Like much of the island’s immigrant population, many of Phuket’s most loved traditional foods are actually Hokkien in origin, coming from the Fujian province in south-east China.
Large numbers of Chinese settled in Phuket Town and Kathu during the tin mining heyday of the 1850s to 1950s, which means a lot of local food has a distinct Hokkien flavour to it.
O tao is one of the most famous. Once scarce on the island, o tao has experienced a surge in popularity in recent years (maybe due to its great taste) and there are now at least seven vendors on the island.
The ingredients are quite simple: Boiled taro, flour, garlic, egg, ground dried chilli, dried fried onion, dried pork crackling, small oysters (which can also be replaced with other seafood), and soy sauce.
The ingredients are all blended together and fried until they are perfectly mixed up, and by the end resemble a scrambled egg-looking type dish.
O tao is traditionally eaten during Chinese New Year for good luck, as well as during funerals.
The theory behind the latter tradition is that if a family eats o tao (a sticky savoury dish) together, it will strengthen their family bond and help them cope with the loss.
Driving past Bang Niew School in Phuket Town, it is a common sight to see one of the o tao vendors, 43-year-old Sondhaya Mitrmuang or “Ya”, selling her beloved dish to locals.
Ya is a second generation o tao seller – she’s been selling it for around 30 years since her father first started up the stand.
As well as keeping her busy, making o tao is also extremely profitable. She usually makes a profit of B3,000 per day, and the figure can be far more in high season.
Ya serves her o tao, garnished with the pork crackling and pepper, in a banana leaf, because she believes it makes the food smell better. It also keep the food warm for longer.
If you dine at Ya’s, you can either sit at her makeshift restaurant, which is on Phuket Rd, or you can take it home. The dish starts at B35, with small oysters, however other seafood options (prawn or squid) are B50.
Ya sells between 300-400 dishes of o tao every day to locals, but her most prized delivery was when Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn visited Phuket and purchased o tao from her.
“I was full of pride that the princess ate the dish I made,” she said.
Ya’s stall is open daily on Phuket Rd in front of Bang Niew School, from 6.30pm to 10.30pm. She also does event catering. For more details contact her on 083 104 3558.