We landed in Bangkok in the early morning and were immediately whisked 700 kms away to Krabi, a province on the west coast of southern Thailand. I am part of the Dubai team which, along with two other teams coming from London and Frankfurt, will soon descend upon loudly on this relatively quiet and less touristy province. Apart from me and my fellow Fooderati friend, Debbie who writes Coffee Cakes and Running, the Dubai team consists of six Emirati students (three girls and three boys) who have topped their respective classes in their universities. This trip was to give these young students a glimpse into a world which is so different from the urban landscape that they have been living in (riding the Skylabs instead of zipping in cars on the Sheikh Zayed Road, no Starbucks coffee or Subway sandwiches – a tough life indeed!). Krabi is a world tucked away amidst 40,000 acres of mangrove forests and the coastline is surrounded by majestic limestone karsts, while the archipelagos forming some of the 130 islands can only be accessed by long tail boats during high tides. At low tide, the limestone karsts resemble floating islands suspended above the water, as the waves unabashedly crash onto them. (What are Karsts? What are Archipelagos?)
Our first stop after driving out of the Krabi airport is the Ruen Mai restaurant. Situated in the middle of lush green Banana and Sugarcane plantations and what seemed like being dropped just on the highway, this our first experience of an incredulous Thai hospitality and Thai food. Our experience set a very high benchmark for the rest of our trip. This is a new restaurant that the owner has opened just next to his residence. The original Ruen Mai restaurant in Krabi town, is regarded as one of the best Thai restaurants in Krabi. The swinging foot bridge from the main road with a bamboo fence brings us onto the platform – the seating area with an impressive thatched conical roof built with bamboos. Under the shade of the thatched bamboo and wiping our sweats and panting oofs and aahs, we met all the other members who’d come from London and Frankfurt. It was obvious that the soaring high humidity and the overnight journeying left all of us drained. Only to be refreshed by the lunch at Ruen Mai. That too, with an absolutely stunning lunch (assuming, that stunning can be used as a metaphor for the oft-used word awesome!)Smiling faces and chilled Coconut water helped in lowering our body temperatures much faster than we imagined. Definitely faster than it would have with regular air conditioners. The chilled Coconut water disappeared in seconds and I ordered a fresh Watermelon Juice (above). No added sugar, plain simple freshly squeezed Watermelon, with loads of ice cubes dunked in. There is a lot of controversy with the ice cubes in Thailand – to have them or not to have them? Many suggest that one should only take ice if it is one of the round, cylinder type cubes that has a hole in them as these type of ice cubes are supposedly commercially produced in hygienic conditions. Whatever it is, I think it is the heat and the humidity that makes one forget the logistics and ask for ice, whether it’s in a restaurant or while ordering a drink off a street vendor. Ao nam keng?/Do you want ice? I don’t remember saying Mai ao nam keng/No, I don’t in my entire stay in Thailand. It only takes a while before you get addicted to the ice itself!
Hoi Chak Teen: The first dish that we were served was the Hoi Chak Teen or the Dog Conch (above), considered to be the king of Krabi shellfish. These shells can be seen sold on beaches, grilled or boiled and served with a really spicy chili sauce dip. Chak teen means ‘feet pulling’ and hoi means ‘shell’. These conch shells pull its’ feet around. So for making a pot, you heat gently, starting with cold water. This way, the feet pulling shells pull their feet, so when cooked, they can be easily picked out of the armour. While Debbie pulled (above left) out the meat with a tooth pick from one of the conch shells, I have to admit that I was a bit faint-hearted, preferring to click her. It’s hardly surprising, as Debbie is the kind who climbs the Mt Kilimanjaro while I would prefer to fly over the Himalayas rather than climb it. (Info courtesy on Hoi Chak Teen from the internet)
Fresh Vegetables and Shrimp dip: This was an interesting introduction to some of the vegetables that grow in the Krabi region. Served whole or slightly chopped, we were supposed to be munching on them and eat them fresh along with a really spicy dip made with Shrimp paste (above). The vegetables that were already known to me were – Basil leaves, Raddish, Cucumbers and Shallots while most of the vegetables were new to me – different types of fresh seaweed and many more. This dip was not the familiar Nam Pla, but had some other name which I seemed to have missed out noting down. I am wondering whether it was the Shrimp dip that made me eat more vegetables than I would normally eat!
