Thailand’s iconic limestone karsts, verdant jungles and crystal-clear oceans are well portrayed in Hollywood and visited by many all over the world. The Southern provinces offer a myriad of experiences to feed the senses. When it comes to cuisine the mix of Thai, Indian, Malay, Chinese and Peranakan influences along with fresh seafood and strong agricultural traditions make Phuket worthy of a special journey.
Southern food in Thailand is hallmarked by deep flavors and use of pungent spices such as chilli, turmeric, galangal, kaffir lime and lemongrass. The abundant coasts of Phuket and Phang Nga also produce fresh blue swimmer crabs, prawns, oysters, abalone and nearly limitless varieties of fish. Here’s a sampling of the region’s varied cuisine.
Yellow Crab Curry (Mee Gang Poo)
Not to be confused with the more commonly seen dry yellow curry and crab stir fry, this southern golden curry is usually served with rice noodles. Containing an intense level of turmeric and chilli, the traditional version will also feature large portions of blue swimmer crab and wild ‘bai chaploo’ (lolot leaf).
Sataw Pad Kapi Kung
Few ingredients are as polarizing as ‘sataw’, also known as ‘stink bean’ for its pungent aroma. The bitter but buttery beans are matched with equally powerful southern curry paste made with ‘kapi’ (fermented krill) and wok-fried with prawns.
Bai Liang Pad Kai
Fried ‘bai liang’ (melinjo leaves) with eggs is a speciality that pairs well with other southern dishes. It is considered a less spicy dish, though variations may include the addition of red chilli and garlic. The leaves must be cooked fresh and have a mild kale-like flavor.
Moo Hong (Braised Pork Belly)
This braised pork belly dish likely came from Chinese settlers who made their home in Phuket over various periods in the island’s history. The dark stew is fragranced with coriander root, peppercorn, star anise, soy sauce and palm sugar that is simmered for hours until the stew is reduced to a sticky consistency.
A dish loved for its flavor as much as for its simplicity, Kua Kling (Dry Curry) is the combination of minced meat fried in curry sauce. The result is a spicy and filling dish that pairs well with rice or fresh vegetables, a true staple on any Southern-Thai family table.
One of the most-loved Peranakan dishes, this hodgepodge of fried prawns, tofu, sometimes sausages, pig’s ears and offal differs from one restaurant to another. Locals enjoy this delicacy all day long. It’s traditionally served with thick sweet and sour tamarind sauce (which also differs between proprietors and is often a closely-guarded recipe).