Finding vegetarian Thai food in the U.S. is usually pretty easy. Thai restaurants often have a “Vegetarian” section on the menu, or at least make a few dishes where proteins like tofu and mock duck can be an option. In Thailand, there is lots of vegetarian food, but if you don’t know the language, and want to eat “local,” it can be hard to find. We were fortunate to land in an Airbnb, Baan Chao Koh, run by a couple whose favorite cook down the road was happy to prepare special order vegetarian food. We went to Hugs Guesthouse and Restaurant on the main drag of Long Beach Village to meet Sara – Thai cook extraordinaire! Our Airbnb owner, Pat, had called ahead to let Sara know that we would be stopping by.
Long Beach has one main road that runs parallel to the beach and nestled between the paved road and the beach are small cottages, resorts, and villas connected with little gravel alleys winding this way and that. Arriving after two days of torrential rain meant we had to jump over and around puddles and oozy mud lanes to get to the main road. Fortunately, the town is small and Hugs is only a short walk from our villa. Hugs is mainly a Guesthouse, but Sara, the owner, recently took over the kitchen as chef serving lunch and dinner. We were here just before the winter tourists arrived, and the restaurant is not yet “official” in the eyes of tourists – no Trip Advisor, no Yelp…yet… so the place was quiet – only two other tables out of the seven or eight had diners. That meant we were LUCKY! Normally, an empty restaurant might be a bad sign, but in this case, when the cook is going to make something especially for you – that means lucky – SPOILED, in fact!
When we walked into the place the first day, Sara greeted us with a warm Thai smile and lots of energy! We introduced ourselves as “The Vegetarians!” She knew we were coming and already had formulated a few ideas. She began by asking us what we liked and what we didn’t like and what we had in mind. We knew we better keep it safe with Max and Jeff being picky eaters, so I suggested they have Pad Thai and I asked for a green curry. Forgetting completely that Pad Thai normally comes with egg, Sara came out from the kitchen after a few minutes of cooking to ask if the boys wanted eggs in the Pad Thai. I was so relieved that she thought to ask because they don’t! Max will eat an egg here and there, but Jeff doesn’t like them at all. For somebody to have that foresight and then to ask is wonderful! The food was fabulous – particularly my green curry – a richly flavored creamy sauce punctuated with Thai eggplant, tofu and kafir lime. The dish was perfectly balanced with heat and sweet, delicate flavors coated with a delicate coconut “You’re in the islands” kind of message.
Before we left that evening, Sara enticed us to dine with her again by describing other wonderful vegetarian dishes she could cook. She told us of her sweet and sour chicken that could be made with tofu. She teased me with the names of green vegetables I could try in a stir fry, and we were sold when tempura vegetables would be served for appetizers. We ate like kings the next day, and again, Sara bid us farewell with stories of other foods she could make vegetarian. Sara’s hospitality was one of the most decadent treats I have ever enjoyed!
The next day we dined on a yellow curry with Thai eggplant, mushrooms, carrots and pineapple, and Jeff and Max both had wide noodles with broccoli, peapods, carrots, chiles and onion. Sara made Jeff’s dish spicy and brought him an additional bowl of hot chile that he enjoyed in generous proportion. Seeing his love of spice, Sara was excited to bring on the spice for tomorrow’s meal! Of course, if I were a good tourist I would know what to call all of these dishes, but alas…
Because we found such great food on the island, I only cooked one day while on Koh Lanta. Walking by a little market near our villa I was enticed by the pineapple, ginger, and holy basil. I walked in, started gathering ingredients and before I knew it I was home telling the boys I was going to make my own green curry with rice noodles! Normally the curries are served with rice, I believe, but Max LOVES these noodles and they sure are easy – just a quick dip in hot water and they are ready to slather in your favorite sauce.
The island of Koh Lanta made us feel very welcome. We were treated to exceptional hospitality by both the villa owners, Serge and Pat and their friend, Sara at Hugs. We hope to return some day for a repeat holiday! For further reading about the island, Conde Naste writes a mean review highlighting Koh Lanta’s “barefoot beauty” and “hint of hippie!” This Thai Island exudes calm hospitality where tourists can mingle with locals, feel comfortable stepping into small street markets for food and produce, and even take a cooking class or two. Of course, all the goodies along the road will keep you full between meals!