Pad Pak Mieng: Pak Mieng (above) is a slightly bitter regional leafy green from southern Asia. Stir fried with oyster sauce and eggs, this vegetarian dish tasted quite heavenly (the leafy fern reminds me of the Srilankan Kankun leaves or Baby Spinach). Often the Pak Mieng is topped with dried shrimp (Pak Miang Pad Gkoong) or smoke dried fish and crispy fried-dried onions. (more on Pak Mieng)
Kaeng phet Pla Insee: The White Snapper in Red Curry (above) was our first Thai red curry in the trip. I felt a sense of tremendous achievement as I licked my fingers and wiped the tears that exploded out of my eyes as the red chillies hit my taste buds – Oh Lord, was I really having my favourite Thai Red Curry, sitting in Thailand! The gravy was thick and poured on top of the fish more like a sauce rather than the light (not in terms of the spice but in terms of the mass and volume) curry that I was used to. We were served another fish dish (unfortunately no picture – the pic quality didn’t do justice to the brilliant taste) – Pla Insee Tod Rad Seoui or the Deep fried Mackerel in dark Soya Sauce. With fried garlic and crispy onions topping the Soya Sauce, this dish was simple, yet absolutely drool worthy. Pla means fish in the Thai language and Insee means eagle, so the Pla Insee can be directly translated as the Eagle Fish. While the Pla Insee Tod refers to the Mackerel, the Pla Insee is a very popular saltwater fish caught in the Gulf of Thailand and is loved for it’s salty flavor by the Thai people. I had never like the Mackerel before. But this could be just the dish that might sway me in favour of Mackerels.
The Red Thai Curry in Southern Thai Cuisine is not red in colour! This was one revelation that practically shocked me initially. A few twitter conversations followed with my Bong food blogger friend Kaniska, who writes down his random thoughts and encounters with food in his blog For the love of food. Apparently, in the Thai curry lessons that he took in Chiang Mai, he had to produce a very very red curry and he felt that the proportions of the red chilies that were put into the red curry paste had something to do with the colour. I argued that both Debbie and I had indeed put in a lot of red chillies in the cooking class that we took later in our trip and yet our red curry didn’t turn out red. Our Tweetversations (conversations on Twitter) led us to the conclusion that in the southern way of Thai cooking we were also grinding whole Turmeric or Kamin along with red chillies, thereby diluting the red colour of the Thai red curry. A bit of study into the Southern Thai curry reveals that there is a prevalence of coconut milk and fresh turmeric in most dishes here, as compared to other regions.
Goong Makham: Prawns in Tamarind Sauce (above) – this is a dish that I’ve come across many times in this trip and ended up falling in love with. So far my experience with Tamarind Sauce has been with Malabar fish curries or the Goan fish curries but not in any Thai preparation. As I started my queries, this dish turned out to be a very easy preparation. Palm sugar is added into a wok over a low heat and stirred continuously until the palm sugar starts to melt and turn a little brown. Tamarind juice, fish sauce and pepper is added and stirred in for a few minutes until the sauce starts to thicken. Finally, the prawns are added and simmered for about 2 minutes and served with a garnish of fried onions and garlic… oh did I just give out the recipe? Well, I did, I guess… such a simple recipe could be easily recreated at our homes.
Panaeng Kai: Chicken Panaeng/Panang or Phanaeng curry (above) gets its name from Penang, the Malaysian island. This is a mild Thai curry and reflects the Malay influence on Southern Thai cuisine. It looked very similar to Thai red curry but was richer and creamier (and less spicy). The typical use of crushed peanuts in a Panaeng curry must have been the reason behind its unique taste.
The fun and the feast seemed to have just begun. As I spent more time in Southern Thailand, I realised that there was a vast regional difference in Thai cooking that must have arisen from the difference in the cultural, geographical attributes of the country. While the basic Thai cuisine could be broadly classified into four regional cuisines corresponding to the four main regions of the country, there was a lot of influence from the cuisine of the countries neighbouring the different regions.
The four different classification was – Northern, Northeastern (or Isan), Central and Southern, each cuisine sharing similar foods or foods derived from those of neighboring countries and regions: Burma to the northwest, the Chinese province of Yunnan and Laos to the north, Vietnam and Cambodia to the east and Malaysia to the south of Thailand. In addition to these four regional cuisines, there is also the Thai Royal Cuisine which can trace its history back to the cosmopolitan palace cuisine of the Ayutthaya kingdom (1351–1767 CE). Its refinement, cooking techniques and use of ingredients were of great influence to the cuisine of the Central Thai plains.Western influences from the 17th century CE onwards have also led to dishes such as foi thong and sangkhaya. (More on Thai Cuisine)
Surprisingly, the next few days that we spent in Thailand, our Desserts consisted of only fresh fruits – mostly Watermelons and Pineapples. Delicious, fresh, chilled and generous amounts of these sliced fruits. It was only in Ruen Mai that we tasted a few more fruits like red Papaya, Mangoes and Wood Apple. Papayas looking ravishing in red and tasting gorgeous too, I liked the Wood Apples too. Only Mangoes didn’t seem to arrive properly. Yes, I’ve taken to fashion adjectives, because the culinary adjectives have started falling short as I eat out in Thailand.
