So Brazil is all fine and dandy, but one thing it does NOT have is Thai food. If you are a person that does not like Thai food, well, you have extremely bad taste. Period. But like Lavar Burton would say, don’t take my word for it. For some of the best food in the world, go to Thailand and eat like a king for a mere few U.S. dollars. When it comes to travel, Thailand packs a quadruple whammy punch: amazing postcard-perfect beaches, super-friendly people, bargain-basement prices (we’re talking if ROSS For Less had a bargain basement), and orgasmically good food. If it weren’t for the fact that the country is currently in political crisis, I would urge you to go right away. It is one of my favorite countries in the world.
Very few times in my as-of-yet-not-so-long life, I have had the pleasure of experiencing a dish, a meal, or a restaurant that is so wholly satisfying that I could die happy on the spot. One of these experiences was during my month-long trip through Southeast Asia, on the little island oasis of Ko Phi Phi off the western coast of Thailand, and immediately it was love.
Although I had originally only planned to stay for a few days, I lazed around Ko Phi Phi for much longer than I’d expected. It was due to a mix of the island’s mainstay of happy-go-lucky backpackers, its beautiful beaches with emerald-green karst hills and palm-tree backdrops, and its laid-back vibe that washed away all worries with the tide. But perhaps one of the biggest reasons for my extended island lounging was because I had discovered the greatest restaurant I had ever eaten at to date: Papaya Restaurant.
Every night, every table in the humble little 15×25-foot space was filled to capacity with customers happily lapping up aromatic curry dishes, refreshing papaya salad, and tangy pad thai. A huge, steaming bowl of the tastiest curry you will ever have the pleasure of eating will only set you back a few dollars. And it’s enough food for two. Though if you have an appetite like me, you order one bowl for yourself and finish it because the food is just too good to let go to waste. The owner and chef, Ror, is a warm and jovial guy who, ironically, is a former muay thai kickboxer. Thankfully he found his calling in the culinary arts (I say art because to create food this good takes a finesse beyond just the technical) and the world is a better place for it. The restaurant opens whenever Ror feels like opening, and closes when the last customer drunkenly staggers out happily filled with pad thai at 5am.
When I was in Ko Phi Phi, my friends would eat here at least once a day, if not twice a day—if not THREE times a day, for lunch, a snack, and dinner. The menu is simple; the daily offerings–which you can count on both hands–are written on a board in the restaurant. If you order noodles, Ror will cook them at a wok set up facing the street, sending amazing smells wafting out to powerless passersby who will eventually have to come in for a bite to eat. If you order curry, the magic happens in the kitchen, hidden from view, so there’s no telling how he turns coconut milk, vegetables, chicken, and curry powder into pure gold.
Because the restaurant was such a popular eatery, it inevitably also became a social hangout. Walk around town and you’d run into someone you knew, and the question was always: “See you at Papaya?” Like clockwork, every day some fellow traveler I’d met on the island would ask me around three or four in the afternoon if I wanted to grab some food there.
If you ever make it to Ko Phi Phi—and I highly recommend that you do—for the love of god go to Papaya Restaurant. Start out with a papaya salad—a pile of julienned green papaya mixed with chilies, tomatoes, peanuts, garlic, and some sort of Ror’s special sauce—and then delve into the massaman curry, a smoky brown curry with perfectly tender chicken, flavorful potatoes, and just the right amount of spice. Both will blow your mind. Ror will greet you every time you leave with a huge, radiant smile and ask when you’ll be back. The answer, of course, will be your next meal. And say hello to their cat—he likes to take naps in their refrigerator, right below the Singha beer and above the bottled water.