The most decadent summer of my life was probably the summer of 1993. I was in university then and instead of doing the responsible thing and finding a serious summer internship, I accepted an offer to spend the summer working at a beach resort. The resort, then part of the Pacific Islands Club group, was in Bang Tao Bay in Phuket, Thailand. For ten fun-filled weeks, I taught windsurfing and sailing and worked on my tan. As a Clubmate (yup, seriously, that’s what the resort called its activities staff), I was also asked to participate in a range of other activities, many of them rather embarrassing. The Pacific Islands Clubs are inspired by Club Med. And just like at Club Meds, where the G.O.s (gentils organisateurs) perform in nightly shows for their guests, we Clubmates also put on some pretty God awful but amusing performances. Over the course of that summer, any inhibitions I had had about making a fool of myself in front of strangers were quickly shed.
Prancing around on stage like an idiot aside, the summer was a blast. I got to hang out on a gorgeous beach every day. I got to windsurf and sail as much as I wanted. I met some really interesting people who stayed with us at the resort. And I partied constantly. You have to understand that the Clubmates I worked with were a motley crew of good-looking, semi-athletic twenty-somethings who were, to paraphrase Thoreau, sucking the marrow out of life. We partied with the guests (well, the cool ones at least) and partied harder with each other.
On our nights off, we would inevitably drift to a bar in Phuket Town called The Timber Hut. The in-house band, fronted by a hyperkinetic ex-lawyer named Kurt, covered classic rock anthems. Our favourite was Hotel California. Whenever he played it, my colleagues (and me occasionally) would rush on stage and sing along, often changing the words from “Hotel California” to “Hotel P.I.C.” The bar was always rocking. It was party-central for the foreigners who worked on the island, and we were all regulars. Our drink of choice was Mehkong-Coke and the one dish we always ordered when we were hungry was chicken and cashews, served with rice. It was a satisfying, simple dish that was not only delicious but would fill us up quickly and give us the energy to keep going all night long.
Today, I’ve put my all-night partying days long behind me. I wouldn’t touch Mehkong whiskey even if you paid me to drink it. But I still love chicken and cashews. It is such an easy dish to make and it tastes so darned good. Best of all, when I eat it, I remember those carefree days of living large in the summer of ’93.
Stir-fried chicken with cashew nuts
Kai phat met mamuang himmapaan
300grams chicken breast, sliced thinly
½ cup fried or roasted cashew nuts
¼ cup crisp-fried dried red chillies, cut into 1-centimetre lengths
1 red chilli, sliced diagonally
1 small onion, sliced
½ cup spring onion cut into 2.5-centimetre lengths
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
1 ½ tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
2 tablespoons cooking oil
Fresh coriander for garnish
In a large pan, heat the cooking oil over a medium-high fire. When hot, throw in your garlic and stir until fragrant; don’t let it burn. Add the chicken and stir. After a minute of two, or when the chicken pieces are all white, add the dried chillies, onion, spring onion, cashews, fish sauce, and dark soy. Cook, stirring, for an additional 3 to 4 minutes. Add more soy or fish sauce to taste. Serve over steamed rice and garnish with the sliced chilli and coriander.