Huahin beach district – relaxation near the big city, and yummy Thai food on the beach

Over the Chinese New Year holidays in Thailand, which lasted from January 30th until the 2nd of February, our family went on a trip to Huahin.
Huahin is a popular vacation destination for Thai people – it is only a 3 hour drive away, the beaches are clean, the city is not busy or overcrowded, and the weather is breezy there.

Here are pictures from our second day at the beach district:

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Chicks and a hen at a sea-side restaurant

For brunch, we made a trip to a sea-side restaurant. Between the tables set on the beach where we ate were little chicks and their mother, strolling around for a light morning exercise. What puzzled me was the fact that the chicks varied quite a lot in sizes… the chickens belonged to the restaurant who fed them with some leftover rice placed in a big bowl.

Here were the dishes we ordered:

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Deep fried tilapia in fish sauce. The fish was relatively fresh, and despite having been deep-fried, the inside was not too oily. Unfortunately, I have a thing for the crispy outer skin and crunchy bits, which do hold quite a bit of oil. But Thai deep fried fish is definitely much less fatty than something like kfc, because fish cooks very quickly in hot oil (because of its protein composition, as compared with other meat) and also they cut the fish with big slashes before deep frying.
Other than grilled pork and fried chicken, deep fried fish is another ‘Thai must-have’ at dinner tables. Nearly everytime I go to Thai restaurants with family members, a deep fried fish must also be included in the meal – not the healthiest way to cook and eat fish!
The flavours of the tilapia was slightly sweet and salty – the taste of fish sauce.

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Then we also ordered ‘Hormok‘ – a dish I had introduced in my previous post here: http://obsessivenutritioncompulsive.wordpress.com/2014/01/24/kwan-riam-floating-market-a-brand-new-floating-market-experience-when-contemporary-meets-modern-day-thai-part-1/. The flavour was nothing special: coconut-y, sweet and slightly salty, just hormok. And its creaminess is something I don’t totally enjoy. Kind of like eating a cheesy macaroni.

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Other than those two dishes, we ordered steamed mussels in basil leaves, fried rice with crab meat – another Thai must-have – and deep fried squid. Not pictured above were shrimp with ‘sa-tor’ stir fry, and oven baked shrimps with vermicelli noodles – my favourite dish as a child (on which I will later elaborate). But first, descriptions of each dish in chronological order.

The steamed mussels were definitely very impressive – the flesh was incredibly soft and creamy. Some of the mussels were also tomato red, which was pretty interesting. It has been a while since I’ve had Thai mussels and I’d say they have more flavour than New Zealand mussels which were slightly tasteless but meatier and therefore full of protein. The flavour of basil definitely seeped into the mussels.

The fried rice was just average. In fact, not even properly cooked. Good fried rice is fried with high heat to give a smoky (slightly burnt) taste and texture. This fried rice was just kind of like rice tossed in a bit of oil to warm it up.

The deep fried squid was just bad. It was super hard as well as being oily.

The oven roasted shrimp with vermicelli noodles were also nothing special. The best shrimp with vermicelli must have that creamy taste of shrimp fat, found mostly in the shrimp’s head (the dreaded cholesterol!) mixed in with the sweet soy sauce, a bit of spring onion flavours which has soaked into the vermicelli. At the same time, the vermicelli noodles should not be too wet, but slightly springy. I think kids like this dish (including I as a child) because they like the sweetness of vermicelli with sweet soy sauce, and the fattiness of the dish (they put pig lard in to prevent the noodles from drying out when cooking) undeniably appeals to the human palate

The shrimp stir-fry with ‘sa-tor’ was one of my favourite dishes at this restaurant. The shrimp was stir-fried with Thai ‘name-prik kapi’ which is Thai’s spicy shrimp paste sauce. Because it was stir fried with sauce, the entire dish was not oily. However, I believe they would probably stir fry the shrimps and sa-tor in a bit of oil first, then, add in the ‘nam-prik kapi’ (but this considerably reduced the amount of oil in the dish) This stir-fry was packed full of flavours from this particular sauce – chunks of garlic, chili, shallots and red onions. Also a bit of sourness from the lime pieces and juice. ‘Sa-tor’ is a type of bean consumed mainly in Southern Thai dishes. It is quite strong tasting i.e. it has that funny ‘greeny’ taste, like the type you get from avocado. It also has a slight bitterness like something you might get from raw broccoli. ‘Sa-tor’ is definitely an acquired taste, which apparently makes your mouth stink incredibly badly. I have not yet had the misfortune to experience the ‘sa-tor’ breath.

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Later on that evening, we also went horse riding along the Huahin beach. ‘Horse people’ would come around on their horses to offer mainly children rides. The fare was not too hefty – 400 baht per half hour ride. But anyway, I went on one, while my cousin took the other which was a larger horse. Then afterwards, my seven year old cousins, and a four year old one all had a ride. The safety requirements in Thailand is pretty chill – basically non existent. No head gear for riders. I am slightly used to that sort of attitude having lived in New Zealand, the adventure capital apparently.