Ruen Mai Restaurant
Tel: +66 3841-4802 (Uttarakit Road, Amphoe Mueang, Krabi)/+6675-631797 (315/5 Maharaj Road, Muang Krabi); Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ruen Mai is regarded as one of the best Thai restaurants in Krabi for more than 20 years. Each dish has the perfect blend of spicy Thai flavours and served with great panache.
Our destination is Koh Klang, a small fishing island on the Andaman Sea, covered by thousands of acres of mangrove forest. Koh means island, Klang means middle and Koh Klang is situated in between the Krabi river and the Andaman Seas. From the Tha-Lay Pier we take a long tail boat to cross the Krabi river and reach the island. Most of the population in this island are Muslims and engaged in either coastal fishing or growing the organic Sang Yot rice or building the long tail boats. Koh Klang is also the birth place for these Hua Tong boats, which is now recognized as the symbol of South of Thailand, specially Krabi. These Hua Tong boats would become our daily mode of transportation for the next two days as we visit the various parts of the island to experience the local village life. Along with the Skylabs or the motorcycle Tuk Tuks. I soon realise that the real heroes of the island are these Skylab drivers. And considering my long lasting love for Tuk Tuks or the Auto Rickshaws, how can I not fall in love with these Skylabs? This calls for a separate post altogether.
Islanda Eco Village Resort
Thai Village styled Eco Resort; On Koh Klang, Krabi
In the recent years, we have been trying to travel responsibly and checking into Islanda just added to the gradually growing list of the Eco Resorts that we’ve visited so far. Submerged mangroves, loud chirping of birds, the lazy sunset over the Andaman seas and the water seeping through the fishing traps and bamboo fences into the resort grounds – this was the first time in our long journey that we were putting our legs up and we were enjoyed it thoroughly.
Tel No: 083-636 7887; Location: Moo 3 T. Klong Pra-Song (Koh Klang) A. Maung Krabi, Nong Thale, Mueang Krabi, Krabi 81000, Thailand
I was living exactly 814 kms away from Bangkok. Submerged mangrove forests, loud, really loud humming (or is it chirping?) of Crickets, the adventurous rides on the Hua Ton boats and the Skylabs as I held on precariously to my life and my seats, my tantalising first experience of Thai food (in Thailand) at the Ruen Mai restaurant, I was in a different world altogether – with a bunch of Emirati college students and without the Z-Sisters… spaced out completely except that I was still tweeting, posting on FB and instagramming LIVE, just like my normal urban self!!! Debbie (middle), who till now had just been a fellow Fooderati blogger and soon became more of a buddy than an accompanying hashtag on Twitter (#FoodieOnTour), and Rung (right) from the Tourism Authorities in Thailand, who I would pester continuously to write down the Thai name of the dishes that we were eating – these names would surely be popping up quite a lot in the next few posts. Do stay with me as I write on my amazing Thailand experiences. This is one trip that I have much more to write on than I had originally planned!
Unblogging it all… Ishita
Disclaimer: The Thailand Academy trip was an invite from the Tourism Authorities of Thailand Middle East and Aviareps Group. However, the opinions stated here are my own and are independent. I do hope you enjoy reading the posts with lot of visuals. Please do not use any material from this post. You can see more pictures of my travel and food journey here.
You may enjoy my other Oriental journeys:
- Singapore At Night
- Eating Out Is A National Pastime | Singapore
- Bikol Express & The Romanticism Of The Mayon Volcano
- Pancit – Palabok, Bihon, Canton | On A Filipino Food Trail
Posts from other members who were in the trip:
- Amazing Thailand – Dubai to Koh Klang – a Krabi experience «coffeecakesandrunning.me»
- Koh Klang Local Village Life «coffeecakesandrunning.me»
- Kayaking & Spa Day in Krabi «coffeecakesandrunning.me»
- 44 Konsonanten, 16 Vokale und ein Lächeln für alle, «Escribo»
- Abseits vom Massentourismus in Thailand, Impressionen aus Krabi von «Reisewerk»