There’s more to Phuket than beaches. The island – and Phuket Town in particular – is a wonderful destination for foodies. And our guest writer, Luke Charny, knows a thing or two about Phuket street food. Luke’s obsession with all things street food led to the founding of A Chef’s Tour which creates original food tours across Asia, and Streets of Food, trusted guides to the world’s best street eats. In this round-up of Phuket street food, Luke picks out 20 dishes to try plus locations where you can find them.
It’s easy to forget that Thai food is distinctly regional, a patchwork of ingredients and recipes and techniques adapted and evolved over hundreds of years influenced by merchant traders and spice routes, conquerors and migration. The food we think of as Thai doesn’t, for the most part, exist in traditional Phuketian cuisine, a culinary hodgepodge shaped by Hakka and Hokkien, Malay and Indian. Much of Phuket’s cooking comes from age-old family recipes passed down through generations of Peranakans, mixed-raced descendants of Southern Chinese who settled on the island during the 16th century tin mining boom and married locally.
So, ditch the som tam papaya salad and gaeng kiew wan green Thai curry, the pad krapow stir fry and tom yum goong soup. If you can drag yourself off the island’s sun-soaked sand you’ll find a complex and nuanced world of island cooking, a crossroads of flavours from every corner of Asia, recipes important enough for the cuisine to have been granted UNESCO gastronomy status and something that is very much worth exploring.
Hokkien mee (หมี่ฮกเกี้ยน)
Hokkien mee, like many of Phuket’s street food hits, bears all the hallmarks of its namesake. It’s a deeply satisfying bowl of chewy egg noodles, red-tinged char siu barbecue pork, lightly blanched rings of squid and prawns, and Chinese cabbage swimming in a salty, smoky sauce made from soy, white pepper and pork broth cooked in ferociously hot woks. An optional soft poached egg, whose runny yolk coats the noodles to produce a glossier finish and emulsifies into a creamier sauce, is a must. This is the bowl that visiting Bangkokian families make a beeline for first.
To try Hokkien mee in Phuket, visit: Go La, 1 Kra Road, Tambon Talat Ya, Phuket 83000
Loba is a polarising dish among foreigners. There is no tip-toeing around the unattractive plate of fried piggy parts, varying shades of dark brown wobbly intestines, curling ears, cubes of lung and heart, and tofu which, once fried in the same oil is about as vegetarian as the offal it’s tossed with. Despite its Hokkien origins, it is a deeply entrenched Phuketian snack. Under the fried surface is a medley of textures – chewy, crispy, soft – tied together with flavours of Chinese five spice and a tart piquant sauce that’s sour and sweet and spicy from tamarind, palm sugar and chilli. The brave eat alongside locals for mid-morning snack or lunch.
To try Loba in Phuket, visit: Loba Bang Niao, 18/61 Mae Luan Road, Talad Nuea, Phuket, 83000
Moo hong (หมูฮ้อง)
If there’s one recipe that sums up Phuketian cooking, it’s moo hong. This Peranakan favourite is a blend of Southern Chinese and island flavours, ingredients and techniques that characterise much of Phuket’s cuisine. The close guarded recipes differ between families – some are dark and deeply savoury, others are sticky and sweet – but they all start with fatty cuts of pork belly braised in garlic and palm sugar, crushed coriander root and black peppercorns, star anise and soy sauce. It’s cooked just long enough for the meat to be tender and the fat and skin soft and gelatinous without the pork losing its structure.
To try moo hong sod in Phuket, visit: Raya Restaurant, 48/1 Dibuk Road, Tambon Talat Yai, Phuket 83000
Popiah sod (ปอเปี๊ยสด)
There is a takeaway familiarity to Thai spring rolls, those crunchy golden torpedos filled with bean sprouts and vegetables. What’s less known is popiah sod, a Fujian-style roll and Phuket street food favourite – a shame because they are far more complex and interesting than their deep-fried cousins. Neither originated in Thailand; they are recipes brought by Chinese immigrants a century ago. The wafer thin crepe-like wrapper is made by rolling an elastic dough over a hot plate and the filling differs between vendors, but at its core there are always slices of kun chiang (cured Chinese sausage), crunchy bean sprouts, soft tofu and shredded omelette with just a little preserved radish. Some throw in roasted peanuts or crispy pork skin for texture, or spoon in delicate crab meat. None escape a smothering of sweet, sticky soy and hoisin-spiked sauce.
