PHUKET: We arrive at Peang Prai after a downpour. As the mist rises from the hills beyond and the drizzle is still apparent on the surface of the nearby lake, we peruse the menu and wonder if the food is as good as the view.
The restaurant’s location is indeed unique. The name Peang Prai means ‘like a forest’ and the restaurant was designed with country dining in mind. The top floor is open on all sides to take in the 360 degree view of the surrounding jungle of Khao Phra Teo Wildlife Conservation Park.
Dining here would take many of us back to our childhood days of eating a picnic in tree houses and being on top of the world.
Peang Prai has been in operation for five years now and is managed by Khun Bon, his parents, and his wife, Nid. Khun Bon’s mother, who is the head chef here, graduated in food science, which, to any Thai, can only mean good, authentic cooking. Bon himself is knowledgeable about food and is always on hand to help with your selection.
The rural restaurant’s clientele is made up of food-savvy locals who love to bring their tourist friends here.
We start with a few appetizers. Buer Tod (deep fried prawns and herbs – 100 baht) features large prawns atop fragrant Leb Krut leaves. It’s a kind of Thai tempura, if you like, but the difference is in the batter, which is spiced with chilli paste to give that extra kick, yet the dish is never too hot. Crunchy and light, with a hint of spices, it is eaten with sweet chilli sauce and is great with a beer while you wait for your main dishes.
Room (120 baht) is another traditional and rare snack. These bite-size peanut and minced pork balls, seasoned with that holy trinity of Thai spices – garlic, pepper and coriander root – are wrapped in a fine mesh of omelette. The addition of the egg takes the edge off the sweet and peppery pork fillings.
For the main course, try Gaeng Pu or crabmeat curry (either 180, 250 or 300 baht, depending on the size of your party) which is traditionally served with fine rice noodles sprinkled with crispy garlic pieces. Gaeng Pu is a native Phuket dish and tends to veer to the spicy side. Ask for a milder version (mai ped) and you’ll love its velvety texture and the generous amount of fresh, chunky crabmeat.
Peang Prai’s menu features a variety of fish dishes. Pla Pad Cha (spicy fish with herbs – 120 baht) is a hearty dish of thinly sliced sea bass, sautéed with green pepper, chillies, and kra-chai (a pungent and spicy cousin of ginger).
If you cannot bear the heat, then opt for the milder but equally tasty Pla Preo Wan (sweet and sour – 120 baht) instead. Peang Prai’s fish is delivered daily from nearby Ao Por, so freshness is guaranteed. When fish is ordered whole, it is charged at 400 baht per kilo.
Still on the subject of seafood, why not be adventurous and try steamed Hoi Chak Teen, literally ‘leg-pulling shells’. This uniquely, but clunkily named crustacean is considered a delicacy by the locals. Eating them requires some manipulation: carefully insert a toothpick to release the shell’s opening until a ‘leg’ pops out; use this to in turn and pull the whole body out and dip it in the requisite chilli-lime sauce. The texture is most unusual, a bit like overcooked octopus meat. Still, this is your chance to try ‘Thai escargots‘, native only to the Phang Nga Bay area.
At the end of every meal, there is a plate of complimentary banana fritters. These batter-fried banana pieces, topped with roasted black sesame seeds and icing sugar, make a perfect partner with freshly brewed Chiang Rai coffee.
Peang Prai’s menu is varied and you can order the usual fare of curries, sautéed vegetables, fried-rice and noodles. It serves many kinds of beer and also wine by the glass. There is no corkage fee if you bring your own wine.
The restaurant is situated 8kms from the Heroines Monument towards Pa Klok. A few kilometers from the Phuket Air Park, turn left into a road leading to the Gibbon Rehabilitation Centre. Follow the road for 1km.
Peang Prai is open daily from 11am to 8pm. Tel. 085-832 7439 or 083-596 8685.
— Nanthapa Pengkasem
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