POT LUCK IN PHUKET

Whether spicy or sweet, there’s some­thing for all tastes in Thai­land’s foodie cap­i­tal

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Escape - - DESTINATION THAILAND - PAUL EWART

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

NEXT TIME YOU VISIT, FORGO WESTERN FOOD AND PAD THAI, AND TICKLE YOUR TASTE­BUDS LIKE A LO­CAL

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.

PHUKETFOODTOURS.COM

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-in­hand. 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 bite­size 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.

PIC­TURE: ISTOCK

You’ll find some of the tasti­est food in the street mar­kets of Phuket’s Old Town.

PIC­TURE: ISTOCK

A fu­sion of flavours colours the is­land’s culi­nary pal­ette (above).

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