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My nine and four year old cousin riding on “Simon”. I forgot what my horse was called! Meredith? Jackie? Janet? It was a Western name, once I remember, I will update this!

For dinner, we went to another sea-side restaurant called “Barn isara” However, this time, we sat on a balcony overlooking the beach. Near the entrance, they had a display of some of their freshest seafood. The huge lobster definitely caught my eye. The greenish, black and orange patterns decorated its shiny shell. Unfortunately, my seven year old cousin was the photographer, and I never had the chance to re-take the shot!

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Hence the blurriness of the image

For some reason, we also ordered another deep-fried tilapia dish at this restaurant. I know that deep fried fish is a Thai dining meal thing, but the same sort of fish as well? I would say this fish was probably a bit drier than the one we had at lunch. Drier, as in more meaty, which is normally an indication of freshness. Fish should not be soft once cooked.

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We also ordered another Thai must-have: clear soup or what the Thais call Gang-jeud “Bland soup”. Same as the Japanese have their miso soup to go with every meal, Thai people also opt for “bland soup” usually made with chicken ribs, or pork bone. The ingredients would include minced pork balls, white cabbage, seaweed, and whatever veggies you like. This soup was definitely a nice breaker from oily stir-fries, where I can have my veggies unwilted and not completely loaded with oil.

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This was one of my favourite dishes:
Squid stir fry with salted duck egg sauce. The salted duck egg sauce was definitely incredibly rich and full of egg yolks (fat and cholesterol included) – kind of like Thai version of hollandaise sauce.

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Salty and mellow, the spring onions and red peppers provided refreshing bursts of slight sweetness and veggieness within the creaminess of the dish’s sauce. The squid was also very soft, as in easy to bite into, not chewy, but still firm and fresh.

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Another copy-cat dish from that morning (brunch): steamed mussels in basil leaves. I would say the mussels we had that mid-morning were more impressive than this one. Why? Could be because I prefer soft textured mussels, whilst this one was more rubbery. But also because the flavours of basil leaves and herbs i.e. lemongrass/chili/galangal definitely did not soak in as much, leaving the mussels a bit too “natural” for my Thai palate (I put on a different sort of flavour preferences when I eat different nationalities of foods i.e. salty for Italian (sardines, olives and parmesan), sweet or salty for Chinese (sweet and sour stir-fries))

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This was another one of their super delicious dishes (other than the stir-fry with salted duck egg sauce): Spicy “gra-tin” shoots with oyster. This was a “yum” dish which is a Thai way of cooking using mostly fresh herbs, chili and lime. “Yum” dishes are normally served at room temperature, and with lots of side veggies to counteract the fieriness of the dish.

I have no idea why this oyster dish was named a “yum” on the menu because it does not really have many characteristics of a yum. The garlic were not fresh but has been fried, and so were the chili and “gra-tin” shoots (a type of vegetable that is slightly chewy). But this dish was nevertheless super yummy! The spicy and sour mix of the sauce was just right, enchanced by the flavours of fried garlic. The creaminess of oyster also went well with the chewy and slight strong flavours of “gra-tin” shoots.

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Here we have a “nam-prik” or Thai for chili sauce/dip which are most commonly eaten excessively with veggies or rice at most Thai meals. This particular “nam-prik” includes crab meat in it, alongside the typical “nam-prik kapi” or shrimp paste mix which includes shrimp paste, lots of garlic, chili, lime, etc. In my opinion, this “nam-prik” was a bit too sweet. It was like a “nam-prik kapi” with crab meat. After eating a Thai meal, you can just rule out dessert with the amount of sugar in each dishes (I’m only kidding). But a good thing is that a lot of fresh/steamed veggies are normally provided at meals.

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On to the so-called “star” of the night: the restaurant’s signature and recommended dish which ‘everyone must order’ “hoi-talab” (a type of shellfish) in basil sauce.

This dish was kind of lame (I was quite disappointed given all the fuss over this ‘top’ dish of theirs) The sauce was rather bland, and very oily. It is kind of like some underseasoned pesto with no nuts poured on top of shellfish.

In conclusion, both the seafood restaurants we went to in Huahin had their upsides and downsides. There were super delicious dishes that I would love to have scoffed down alongside the “meh” ones and the ‘you-are-supposed-to-be-a-restaurant’ ones. Overall, I have learned that a cook cannot be perfect with all his dishes.

On the last day of our mini-holiday, we had lunch at a “specialized chicken restaurant” called “Kannika Kitchen” (I’m liking this transliterated name – very catchy).

All their meat dishes were made using chicken. Personally, I can’t stomach chicken, chicken and chicken for an entire meal, but I don’t know about other people (I guess Nando’s can’t be famous if people have the same problem as I, or this restaurant). Just one chicken dish is enough for me (and preferrably organic).

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Pictured were their signature dishes. We definitely had to order “Thai-style” fried chicken which was both average-tasting and dry. We also ordered the famous “stuffed chicken wings“.

