Massaman is the ultimate southern Thai comfort curry dish. Growing up, I would see my mother preparing this without a recipe – the flavours and aromas coming from our kitchen inspired me to start cooking. We make an amazing version with slow-cooked wagyu beef cheek in a cardamom-scented sauce at KOH Thai Kitchen & Bar. But you can try an alternative at Pui Relax Restaurant (Bo Put, Ko Samui District).
Larb is a signature Thai dish and should be a balance of spice, savoury, sweet and acidity. I do a version with fatty tuna chunks that, to me, is what southern Thai fine-dining should look like – extravagant and unique, but without losing authenticity. Almost all local Thai restaurants will have a variation of it. Try the duck larb at Krok Yai in Maenam.
TOM SOM PLA TALING PLING
I've gone around Koh Samui looking for my favourite version of this clear fish soup with lime leaf, galangal, bimbili and lemongrass. Baan Suan Krua in Maenam comes closest to what I think is a perfect concoction. See facebook.com/BaanSuanKrua.Samui
MEE KATI GOONG
With a balance of spicy coconut and chive sauce, wok-fried rice vermicelli and prawns, this has always been a favourite. Growing up, the smoky aromas would waft into our house every afternoon causing hunger pangs and, ultimately, a trip down the street, tightly clutching on to 20-baht bills. Khanomjeen Pa Lek near Wat Samret temple makes a pretty good version.
KUA KHLING MOO, KRUA CHAO BAAN
This fiery-hot dish showcases the unashamedly spicy nature of southern Thai food. Combined with turmeric and kaffir lime leaves, it is one to be enjoyed with a glass of ice-cold water. Or beer. Or both. Krua Chao Baan's preparation of this dish is unparalleled on the island. See kruachaobaansamui.weebly.com
KAI JIEAW HOR MUK
Thai omelettes are serious business. Pair that with my all-time favourite grilled fish curry cake and it is complete bliss. Enjoyed with a steaming plate of jasmine rice, there is no other dish that brings me back to my childhood dining table quite like this.
GOONG CHAE NAHM PLA, BANG PO SEAFOOD
This dish requires a certain level of courage. Fresh raw prawns are de-shelled, plated, and the most amazing mixture of lime, crushed fresh chilli and garlic is drizzled over to finish, resulting in spice and zest from the sauce, partnered with sweet and salty from the raw prawns. Spectacular. (Find it at 56/4 Moo 6, Mai Nam Beach.)
Sumalee Khunpet, known as Chef Jeab, is native to Nakhon Si Thammarat province in southern Thailand. Her family sold home-made doughnuts and coconut roll wafers for a living and she says her first boss at a small hotel on Chaweng beach "passed on her Thai and French recipes and cooking techniques to me. She also taught me to be proud of being a cook." She began with Four Seasons Koh Samui five years ago and is the driving force behind the menu at KOH Thai Kitchen & Bar, focusing on authentic dishes from the island and further afield. See fourseasons.com/kohsamui