On a recent foray into the Bangrak market in the northeast corner of Koh Samui, Thailand, however, this timeless travel ritual feels different.
For one thing, the man at the center of the trip — a Spanish chef sifting through the fish, vegetables and spices on show — is inspiring more than just calls for business from the local vendors.
He’s inspiring merriment.
A vendor wearing a knockoff Barcelona FC jersey, for example, is struggling to contain his laughter as he watches this farang chef explain the various uses of the market’s mostly unrecognizable foods to his farang guest.
“This is called taling pling,” says the chef, Alex Gares, in a Catalan accent.
He’s waving around something that looks like a cross between a cucumber and a tiny pear.
“It’s pretty sour,” he notes for the benefit of his guest. “Do you like it?”
Obsession pays off
“My staff thought I was a little bit crazy, trying to make some of those dishes from the local restaurants with these local ingredients,” Gares says. “With pretty much the same staff, I have had to work out how to motivate them, how to inspire them and let them know what I want to do with these local ingredients, that it is important to showcase the real Thai food experience.
“In doing so, I think we’ve got a winning team putting out great southern Thai food.”
KOH Thai Kitchen and Bar, Four Seasons Resort Koh Samui, 219 Moo 5, Angthong, Koh Samui, Thailand; +66 77 243 000
Open for breakfast, lunch (noon-5 p.m.), dinner (6-10 p.m.) Reservations recommended
Alex Gares’ other Koh Samui restaurant recommendations
Ranong Restaurant, Moo 2, Chumchon Chaweng Yai Soi 4, Chaweng, Koh Samui
Takho Bang Por (also spelled Bangpo or Bang Po), 56/4 moo 6 Maenam, Bang Por Beach, Koh Samui