When you think about Thai food, what springs to mind? Most likely pad Thai, green curry and tom yum soup. While these are certainly popular choices at home and abroad among Thai cuisine, they’re a world apart from the fare on offer on the country’s southern island of Phuket.
That’s because unlike the rest of the nation, Phuket was settled by travellers hailing from China and moving through what we now know as Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand. They brought with them unique culinary traditions, mostly heavily influenced by Hokkien (Chinese) styles, but also by Cambodian, Indonesian and Malaysian gastronomy.
The upshot of all this is that Phuket has some truly unique fare to offer intrepid foodies – it was recognised by UNESCO in 2015 specifically for its epicurean creativity – which can be both far spicier than the more famous dishes found on the mainland. Here are our picks Phuket dishes you shouldn’t miss out on and where to find them.
214, 7-8 Phuket Road
The crossover of Chinese and Malay influences is perhaps nowhere more apparent than in the ubiquitous dish of mee Hokkien noodles. These filling egg-and-wheat noodles are generally served with shrimp, pork and crisp greens in a flavourful broth, often with a fried egg plopped on top of them. One of the true staples of Phuket cuisine.
The best place to try Hokkien noodles in Phuket is Mee Ton Poe along Phuket Road just south of the city centre. They've been perfecting the recipe since the '40s and was recently awarded a Michelin Plate.
48/1 Dibuk Road
Another dish heavy with Chinese influence, moo hong takes the form of fatty cuts of pork belly, cooked in a sweet and salty sauce characterised by palm sugar, black pepper, soy sauce and garlic. It’s one of the most popular choices among Peranakans, who make up three-quarters of Phuket’s population, and is often garnished with fresh red chilies and coriander leaves.
There's lots of places to try moo hong around the island, but you can't do better than the scrumptious dish at Raya, a relatively high-end restaurant housed within a beautiful Sino-Portugueses building in the centre of Phuket Town.
Soi Soon Utis
Comprised of thin rice noodles fried in soy sauce and served with shrimp and vegetables in a pork broth, mee hoon originated either in China or on the island of Phuket itself, according to whichever source you find more believable. Whatever the truth, it’s certainly a stalwart of Phuket restaurant menus, offering a light, non-spicy meal for those who don’t deal so well with the excessive heat of some other dishes.
The grandma who cooks at the small Jeepang Mee Hoon Kraduk Moo street stall along Soi Soon Utis is, without a doubt, one of the best in Phuket Town. Only come in the afternoon, they are closed for breakfast and dinner.
173 Yaowarat Road
The first two things that spring to mind when thinking of satay are Thailand and peanuts… but neither are actually integral to the original satay recipe! Originating in Indonesia, satay is now hugely popular as a convenient, on-the-go street food in Phuket Town and in its purest form, simply consists of chunks of beef, chicken or pork on skewers and served with a sauce. That sauce is almost always made from peanuts, but it doesn’t have to be.
Try the satay at Lock Tien in the old town. The chicken is marinated in coconut milk and spices overnight and grilled to perfection. The rich peanut satay and the zingy ajat salad balance the dish.
This simple but surprisingly moreish recipe hails from the Baba communities of Chinese immigrants found in Phuket Town. It consists of small shrimp and strands of grass, both of which are dipped into batter and deep-fried… and that’s about it. As a crunchy snack on the go or as an accompaniment to some liquid refreshment of the cold and frothy variety, it’s unbeatable.
It's becoming more difficult to find, but there's usually a vendor in Phuket's Central Market selling bue tord.
48/1 Thepkrasattri Road
Nam phrik, best described as chilli-based dips and sauces, are to be found all over Thailand, and it seems each region of the country contributes its own variation on the theme. Phuket’s effort includes the kung siap (smoked shrimp) mentioned in its name, alongside shrimp paste, lime juice, fresh chilies and sugar. Regardless of the regional variety, nam phrik is invariably served with a selection of vegetables for dipping.
You can find an excellent version of nam prik kung siap at the One Chun restaurant in the heart of Phuket Town.
Soi Soon Utis
Shaved ice often forms the base ingredient of desserts the world over, but Phuket’s o-aew might be one of the most colourful and flavourful takes on the idea. Here, banana starch is mixed in with Chinese herbs to create a tasty gelatinous cube, which are served over the ice and topped with a vibrant syrup which stains the white ingredients below it. Watermelon and kidney beans are often added into the mix, as well.
If you're in Phuket Town, find Soi Soon Utis a small alleyway with a handful of street carts one of which does a seriously refreshing o-aew.
Still confused about Phuket's food scene? Hop on this Phuket food tour to discover all the flavours of the island over four hours with the help of an expert local food guide. You won't regret it.
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