Samui Wining & Dining
Chicken Going Cheap

7Our feathered friend is an integral part of everyday life on Samui.

Chicken is incredibly popular all over the world and they’re used in hundreds if not thousands of recipes. And that’s certainly the case here on Samui. A short stroll around town will reveal mobile chicken vendors, roadside barbecue chicken stalls, fried chicken franchises, and Thai and western restaurants with a whole range of wonderful ways to cook and present this domesticated fowl.

There’re more than 300 breeds of chicken and it’s estimated that there’re around 50 billion chickens in the world at any one time though it’s difficult to be precise. That’s seven or eight times the human population. And there’re more chickens around than any other species of bird by quite some distance. Thailand produces around 320,000 tonnes of chicken, much of which is actually exported to Japan and the EU. Nevertheless, whilst it may not be as much of a staple compared to pork in Thailand, chicken is gaining in popularity, even after the avian flu concerns of a couple of years back.

Recent evidence suggests that domestication of the chicken was under way in Vietnam over 10,000 years ago. And from there they spread across the known world. There’s evidence of them being domesticated in ancient Babylonia, Greece, Egypt and India, although there’s no mention of them in the Old Testament.

Nowadays, in the UK, Canada and Australia, adult male chickens are known as cocks whereas in America they’re called roosters. Males under a year old are cockerels. Castrated roosters are called capons (though both surgical and chemical castrations are now illegal in some parts of the world). Females over a year old are known as hens, and younger females are pullets. In Australia and New Zealand (and sometimes in Britain), there’s a useful generic term chook (rhymes with ‘book’) to describe all ages and both sexes. Babies are called chicks, and the meat is called chicken, though the word ‘chicken’ is now the common generic term for the bird. On Samui, if you see the Thai word gai on a menu it means that the dish contains chicken.

So where are you likely to see cooked chicken for sale on Samui? Well, if you are walking around Chaweng during the day you’ll often see people carrying long poles over their shoulders with small portable barbecues at either end. They tend to cover the same ground every day and will stop and cook off small strips of chicken on a stick that you can take away with you. Around the market areas there’re usually some static stalls that serve barbecued chicken on a stick. And there are many barbecue units (usually home-constructed efforts) along the roadside where they’ll cook whole chickens for sale at around 100 baht.

I’m sure everyone is familiar with the worldwide KFC chicken franchise (there’s one in the Tesco Lotus complex in Chaweng). But there’s a popular Thai chicken franchise called 5 Star which sells whole chickens and ducks, whole-rolled chicken breasts, bite-size pieces of chicken and corn on a stick, and hot-dog style sausages. The whole chickens and ducks and chicken breasts are cooked on a gas-fired rotisserie. In the busiest months they can sell 40-50 whole chickens, a dozen ducks and hundreds of the other products per day. One of the reasons for that is the price. A whole basted and roasted chicken is just 109 baht (at the time of writing it was actually 99 baht because there was a promotion on). It’s opposite Baan Boran Heritage Thai Cuisine Restaurant on the top of Chaweng Lake Road.

In the restaurants around the island you’ll find interesting local chicken dishes, such as: fried noodles Thai-style with chicken (pad Thai gai); chicken satay with peanut sauce (satay gai); Panang curry with chicken (Panang gai); spicy chicken salad with toasted rice (larb gai); stir-fried chicken with green curry (gai pad khiao wan); chicken in pandanus leaves (gai ho bai toey); Thai yellow curry with chicken (gaeng karee gai); Thai drunken chicken wings (peek gai mao daeng); Thai drunkard’s noodles and chicken with tofu (gai pad khi mao); chicken and lemon grass (gai sai takrai); green chicken curry (gaeng khiao wan gai) and masaman chicken curry (gaeng masaman gai), to name but a few. And there’re many more, plus the western style restaurants will also have plenty of chicken dishes on offer.

Some visitors have concerns about the hygiene element of food bought roadside but there’s really nothing to be concerned about. Many places have the government ‘Clean Food Good Taste’ accreditation and are regularly audited. You’ll see a green and blue logo with a smiley face in the centre displayed in lots of restaurants. And I have to say, even after all the time I’ve lived here, that I’ve had a bit of an upset stomach on just a few occasions. Certainly no more times than I had back in the UK.

If you’re unsure of anywhere just watch for a few minutes and if the place seems reasonably busy with Thai customers then you can pretty much rest assured that the food is good and safe. And what you’ll also notice, particularly during the day, is that these small roadside places attract customers from all walks of life. You’ll see bank managers, businessmen and women, and government employees sitting side-by-side with students, shop assistants and hotel workers.

Good quality, value-for-money food has no class barriers here. And if that isn’t a great reason to stop and try some local food then I don’t know what is.


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