The menu is huge, they usually are at these Thai seafood restaurants, but we, a group of 6, slowly whittled it down to a handful of choices which we would all be happy to share – whole fried Seabass in tamarind sauce (pla tawt sauce makham), boiled cockles (hoi kraeng) with chilli dipping sauce, prawn glass noodle salad (yam wunsen gung sod), vegetable soup curry (gaeng liang), stir fried cabbage (pad pak kalam) and a green papaya salad (somtam). The dishes arrived one by one according to cooking times, accompanied by a large pot (maw) of rice, the only way to order your staples if you are in a group.
The Seabass (pla tawt sauce makham) was perfectly cooked – deep fried with a crispy skin, that crunched invitingly as you broke into the flesh and the tamarind sauce hit the right notes of sour and sweet. Kitchens often swamp the fish with the this sauce before they bring it to the table, meaning all that lovely crispy deep fried skin quickly becomes a sorry soggy mess once it has sat for a few minutes on the plate. Pleasingly, Iyara got this spot on, offering enough liquid to coat the fish but no more and finishing things with a good heap of deep fried little red onions as the garnish. Group verdict, a resounding thumbs-up.
Thai salads are frequently overlooked by the western visitor, but they are a very tasty and refreshing accompaniment to any meal and can be made spicy or not according to taste. Our glass noodle salad with prawns (yam wunsen gung sod) delivered the punch we requested, a nice contrast to the sweet and sour tastes of the fish. Next up, cockles (hoi kraeng) is a classic Thai dish, nothing more than boiled shellfish served with a spicy dip (nam prik). Its pleasure comes not only from the eating but also from opening the shell to grab the little critter itself, which involves a frustrating, difficult to master, technique of opposing thumbs, a process annoyingly all too easy once you know how. Normally, the cockles are very fleetingly cooked, so you’d expect them to ooze blood on opening, but today, perhaps due to our being mostly westerners, that wasn’t the case. No question, they were very tasty, but from a purist’s or Thai’s point of view, a little bit overcooked.
Gaeng liang or spicy vegetable curry soup is generally known as a southern Thai dish. Its principal flavour comes from shrimp paste (kapi), which is combined with pepper and shallots in the initial curry paste, before being added to water alongside vegetables, fresh prawns and the third type of basil used in Thai cooking, bai menglak or lemon basil. Traditionally, three vegetables only are used, sponge gourd, pumpkin and straw mushroom though some chefs will also toss in a handful of stink weed, bai cha-om. Iyara’s version, served in a large charcoal burning tureen, was very well judged, yes they used cauliflower rather than pumpkin, but the soup balance was excellent, a good strong pepper taste, not spicy, but full, nicely cut through with the lemony taste from the basil.
Finally, the stir fried cabbage with fish sauce (pad pak kalam) held up well as another vegetable dish, simple, clean tasting and nicely presented, whilst the somtam, a very spicy last minute thought, did not disappoint, a few cashews scattered on top for good measure adding a touch of fun.
Iyara can get quite busy in the evenings and they do sometimes have Thai tours, but when we visited, things were blissfully quiet and we happily sat for a good couple of hours reminiscing about the wealth of weird and wonderful characters that have passed through Koh Chang over the years, very satisfied with the food, the service and the gorgeous view out over the river. The bill by the way came in at 250bt per head for 6 of us, though we only drank water and sodas. Our verdict, food very good, location excellent, a restaurant that has stood the taste of time unlike some of those Koh Chang characters. We’ll definitely be back very soon.
Menu Tips and Terms
pla tawt sauce makham, pla meaning fish, tawt-deep fried, makham-tamarind
hoi kraeng, hoi-shellfish, kraeng-cockle
yam wunsen gung sod, yam-salad, wunsen-glass nooodle, gung-prawn, sod-fresh
gaeng liang, gaeng-curry, liang-the variety of soup
pad pak kalam, pad-stir fried, pak-vegetable, kalam-cabbage
somtam, green papaya salad.