IT’S well known that Aussies just can’t get enough of Phuket.
For decades, the largest of Thailand’s islands has been a travellers’ go-to thanks to its tropical climate, blissful beaches and raucous bar scene.
But perhaps unknown to most is the island’s status as an international culinary heavy-hitter.
Placed within the lauded ranks of UNESCO’s World’s Leading Cities of Gastronomy in 2011, four years later Phuket was upgraded to City of Gastronomy status due to its unique food scene.
You see, long before backpackers and tourists descended on this holiday idyll, a melting pot of Malays, Chinese, Indians, Thais and “sea gypsies” created a fusion of flavours that colours the island’s culinary palette. To this day, many of Phuket’s quintessential dishes are made by the original families who brought them here. So next time you visit this beachside paradise, forgo western food and pad thai and tickle your tastebuds like a local with these seven Phuket foodie experiences.
TASTE THE MELTING POT
Get the inside scoop on the cultural medley that makes Phuket’s food scene so original on the Phuket and Peranakan Food Trail Tour.
Walking around the old town where the rampant tourism industry has thankfully left the charm-infused houses, streets and traditional shops unscathed, this tour gives visitors a perfect overview of the eclectic dishes on offer. Focusing on Peranakan (descendants of Chinese immigrants, also known as “Baba”), alongside Indian and Malay, you’ll sample recipes that represent a blend of all cultures.
SLURP DOWN NOODLES
Given this mass migration, unsurprisingly you can find plenty of Chinese dishes here, in particular noodles – lots of noodles.
You could eat a different noodle dish every day for months and still not have worked through all the options. The favourite style on the island is Hokkien mee or mee Hokkien. Thanks to a healthy population of China’s Hoklo people, this lipsmacking dish of yellow egg noodles topped with everything from fish balls and shrimp wontons, to chicken and pork strips, is now everywhere. Phuket Town’s Mee Ton Poe is the oldest (and reputedly best).
Three generations of the same family have been dishing up bowls of the stuff since 1946.
EAT YOUR BODY WEIGHT IN FRESH ROTI AND CURRY
Just as the Chinese have made their mark on Phuket’s shores, the Indian and Malay communities have too.
On the corner of Thalang and Thepkasattri roads, you’ll find two of Phuket Town’s oldest Muslim shophouse restaurants, Aroon and Abdul, side-by-side.
Run by the descendants of the original Indian families who opened them 70 or so years ago, cooks stand outside making fresh roti by hand.
And what better pairing with these freshly made, piping hot, flaky chewy flatbreads, than a chicken, mutton or beef spice-filled curry. Delicious.
FIND THE BEST STREET EATS
Thailand and street food go hand-in-hand. Not only tasty, with a filling plate or bowl for well under 50 baht (less than $2) it’s a bargain too.
Satay, sticky rice and mango, spring rolls, sweet fish cakes, taro buns, fried insects, banana pancakes, deep-fried shrimp, spicy soups and Phuket’s own take on the French macaron – you can eat like a king for days here on a pauper’s salary.
The most authentic street food can be had in the lanes and streets of Phuket Town.
Many favourite stalls and hole-in-the-wall eateries have been run by the same families for generations.
To make it even easier, download the Phuket Street Food app (launched via the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs) which provides information on the most popular dishes and location of stalls for easy reference.
STOCK UP AT THE MARKETS
Rise early to take advantage of the cooler morning temperatures and make like a local by heading to one of Phuket’s fresh produce markets.
They take place daily or weekly across the island, but one of the biggest is in Kathu, between Patong and Phuket Town. The bustling marketplace is filled with stalls selling vegetables, fresh fish, meat, exotic fruits and herbs, and piles of homemade chilli pastes. On weekends, the aptly named Weekend Market, or “Talad Naka” to locals due to its proximity to Naka Temple, is more touristy, but still definitely worth a visit. Situated just outside Phuket Town, the large covered market is less about fresh produce and more about atmosphere and ready-made snacks.
Open Saturday and Sunday from mid afternoon until about 11pm, the vibrant atmosphere makes for a great alternative to dinner. Rock up, try some food, grab a beer and nab a seat to indulge in some people watching.
TRY BIRD’S NEST SOUP
If you’re going to sample this Asian delicacy, Phuket is the place to do it.
As close to the source as you can get, the surrounding islands and their craggy, sea-splashed caves have the highest concentration of sea swallow nesting sites in the country and enterprising locals have built a business around the huge demand for their saliva-constructed nests.
Highly coveted by the Chinese, who believe them to be rich in nutrients and health-giving properties such as improving skin appearance and, of course, raising libido, the global industry is worth a whopping $5 billion annually.
BREAKFAST LIKE A LOCAL
Skip the morning hotel buffet and instead do as a local and rise early for some quintessential breakfast dim sum (siew boi) or a bowl of kanom jeen. Best eaten 6-8am at the island’s abundant dim sum eateries, but for the most authentic try Juanhiang on Chana Charoen Rd, which claims to have been serving the delicious bite-size morsels for a century-plus.
Kanom jeen – a laksa-like dish of cold fermented rice noodles in a rich and creamy coconut-based curry sauce – is the other brekkie alternative. Whatever you opt for, make sure to get your caffeine fix afterwards with a glass of thick, sweet local coffee, or kopi.