What they do with the stuffed chicken wings is take off most of the meat on the wings, then stick onto the remaining bones a mix of minced pork and shrimp (which turned out to taste a lot like chicken I did not even realize what the mixture really was) and vermicelli noodles, all seasoned with soysauce, pepper, garlic, (I don’t know what else) then battered and deep-fried. It was kind of like Chinese spring rolls, but in the shape of chicken wings and with lots more filling. Not bad at all though. Better than the actual chicken (no wonder people like McNuggets so much)

Other non-deep fried dishes (yes!) include:

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minced chicken stir-fry with basil leaves and green curry with chicken.

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Chicken tom-yum (lots of veggies i.e. mushrooms, tomato)

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This is a close-up of the green curry.

The chicken “larb“. Larb is a kind of Thai dish, characterized by its spicy flavours and characteristic seasoning (dried chili flakes, crunchy ground roasted rice, mint, lime, etc.) Similar to “yum“, larb is often served either warm or at room temperature. However, “yum” uses more fresh raw ingredients whilst larb’s has been cooked.

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My cousin being annoying. Just kidding, she’s a good kid most of the time. But I know how to deal with the kids anyway. You just have to treat them like they’re your age, then they stop bothering you i.e. teasing/whining.

As for the tastes of the dishes at this “Kannikar Kitchen” or in Thai “Krua Kannikar“:

Most of their dishes were quite oily. I suspect it’s because they use quite fatty parts of the chicken, and always include the skin parts (the skin (of basically everything) is mostly left on in Asian cuisine anyway) which as a result, traps a lot of fat. Nevertheless, their dishes were very well seasoned (such as the very tasty spring roll chicken wings aka stuffed deep-fried chicken wings). “Krua Kannikar’s” spicy dishes did not fail in living up to their titles, and the restaurant’s food was thankfully not gearing towards the sweet side (which Thai restaurants tend to do).

The minced chicken stir-fry with basil leaves was very well-seasoned. It was not too salty – they relied on garlic for borrowed flavours – nor oily either.

The green curry was definitely oily as they are known for being i.e. as being curry. I find most “Western” green curry not as fatty as the traditional Thai ones where a bit more vegetable oil is used in the stir-frying of the chilies, chili paste, meat, etc. before mixing in with the soup and coconut milk. The good thing about this restaurant was that their “sweet green curry” (the transliterated name) was not as sweet as their name. This restaurant definitely instead, emphasized spiciness in their dishes, such as in this green curry. I definitely enjoyed the ‘Thai eggplant’ and smaller ‘Thai eggplant’…

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“smaller Thai eggplant” or “ma-keu-puang”

… which cooks much quicker than the typical bright purple “aubergine” and can even be eaten raw. The eggplants were used a lot in the green curry. The abundance of delicious nightshade veggies in Thailand is just overwhelming. I can just eat the “ma-keu-puang”, “ma-keu” (eggplant), or “vine-y” plants like gourds, zucchini all day. Plus, these sort of veggies are cheap here in Thailand (compared to leafy veggies i.e. spinach, boychoy, kale). I need to be controlled.

The chicken tom-yum was average. Once again with this restaurant, uber spicy. The chicken pieces used were super tender (with lots of skin and collagen on) which many people would enjoy but not me!

The chicken “larb” was also well-seasoned, but I didn’t like seeing oil floating around the top. It’s supposed to be a “salad” (tossed mix of cooked mince, red onions) sort of dish!

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With so much oil and animal fat, I was glad to see a bit of green (albeit a bit too minimal). Fresh cumin root is great when eating fatty foods as they can greatly help you digest, or release gas, which can often become congested when eating oily food (slows down digestion). We also have some “Laos cilantro” which looks like bolted coriander to me. They are however, much different in flavour from coriander – very distinctive in taste, almost like a cross between very pungent basil leaves and celery. Other than that, they also served fresh basil leaves alongside: a very good digestion aid. The strange-looking veggie near the very front is called ‘Pak-pai’. It was like chewing on a flower stem, (which it is – an aquatic plant with yellow flowers. The plant helps increase appetite amongst a few other health benefits) and the taste is quite pungent near the buds at the top.

Overall, I would rate “Kannikar Kitchen” or “Krua Kannikar” as average, where the dishes are good tasting, but not totally wholesome and various. The lack of fresh veggies were also a bit disappointing i.e. if you are going to serve that much fried foods or meat, you are going to need more veggie dishes which they lack.

This trip to Huahin was definitely filled with fun experiences i.e. riding horses along the beach (watching it pee in front of sunbathing tourists, twice), building sand castles with kids, and enjoying rich seafood and Thai roadtrip snacks i.e. corn cob on sticks or Chinese-style buns, and coffee stops (I probably had a bit too many daily servings of iced coffee during that trip!). I would say my fellow holiday goers most likely indulged themselves much more than I had, in their helpings of… shaved ice, sweetened iced drinks, durian chips, “Kanom Krok” (Thai coconut dessert), sticky rice with mango and coconut milk, and even Western-style doughnuts and McDonalds. My advice for vacationers would be to slow down on the food budget and eating! Try to keep on schedule in terms of activity and also eating, so you end up having done all the sight seeing you wanted to do, and don’t get weighed down by feeling bloated or tired (because of improper meal times or having had too much to eat)

– Izzy