I’m currently on Ko Pha-Ngan, a beautiful island in southern Thailand. At the moment, the water is clear, the weather sunny and I’m having a great time with old friends. There’s only one downside: the food is bloody awful. Actually, that’s a bit too strong. The food here isn’t unsanitary, or rotten or even that badly prepared. It’s just phenomenally bland. A boring, uninteresting approximation of Thai food for gastronomically timid foreigners. To make things even worse, every restaurant on Haad Yao seems to have the identical menu, and they staunchly refuse to vary from this. Among the more bizarre things that I’ve been served is something called Haad Yao fried rice (pictured above), rice fried with ketchup and chicken, and wrapped in a thin omelet. You can opt for the classic Thai dishes, but unless you’re a fan of limp, salty ‘kana with garlic’, greasy phat thai, or milky tom khaa, you’re screwed.
Our only saving grace at this point has been a streetside som tam and grilled chicken stall about three kilometres up the road.
The proprietor is from Buriram, and makes papaya salad just the way I like it: sour and spicy. If you go to the same area in the morning, you’ll even find, believe it or not, authentic southern Thai food such as khanom jeen. Unfortunately a taxi ride there (actually a seat in the back of a truck) costs more than the meal, so what would be a dirt cheap meal anywhere else in the country becomes an exorbitant splurge here.
In a couple days I’ll be crossing over to Ko Samui, home I’m sure to even more quasi-Thai food, but also the location of Bangpo Seafood, a beachfront restaurant serving authentic Ko Samui-style Thai food that, despite having eaten there only once, I still count as one of my most memorable eating experiences in Thailand. Can’t wait.