To try popiah sod in Phuket, visit: Lock Tien, 173 Yaowarat Road, Tambon Talat Nuea, Phuket 83000
Khua kling (คั่วกลิ้ง)
Southern Thai food is famed for its tongue-singeing heat, but nothing matches the unapologetically spicy burn of khua kling, ground pork or chicken dry fried in curry paste, lemongrass, galangal and laced with shredded kaffir lime leaves along with an unspeakable number of Thai chillies. Despite the misconception that spiciness is a prerequisite for good Thai food, the only way to eat khua kling is with searing chilli heat. If it’s not hot enough to numb your face and draw beads of sweat across your cheeks, something’s not right. A heaped plate of steamed jasmine rice and fat wedges of raw cabbage help to take the edge off.
To try khua kling in Phuket, visit: Mor Mu Dong, 9/4 Mu 3 Soi Pa Lai, Chao Fa Road, Chalong, Phuket, 83130
Satay has become synonymous with Thailand, but it’s a relative newcomer to their culinary repertoire. Thai satay differs from its Indonesian Muslim origins, most notably with the use of pork. Foreigners eat with gusto, but not all are made equal; many are cooked over electric grills rendering them pale and anaemic. Look for the vendors who marinate the chicken or pork overnight in turmeric and coconut milk, and char and sizzle and smoke over long charcoal braziers. The nutty roasted peanut satay is creamy with a hint of chilli, and it’s always paired with a cold ajat relish – cucumber, sliced shallots and red chillies steeped in white vinegar and palm sugar. Thick slices of white bread are good table mops for surplus satay.
To try satay in Phuket, visit: 97/1 Soi Poonphon, 3 Poonphon Road, Tambon Talad Nuea, Phuket
Pad sataw goong (ผัดสะตอกุ้ง)
Southern Thais are particularly fanatical about their pad sataw goong – nutty, nutritious stink beans and plump prawns wok-fried and countered with robust flavours: turmeric, garlic, chilli, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass and shrimp paste. It’s the first thing they miss when they’re away from home; stink beans are surprisingly difficult to find and expensive outside the humid South. The notoriously odorous South East Asian legume – found hanging from market stalls encased in their long pods – have a strong, funky aroma that hovers somewhere between gassy skunk and sulphurous burp. Like durian, they are either surprisingly addictive or completely off-putting. For the former, there’s almost nothing like them.
To try pad sataw goong in Phuket, visit: Noy Pochana, 21 Thanon Montri, Tambon Talad Yai, Phuket 8300
These pan-fried Thai-Muslim flatbreads are sold on every street corner and night market in the land, usually sandwiched with bananas and slathered in condensed milk. But in Phuket, they’re still made the same way that generations before them have: cooked over a hot griddle, shredded into crispy shards, capped with a fried egg and best used as a flaky mop to scoop up chicken massaman curry or soupy curried beef broth. A solid, greasy, crispy mess of a breakfast which, along with a cold Thai iced tea, quickly zaps the effects of last night’s excesses.
To try roti in Phuket, visit: 6 Thepkrasatree Road, Tambon Talat Yai, Phuket 83000
Oh tao (โอวต้าว)
This is a thoroughly Phuketian plate albeit with distant ancestral Hokkien roots; it’s almost impossible to find elsewhere in Thailand. The sound of a spatula on a hot metal pan, scraping and stirring deep-fried taro, eggs and flour, baby oysters, shallots, soy sauce, bean sprouts and pork rind, will become familiar; many of the island’s street vendors cook oh tao. It’s a textural kaleidoscope, but particularly sticky, something that’s meant to represent the bonds between family members and the reason it’s always eaten at funerals and on Chinese New Year.
