world ranging from Italian, French, and Spanish to Japanese and Indian.
However, here I will highlight Thai food and some secret finds and little places around the island.
Everyone’s Favourite – Pad Thai
Let’s start off with an all time favorite for many tourists and possibly the most famous Thai dish; Pad Thai.
Pad Thai is a stir-fried rice noodle dish made with soaked dried rice noodles, which are stir-fried with eggs and meat, shrimps or tofu and flavored with fish sauce, dried shrimp, garlic or shallots, red chili pepper and palm sugar. It is usually served with lime wedges, chopped roast peanuts and bean sprouts.
Almost every restaurant on Koh Tao will serve this dish.
But for me the best place to go is on the up road. This is the road that leads up from 7/11 in Mae Haad. About 50m after the petrol station on the right hand side you will find a little food stall with an older Thai lady serving up Pad Thai as well as delicious mussel and bean sprout pancakes.
On that same road there are a few more places worth mentioning. Opposite the Pad Thai place is a restaurant that is only open during daytime. They serve precooked curries, stir-fries and soups. You can get it as a single dish or on rice. This is where a lot of Thai people come to get take away for lunch, hence the curries tend to be quite spicy as well.
Right next door is a place that has barbecued chicken and pork skewers in the evenings. Inside they also have a Thai food menu, so they also do good cheap food made to order.
Opposite this place is another little food stall where they make stir-fries and soups. You can order most of the classic Thai dishes such as fried rice or noodles, pad krapow moo (minced pork fried with chilies, garlic, soy sauce and holy basil) etc.
My personal favorite here is pad kana moo krob, roasted pork belly stir-fried with garlic, chili and Chinese kale. The good thing here is that you get a little flavorful soup on the side with each dish.
Next to this restaurant is a place that does duck noodle soup or duck on rice. The dark broth of the soup is very rich and full of flavor. They are also only open during the day.
Thai green curry (kaeng khiao waan) is one of my other favorites. The name “green” curry derives from the color of the dish, which comes from green chillies. The “sweet” in the Thai name (waan means “sweet”) refers to the particular color green itself and not to the taste of the curry.
As this is a Thai curry based on coconut milk and fresh green chilies, the color comes out creamy mild green or, as this color is called in Thai, “sweet green”. The consistency of its sauce varies with the amount of coconut milk used. Apart from a main protein, traditionally fish, meat, or fish balls, the other ingredients for the dish consist of coconut milk, green curry paste, palm sugar, fish sauce, Thai eggplant and other vegetables.
The best place for me to get green curry is a little restaurant called Sawasdee Thai Food, also on the up road on the left hand side. As she used mostly coconut milk for the sauce it tastes rich and creamy.
On the way to Chalok coming from Mae Haad is a restaurant called Pim’s. They have a few pre-cooked dishes such as Massaman curry and Panang curry and they also do very nice Khao Kha Mu. This is steamed rice served with slow cooked pork leg, steamed mustard greens, pickled cabbage, sweet-sour chili sauce, raw garlic, fresh bird’s eye chilies, and boiled egg.
Apart from those they also cook meals to order, accompanied by a little soup and do noodle soups as well.
This is just a selection of my favorite eateries in Mae Haad, Koh Tao.
If you explore around a little bit, I’m pretty sure you will be able to find some more great places that serve delicious Thai food.
Author: Youri Koyen (PADI MSDT #350619)