Samui Wining & Dining
THE FARMER’S TALE
A unique dining experience at The Farmer Restaurant & Bar.


Page-24

Have you ever pondered exactly what ‘authentic Thai food’ means? If it’s your first time in the Kingdom then you’ll probably assume that Thai food is . . . well, Thai food. Certainly it’s won’t look and taste much like it does back home. It’ll probably be richer, creamier, and packed full of aromas and flavours that it’s a joy to experience. But, in reality, Thailand can be considered as being four different regions, each with its own way of life, traditions, local dialect and style of food.

      The northeast, for example, was at one time the poorest part of Thailand, a region where simple foodstuffs needed to be heavily spiced in order to give them any kind of taste. In contrast, the central plain was the fertile area where the Royal Family and palaces were to be found, and also where foreign traders first seeded the nation with a wide variety of exotic herbs, spices and vegetables. It’s all ‘Thai food’, certainly. But, with such a wide range of cultural influences, it’s often not easy to know exactly what sort of Thai food it is. It might turn out to be the ‘mouth dynamite’ from the farming region of Issan. Or it could be the subtle blends of mellow flavours which originated from the courts of the kings. And the latter is very much what you’ll experience when you discover and enjoy ‘The Farmer Restaurant & Bar’ in Maenam.

       Well, to be exact, it’s actually just on the fringe of Ban Tai, on the left as you head around the sharp bend out of Maenam, and past the side road to the Lomprayah Ferry, heading towards Nathon. You can’t miss it: the signposts on the ring-road point directly to a long paved road, which at night is a dramatic avenue lit by blazing torches.

          The Farmer is unique. Samui now boasts hundreds of quality restaurants, several of which have their own organic kitchen gardens. But here there is a full-size and functional rice paddy – more about this in a moment. And the other factor (and it’s more significant) is that several of the curries, sauces and preparations can be traced directly back five generations to the kitchens of King Rama V. They still remain secret, they’re all carefully hand-made and, after more than a decade of eating food from all over Thailand, I’ve never tasted a blend of flavours and aftertastes that has been anything at all like this.

          Khun Lek is the owner and creator of The Farmer. Although her family line stretches back for centuries in the Bangkok region, she first came to establish herself on Samui more than 25 years ago. “My great-great (and then she counted off five of these!) . . . grandmother worked in the royal kitchens,” she explained. “She was taught to prepare the curry pastes, all made by hours of hand-grinding the herbs and spices in very exact combinations of different ingredients. The recipe was passed down over the generations, and today it lies with me. Today nearly every Thai chef buys their curry pastes ready-made from the local markets. That’s the reason why many Thai dishes taste similar. But here, as soon as you taste the first mouthful, you’ll realise these are smoother, and have layers of flavours that just aren’t possible with mass-produced products.”

          When you first enter The Farmer, it’s almost impossible to picture these ancient and inherited traditions. The big car park borders a low and modern building. Passing through the entrance you’ll come out into an airy open space with a contemporary kitchen range displayed along one side, and an attractive twofloor building in front of you. The central courtyard area is terraced on several levels and equipped with sturdy dining tables and chairs, dropping to the prime spot of a lower terrace right on the fringe of the ‘sea of green’. This is the rice field, rippling and undulating in the gentle breezes and spotlit with carefullyplaced accents, right away into the distant dark violet silhouette of the mountain slopes beyond.

          This is not some kind of gimmick or decorative element. There’s a team of farmers in residence to tend and harvest the crops. All the rice that goes with the restaurant’s dishes comes free of charge, and the surplus is donated to the local schools and the community in general. It’s almost an afterthought that this verdant sea adds a dimension of tranquillity that’s unparalleled by any other local dining experience.

          It’s a popularly-held belief that dishes which contain duck originated due to a Chinese influence. Khun Lek tells me that this is co-incidental, and that one of the elements of Royal Thai Cuisine was the variety of game and fowl it contained. This very particular approach is evident in the two special duck items on the menu. The ‘Dirty Duck’ is nothing if not a surprise. Firstly it’s deep-roasted and very crisp. Second, it’s fully half a duck. And, third, it comes with a red curry sauce that’s like nothing I’ve ever come across. It’s mildly spiced, but there’s a slight sourness that’s offset by the creamy texture, and it leaves hints of cinnamon and tamarind, that linger between mouthfuls. And you’ll find the ‘herbal sauce’ that’s associated with these duck dishes another offering that’s equally royal.

          Another enticing offering is the simply-titled ‘chu chi pla’. Salmon is certainly not an item you’ll find in any local Thai eatery. But this is lightly-crisped slices of grilled salmon that comes with another intriguingly-sumptuous royal sauce, presented with five little banana-leaf wraps of different sorts of rice – the five colours of jasmine, turmeric, okra, butterfly-pea and pandan.

          The menu here is really top-notch and also features prime International dishes, ranging from imported Australian tenderloin to Kobe Wagyu steaks, to pizzas, pastas and salads. But Khun Lek is shrewd, and she’s put together a very special promotion that’s hard to ignore. Between the hours of midday and 3:00 pm there’s a special promo lunch menu on which you’ll find several of the items I’ve already mentioned – and the duck can be enjoyed for only 299 baht, which is a massive reduction on the usual cost. And this runs into a happy hour from 4:00 to 6:00 pm: there is 30% off all drinks, and also the snack and dessert menus, too. Taking everything into account, you’ll probably end up telling all your friends about your super dining experience and ‘the farmer’s tale’!

          

 Rob De Wet

 

 


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