To try oh tao in Phuket, visit: O Tao Bang Niao, Phuket Road, Talad Yai, Phuket, 83000
Kanom jeen nam ya (ขนมจีนน้ำยา)
Silky soft white rice noodles smothered with curry comes in many shapes across Thailand. In Phuket, nam ya is the kanom jeen of choice. Fast boiled noodles make the base for a thin curry pounded together with salt-water fish, coconut milk, garlic, turmeric, dried chillies, lemongrass and shrimp paste. A kanom jeen joint is easily spotted by the street tables cluttered with buffet-style bowls of baby aubergines, cucumber, red chillies, bean sprouts, pickled mustard greens, green beans and lemon basil to pick and choose from.
To try kanom jeen nam ya in Phuket, visit: Mae Ting Kanom Jeen, 63 Satun Road, Tambon Talat Nuea, Phuket 83000
Mee hoon (หมี่หุ้น)
Mee hoon was conceived in China but born in Phuket. There’s nowhere to hide with this extraordinarily simple plate – thin rice noodles wok-fried in nothing more than soy sauce, crispy golden shallots, ground black and a sprinkling of spring onions slices for colour. The noodles should be deeply savoury, peppery and not overcooked. Optional table condiments – chilli flakes and small spoons of white vinegar – add some heat and tang. It’s always served with a small bowl of slow-cooked pork rib well-seasoned with soy sauce.
To try mee hoon in Phuket, visit: Mhee Hoon Pa Chang JeeJai, 82-84 Soi Saksit, Tambon Talat Yai, Phuket 83000
Dim sum (ติ่มซำ)
Despite dim sum being a Cantonese export, the islanders have taken it as their own breakfast of choice. Like their predecessors, some of the dainty dim sum is faithful to the original Southern Chinese recipes. Others have been adapted and changed to suit the Phuket palette. Early risers (dim sum houses often open around 5.30am) get first dibs on the towering bamboo steamers and metal bowls filled with every dim sum variation under the humid island sun: steamed white pork-filled pillow buns, chicken feet in a spicy chilli sauce, minced pork wrapped in seaweed, steamed fish tofu, sweet egg custard, pork balls with salted egg yolks, pan fried radish cakes, prawn and glass noodle fried spring rolls, and more.
To try dim sum in Phuket, visit: Boonrat Dimsum, 26/41 Bangkok Road, Tambon Talad Nuea, Phuket 83000
Bowls of jok – rice cooked in stock until it breaks apart into a viscous porridge – hide behind a humble exterior, but the sticky congee streaked with dark soy sauce can be as sophisticated as any street food dish. It’s soothing and nourishing, a comforting hug in a bowl. They come in different forms – some have rustic minced pork meatballs, others delicate lightly poached seafood or quarters of gelatinous century eggs. Breakfast jok can have a soft cooked egg, the yolk breaking and swirling into the warm rice. And there is always thin julienned ginger, deep-fried garlic and coriander. Best eaten in the early morning or as a late night post-bar booze mob en route home.
To try jok in Phuket, visit: Hong Fish Congee, Kra Rod, Tambon Talat Yai, Phuket 83000
Gaeng som (แกงส้ม)
Gaeng som translates to sour curry. It’s a thin watery soup-like curry cooked using a simple base of fresh turmeric, garlic, shallots, green papaya and shrimp paste, with lime juice adding a serious sour note and fiery red Thai chillies for heat. Other souring agents like pickled bamboo and sticky tamarind are sometimes used. Almost any firm white fish works well, but sea bass is common and, unusually for Thai curries, there’s no coconut milk.
To try gaeng som in Phuket, visit: Jadjan, 4/15 Sakdidet Rod, Tambon Talat Nuea, Phuket 83000
Khao man gai (ข้าวมันไก่)
Okay, so khao man gai isn’t Phuketian, but it’s as popular here as it is across the rest of the kingdom. Slices of chicken poached with peppercorns and coriander root, oily jasmine rice steamed with ginger, garlic and chicken stock, and a few slices of cucumber take up most of the plate. A bowl of warm chicken broth with white pepper and opaque chunks of winter melon is a satisfying savoury side note. But the star of the show is the piquant garlic, soy bean, chilli and lime sauce that adds spark and heat, and ties the other elements together. Modern takes on chicken rice include gai tod – crispy deep-fried chicken – for added crunch.
