Fun and Food in Hua Hin

DINING OUT

by Paul Miller

Basically, jaeng lawn is the same thing as thawd man pla, but instead
of frying the pounded fish mixture, the cook packs it around a, wooden stick
and grills it over a fire. It resembles the popular Vietnamese dish where
minced shrimp is packed around a stick of sugarcane and then grilled.

I hadn’t been to Hua Hin in seven or eight years, and when I went back to the resort recently I felt like a tourist who had never set eyes on the place before. It was exciting and a lot of fun. Exciting, because I could still find some of the old wooden row houses, and they still had some of their original character. The fun came with discovering so many good things to eat.

(Editor’s note: This article was written in the mid-90’s when The Hua Hin Pages first started, if you’re looking for news about food currently found in Hua Hin, you should probably go here.)

When I first started going to Hua Hin years ago, I remember seeing restaurants and shops selling almost everything were all lined up along Petchkasem Road. That was the usual way of doing things back before we all became so road-crazy. There were rows of old wooden shacks in the beach area and in the narrow sois that ran off from Decha Nuchit Road. These were poor people’s homes. Some had roofs made out of palm leaves, other from galvanised metal sheeting. Their inhabitants were fisherman and their families, sweet sellers or people who dried and sold fish for a living, .

When I arrived this time, the things I saw set along those streets were for the most part boring. The traffic was jammed, and finding a parking space was an ordeal. Parts of the town stank and the weather was hot. This was all the complete opposite of the old wooden row houses, with their character and charm. Now I found that these had been transformed into restaurants and food shops, which had extended the back parts of the building towards the sea. Some of these places also doubled as guest houses.

This entire area now specialises in international style dining, and encompasses French, German, Pakistani, and Italian restaurants. The Italian place uses a wood-burning stove to bake pizza the old-fashioned way. The owners of these establishments are really natives of the countries whose food they serve. Diagonally across from the Melia (now the Hilton) Hua Hin Hotel is a book shop in which an old woman sits wrapping khanom thien. Both the crust and the filling looked awfully good, but you couldn’t just walk up and buy them; you had to order them a day ahead.

If this part of Hua Hin becomes a popular place for strolling around to look for things to eat, a tourist hangout, there is the unhappy possibility that it, too, will lose its character. Hua Hin as sit was in the past will be forgotten, and the town will be re-shaped and changed beyond recognition.

Some features from the past that can still be seen now are architectural details of the old wooden houses, like lower stories that have the folding wooden doors called pratu fiam (concealed doors). When the house is opened, the doors are folded back and stand against a post over to the side.

The upper storey has a balcony or terrace where people can sit around and relax. The edge of the overhanging part of the roof has attached supports that are beautifully carved. Most beautiful of all are the long, curved wooden beams that support the eaves. Some houses are ornamented with intricate designs carved into the wood.

There are all kinds of things to eat at the new Hua Hin, though, and just about all of them are good. If you want to try them all, it could take you months. Below are a few recommendations. Tracking them down may require some walking and searching, but it will be fun.

The Chatchai market beside Petchkasem Road in the middle of Hua Hin is an especially happy hunting ground for anyone looking for something to eat. In the rear right-hand corner of the market is a good jaeng lawn vendor. Jaeng lawn is a popular snack in provinces on the eastern seaboard, like Chon Buri and Rayong. When you see it as they make it in Hua Hin, you’ll feel that it should be available everywhere.

Basically, jaeng lawn is the same thing as thawd man pla, but instead of frying the pounded fish mixture, the cook packs it around a wooden stick and grills it over a fire. It resembles the popular Vietnamese dish where minced shrimp is packed around a stick of sugarcane and then grilled. The jaeng lawn is good and spicy, and the fish has a nice firm texture. If you eat them fresh from the grill, they’re especially delicious.

This jaeng lawn costs three baht a stick, and each stick has two cakes of the grilled fish on it. If you’re hungry, you can buy seven sticks for 20 baht. Should you have trouble finding the vendor, ask any of the market vendors. They’ll show you the way.

(For the latest in Vietnamese food in Hua Hin check out the Kai GaTa page.)

If you walk on a little way past the jaeng lawn vendor you’ll find a shop called Nai Dam that sell lawd chong Singapore. Don’t pass it by: the lawd chong are firm and chewy, and the sweetened coconut cream they’re served in is thick and very fresh. The jack fruit in syrup that is added to the dish is cut into very small pieces and has a wonderful aroma. You can either eat it right there or take it away, packed in a plastic bag. For take-away orders, the ice is packed separately. The price is only five baht.

If it’s noon or evening and you’re ready for a big meal, you should head for the restaurant Duang Seng. It’s easy to find, located diagonally across the street from the Chatchai market, near the Swensen’s Ice Cream outlet. There are many delicious things on the menu, including Pla insee daed dio thawd krathiem phrik Thai (semi-dried with garlic and black pepper) and pla khao haeng mai khem (dried, unsalted fish).

The hoi jaw (deep-fried crab meat sausage) served at Duang Seng is very good, but the cook cuts it into pieces before frying it. I prefer when the entire length of hoi jaw is fried first, and then cut into pieces. That way it is crisp on the outside but tender and soft inside. If it’s cut first and then fried, it hardens all the way through, more like eating fried
dough than hoi jaw. When ordering this dish, it might be a good idea to be specific about how you want it made.

The hoi lai phad khrueang kaeng (small clams fried with curry spices) were very good and the crabs fried with curry powder were also very tasty. The smell of the curry wasn’t overwhelming, and the crabs had plenty of meat in them. Children would enjoy this dish as made here.

Duang Seng makes very good woon kati for dessert, but they said that they only make them on long weekends when plenty of tourists are sure to show up. They’re not available on most ordinary weekends. When they are to be had they’re sold in boxes at 25 baht a box.

Duang Seng has one flaw: the service is slow. If you want to ask for water or more rice, you have to seek out one of the scarce staff, and it has to be someone who is not already busy taking care of some other customer. The owner seems to aware of the problem, as there is a sign on the wall apologising for any inconvenience, especially involving service.

Today’s Hua Hin still has character and charm, but it’s often hidden, and each person has to find that aspect of it that appeals to his preferences. It’s the same with the dining here. You may well find something among all the food being sold that exactly hits the spot. If you do, share your discoveries with others. By spreading around this kind of information, you further the cause of quality eating, and there’s a lot of merit in that.

Reprinted without permission from the Sunday Post.