We spent our last three days in Thailand traipsing the jungle of Khao Sok National Park. As nature nerds, we felt at home surrounded by the beauty of the rainforest, cicadas buzzing, streams gurgling, but really the only thing on our minds was where, and what, we would eat those last few days. We loved the food in Thailand so much that we were in sort of a panic knowing we would be leaving soon.
Our first night we left our guesthouse disappointed by the mediocre lunch from their kitchen earlier and ventured to the main drag of Khao Sok. We wandered down the street among the brightly-lit cafes and restaurants hoping some moment of clairvoyance would lead us to the perfect place. Perhaps it was some form of divine intervention that led us to look at the menu at Thai Herb, a small restaurant surrounded by a lush garden.
Thai Herb’s specialty is dishes of local vegetables and many entrees with herbs as the main attraction. We ordered the Khao Sok leaf, a local leafy green cooked in creamy coconut milk. Khao Sok leaf has a firm texture like chard or collards but with a milder flavor like spinach. A spicy ground chicken stir fry came with pumpkin cut into thin strips, cooked al dente, and nicely sweet to offset the strong spice. And we had to try the green mango salad, the fruit oddly crunchy but bursting with mango flavor, dressed with puckering tamarind and fish sauce and crushed peanuts, which added the perfect amount of texture and nuttiness.
Sides of streamed rice came shaped like monkey faces with carrot mouths and green bean eyes. A frog the size of a football hopped through the tables on his way to the back garden while a few tourists jumped up in their chairs and scrambled for photos. It’s really not hard to win us over. We came back the next night.
Thai Herb’s menu was so extensive, one could eat different dishes there for a week. This time we had to try some prawns, so we went with the sweet, tart tamarind prawn stir fry. For a veggie fix we tried the fried cauliflower and pork, a gentle savory mix of textures, but probably the least exciting of all the dishes we tried. But the fern salad. Oh, God, the fern salad. Lightly steamed fern shoots in a thick creamy coconut, garlic and chili sauce and topped with crispy fried onions. If I wasn’t in public I would have licked the plate. We were so smitten with Thai Herb, we decided to return a third time for lunch before we left Khao Sok for Surat Thani, where we would take the train to Malaysia.
The salads were the highlights at Thai Herb. This time we tried the fried basil and chicken salad. The basil was actually fried crispy, not stir fried, with a delicate texture, crunchy but very light with thin strips of chicken breast and tart chili and fish sauce. To continue our health kick we ordered the stir-fried pork and kale, served with a savory oyster sauce. It could have been my love-struck imagination, but even the fried rice with prawn and pineapple, a typically ho-hum dish, was spectacular.
Food crisis successfully averted, we could safely leave Thailand with full bellies and memories of crunchy mango and tender fern shoots lulling us to sleep on the rattling train to Malaysia.