To try khao man gai in Phuket, visit: Khao Man Gai Dao Rung, 55/705 Soi Villa 8, Tambon Wichit, Phuket 83000
Kuay tiew lookshin neua (ก๋วยเตี๋ยวลูกชิ้นเนื้อ)
Beef noodles are such an integral part of Asian cooking it’s hard to pinpoint their exact origins. In Thailand, cuts of beef and tendon and bone simmer for hours tenderising and rendering with spices and herbs into a deep, flavoursome broth. But while the sen yai rice noodles and slow-cooked beef drop to the bowl’s ochre depths, the showpiece is left to the bouncy Thai-style beef balls that bob and bump alongside the surface. Every local has their favourite beef ball noodle joint. While you look for yours, O Cha Rot in Phuket Town is the place to go.
To try kuay tiew luk chin neua in Phuket, visit: O Cha Rot, 72/1 Yaowarat Road, Tambon Talat Yai, Phuket 83000
Nam prik goong siap (น้ำพริกกุ้งเสียบ)
Spicy dips called nam prik (‘nam’ being water, and ‘prik’ being chilli) take many forms across the country from the relish-like nam prik noom in the North to funky, fermented fish nam prik pla ra in Isaan through to Central Thailand’s shrimp paste nam prik kapi. When it comes to Phuket, the nam prik name of the game is goong siap, a moderately spicy and sweet dip with shallots, garlic, fish sauce, palm sugar and whole dried shrimps. Always served with crunchy vegetables: long green beans, cucumber, mini aubergines, and bitter herbs.
To try nam prik goong siap in Phuket, visit: Chod Choy Curry Rice, 20 Luangpohw Road, Tambon Talat Yai, Phuket 83000
Oh aew (โอ้เอ๋ว)
It got all the hallmarks of a kid’s dessert hit – shaved ice doused in a sweet, neon bright additive-riddled syrup. And it is. But it’s more sophisticated than first impressions; layers of black grass jelly, palm seeds and softened red kidney beans make it popular with adults too. The dark jelly is a blend of Chinese herbs which, along with the ice, help reduce the body’s temperature during the island’s hot, humid, sun-drenched days. So, the sweet icy dessert is medicinal too. These days resourceful vendors are creating modern combinations with exotic fruit, cold coffee and Thai tea, condensed milk and chocolate, but the original is still the best.
To try oh aew in Phuket, visit: โอ้เอ๋ว เจ้าเก่า, Soi Soon Utis, Tambon Talat Nuea, Phuket 83000
Kanom krok (ขนมครก)
There’s something deliciously irresistible about kanom krok, a simple amalgamation of coconut milk, sugar and rice flour cooked in dimpled metal pans. Once scooped from their hot dents the outer layer should be just crisp enough to hold a wobbly, creamy, molten interior. Often, to the bemusement of foreigners, slices of spring onions, corn, taro and coriander are used to top the sweet street snacks. Usually bought in portions of six or a dozen.
To try kanom krok in Phuket, visit: Kanom Krok Boran Mae-Bo, 251 Yaowarat Rod, Tambon Talat Nuea, Phuket 83000
Kanom ah-pong (ขนมอาโป้ง)
There’s several places to buy ah-pong on Phuket, but the original – Ah-pong Mae Sunee in Phuket Town – is the place to go. Here the owner swirls rice flour, egg and coconut milk batter over six woks fired over charcoal braziers like a street performing plate juggler until the crepes are wafer thin and crisp with just a hint of gooeyness hiding at their centre. The crepes, which are not overly sweet, are peeled away at the just the right moment to be rolled into light, dainty cigar-shaped street snacks. Buy either individually which are never enough, or sets of seven which won’t spoil your dinner.
To try kanom ah-pong in Phuket, visit: Ahpong Mae Sunee, Soi Soon Utis, Tambon Talat Nuea, Phuket 83000
Tempted by this delicious selection of Phuket street food? A Chef’s Tour arranges street food tours with local experts in Phuket Old Town. Street food tours are also available in Bangkok and Chiang Mai.