I had seen the sign for Dan Mai seafood from the main road when we passed in our songtheaw the other day. Today seemed a good time to check it out. The girls had abandoned me for a much ritzier beach, and were making their own dinner plans. The late afternoon was reasonably cool. I decided to walk.
After about 15 minutes on the main road, I turned right towards the sea, walking past a large school painted bright blue, pink, orange and green. Lurid, but much more alluring than the grey concrete walls of many Western schools. A couple of little girls playing in the street shouted Hello after me, keen to show off their English. The road found a small river going down to the Gulf. The banks were lined with fishing detritus and a few small boats lolled in the almost still water. There was no one around.
I began to worry that the sign had said only seafood, and not seafood restaurant. The village was obviously not any kind of tourist center, and most of the houses were boarded up and falling down. I was getting very sweaty.
A tip-tilted seafood sign with an arrow could have been suggesting either of two directions. I walked on towards the water– tumble-down buildings on a disused pier, the remains of what might have been an old fish market, and a shrine in the water I thought was made from shells.
I turned back towards the second route suggested by the sign and wondered how I would ever get back to my hotel from this place– I had been walking much longer than I intended, and it was clear there were no taxis within hailing distance.
I kept walking and by the water I saw long, low buildings lined with plants. One woman about my age was sitting at a table at a deck on the waterfront. It didn’t look like a restaurant but seemed so charming that I decided to investigate.
“Restaurant? ” I asked
“Seafood?” She replied in that Thai intonation that doesn’t let you know if they are asking you or telling you.
I decided to sit down anyhow. The woman, who I noticed was wearing what looked like expensive frames for her glasses, got up and disappeared into one of the shacks, emerging with a very comprehensive menu in Thai and English.
I ordered Tom Yum fish and crab in yellow curry, and a beer. There was no one else around, but it was only just getting dark, so perhaps I was too early for the rest of the throng?
From the shack, the sound of two voices and some determined action with a pestle and mortar.
The crab– a couple of hard shells chopped into quarters arrived first. Sweet, messy and delicious.
It was dark by the time the fish steamer was set down, together with a second plate for all the debris of lemon grass, galangal, tail and bones. I had another beer and decided to wait to see what would happen next.
Nothing did. It seemed likely I was the only customer for the evening, and my host in the classy specs seemed fine with that.
Now there was only the issue of how I would get home. It was pitch dark and the track was pitted with stones and potholes.
“Taxi?” I asked.
Much gesturing and excited talk that led me to understand a taxi might pass by on the main road, but there was nothing in the village.
Then out of the gloom a young woman appeared, keys in her hand. I don’t know where she came from, or who she was. The older woman didn’t seem surprised to see her, but neither did she greet her. What was she doing there?
I said the name of my resort in a tone of inquiry mixed with supplication.
The young woman gestured to follow her. She took me home, right to the door.
I looked up the place on Trip Advisor. It didn’t have enough reviews for a rating (until I posted mine– the 6th) but the tiny number of us who have eaten there have all raved about the food.
I’d go back, but I am tempted to believe the whole experience was a mirage– a Mary Celestial evening where a deserted restaurant was operated by angels, as a special miracle for me