Samui is a major supplier of coconuts in Thailand and it comes as no surpise that curried Thai food abounds.
Curries in Thailand are as varied - in preparation and cooking - as the different parts of the country are.
Thai curries are known for their unique mixture of intensely hot and sour tastes. This combination - "pet pet, priew priew," as Thais describe it - can shock some Westerners but others take rights to it, regarding them as a "special treat."
A well known Thai curry is "gaeng som" or "orange curry," which describes its flavor. In central and northern Thailand, they call it "gaeng leuang" or "yellow curry," from the fresh turmeric which gives it distinctive pale yellow color.
The Thai word "som" can acutely mean any of a number of sour, acidic substances, so that "nam som" can refer to either orange juice or vinegar. In the case of "gaeng som," the name refers to the sourness brought out by the fruit juice added to the curry.
Although oranges are used on occasion, most Thais prefer to use "manao," a small, round, green citrus fruit that tastes similar to lemons though it looks more like a lime.
Traditionally prepared yellow curry is fiery hot. Large quantities of hot chili peppers - preferably red to make the dish more colorful and attractive - are pounded into a fine paste on a mortar and pestle along with a similar amount of garlic, some fresh sliced turmeric and salt. A touch of shrimp paste is added to this mixture, which is then boiled in water to produce the base for curry. The result is a soup than can inflict searing pain on the uninitiated palate.
Not to worry though, as Thais suit the spices to satisfy the Western tastes. Instead of using 20 or more chilies when they are cooking for Thais, they use only perhaps five or six chilies when making a curry for six to eight farangs.
To this interesting broth is added the juice of several manao, together with a generous portion of papaya slices. These papayas will also surprise the uninitiated. Rather than the sweet brick-red delicacies found on many street corners in Thai cities, this papaya is an under ripe, crunchy white variety, more like a bland turnip. When thinly sliced and added to the curry, the fruit becomes translucent and soft. The papaya slices adds body to the dish.
Fresh vegetables can be added to the curry as well. And, as in most Thai dishes, a touch of sugar is added to give it the hot-sweet taste that distinguishes Thai food from any other cuisine in the world. Finally, shrimp, fish or some other seafood (or, occasionally, pork) is added, and the dish is ready to be served, with raw vegetables on the sides.