Perhaps the least well-known and understood of Thailand’s regional cuisine, southern Thai food is characterised by its spice and sharpness.
Just like the North, southern Thai cuisine has been heavily influenced by the culinary preferences of its neighbours, particularly Malaysia and Indonesia. Phuket’s cuisine and local food (so-called Baba Peranakan food) is the combination of many cultural food habits, whether they be Chinese, Malay or Thai. Some Phuket local food tastes sweet; such as, Chinese Hakka cuisine, but it can also be highly spiced like in either Thai or Malay cuisine.
A large Muslim populace and tasty halal food, along with a plethora of fishing fleets, influence southern Thai cuisine. It is based heavily around seafood, meats and the use of lots of lemongrass, tamarind and kaffir lime leaf for flavouring. Staples include Kaeng Tai Pla (fermented fish curry), Kaeng Som Pla (hot and sour fish soup), and Kua Kling (dry fried meat curry).
Phuket’s food culture is woven into the tapestry of traditional local daily life, which is based around hearty meals shared with the family.
The most important meal of the day, breakfast, is a time when Phuket residents wake up and smell the coffee, literally. Strong, bitter beans produce a fragrant brew strong enough to wake the dead.
Phuket’s people are known to drink dark roast old-school coffee served with sweetened condensed milk or with pure fresh milk. This time-honoured morning ritual is usually accompanied by dishes that showcase Phuket’s culinary diversity.
Dim sum (influenced by Chinese immigrants) includes steamed dumplings, fish, bean curd, Bak Kut Teh (pork spare rib soup), and Misua noodles.
Roti topped with fried egg and served with a variety of curry flavours (chicken, beef and fish) (Malay influenced).
A Phuket lunch is a time to get one’s noodle fix for a midday energy boost. Chinese and Malay flavours again entice the palate with local favourites Mee Hokkien (Chinese Malay noodle fare) and Phuket-style Mee Hoon rice vermicelli noodles.
A traditional Phuket lunch is never complete without tucking into the island’s local dessert favourite O-Aew (shaved ice with sweet toppings and jelly).
This very local twist on the British tradition shares only the time of day. Residents enjoy Mee Hun Ba Chang (rice vermicelli noodles) with pork spare rib soup, one of Phuket’s most iconic dishes. This is served with pork satay and spring rolls, or just with noodles.
This the biggest and most important meal of the day where family members eat together and share their stories about Phuket and the world. Not unlike any other cities in Southern Thailand, Phuket’s locals tend to prefer strong flavoured dishes for the evening meal, either very spicy, very sour or very sweet.
Many of the dishes ooze the deep yellow colour and strong scent of turmeric. Its unique flavour is used to tame strong fish flavours and other seafood that the province is famed for.
Favourite dishes include Pla Sai Thot Kamin (deep fried fish with fresh turmeric), Moo Hong (stewed pork belly with herbs), Nap Chup Yam (chilli paste), Nam Phrik Kung Siap (shrimp chilli paste), Mee Hun Kaeng Pu (rice noodles with curried crab), Loba (deep fried stewed-pig’s head) and Yam Pak Kut (spicy fern salad).
It goes without saying that foodies searching for good Thai food in Phuket don’t have to look far. And recognition about Phuket’s food culture is about to go international with possible accolades expected in the upcoming Michelin Guide Bangkok, Phuket and Phang Nga 2019 edition that is expected to be released at the end of this year.
Phuket’s distinctive cuisine is finally on the International map.