By Cat Wurdack
7 days / Lunch/Dinner
To eat a whole Tilapia like a Samui islander, you must cut off the fish head and suck out the eyeball, fork the flesh from the bone, lift the skeleton to your mouth and whistle up the savory juice. Don’t flip it over!
“This is an auspicious matter,” says Samui-born Joy Potrawiak, owner of Samui Thai Kitchen on SE Hawthorne.
If you flip over the fish to get to the flesh on the underside, Potrawiak advises, you give a curse to the fisherman, and the boat will turn upside down. So, remove the tail and lift the skeleton out to eat the remains.
Potrawiak, who grew up on Chaweng Beach, fished night and day as a child with her father. They caught blue crab at noon when the hard-shelled creatures would crawl onto the rocks, and in the evening they fished for squid when the cephalopods were drawn out by the moonlight.
These days, Potrawiak finds fresh tilapia at the Japanese market in Beaverton. She scores it before cooking so the oil penetrates and flavors the fish, then deep fries it so it’s crunchy from head to tail.
Samui Thai Kitchen features distinctive southern Thai specialties inspired by Potrawiak’s Malay and Indonesian forebears as well as more familiar standards such as Pad Thai, Tom Yum and Khao Soi Kai.
To warm up, begin with a steaming cup of Celon Ouleng and vegetarian Curry Puff appetizer: six oven-roasted pastry crescents filled with potato, onion, a bit of cumin and house-ground curry served with a fresh carrot and mixed cabbage slaw and cucumber- and-red-onion relish in vinaigrette.
Roast (Long Island) Duck Salad and Muu Haawng are delicious choices. The Duck Salad includes a succulent leg and breast on a bed of romaine with onion, pineapple, and green apple lightly dressed with sweet chili-lime sauce. Cold-chasing Muu Haawng is a hearty dish of braised pork belly, marinated pork loin cubes and hard-boiled eggs in a sweet five-spice sauce. Break up the whole cooked egg over rice, pour broth over all; accent with a spoonful of fresh chili-garlic-cilantro sauce. The generous chunks of pork are moist and tender and flake apart with the touch of a fork.
When Potrawiak was growing up in Samui, it was still populated with so many coconut trees that there was a school for monkeys which trained the nimble climbers to harvest coconuts!
Potrawiak studied art in Bangkok and computer science in New York City. A seasoned traveler, she is enthusiastic to hear about your adventures and to feed you well.