In Phuket, food is like the nightlife and beach scene - there's something to suit most tastes. Tin, trade and tourism have all influenced today's dining choices on the Thai island. Whether you are looking for southern Thai cuisine, international favourites, the subtleties of the island's take on Peranakan cuisine, or just to get a fix of familiar Thai favourites, there's plenty to explore.
Inland Phuket Town is ignored by many visitors, but not for long perhaps. The Thai Peranakan Association has nominated Phuket Town to be the fourth Unesco City of Gastronomy. In the 19th century, during the island's heyday as a tin mining, smelting and trading centre, Peranakan or Straits Chinese from trading hubs such as Singapore and Penang moved to Phuket to make their fortunes. Hokkien miners from Fujian and the then Malaya flocked here to work in the tin industry. Both groups married local people and the resulting Thai Peranakan (Baba Nyonya) community thrived.
Peranakan architecture, restaurants and coffee shops are concentrated in the streets around Thalang and Dibuk roads. This is also the location of what seems to be everyone's favourite Peranakan restaurant: Thai Raya Restaurant (48 New Dibuk Road Phuket City, tel: +66 76 218155), in a restored early 20th-century shophouse. Raya serves local dishes such as kaeng neua poo kab mee khao (crabmeat curry with white Phuket noodles), nam prik koong siap (a simple spicy shrimp dip, eaten with fresh vegetables and cashew leaves), moo hong (sweet pork with soy sauce) and oh-aew (a banana jelly dessert).
Boathouse Restaurant + Grill (182 Koktanode Road, Kata Beach, tel: +66 76 330015) serves superb French and Thai cuisine on a chic terrace overlooking Kata Noi beach. Previously called Mom Tri's Boathouse, the boutique resort has recently had a US$6 million refit. Jean-Noel Lumineau, Thailand's only Ma?tre Cuisinier de France, oversees the ? la carte and degustation menus. Wine director Georges Ciret curates a list of more than 850 labels, with more than 30 wines by the glass.
'Bangkok has celebrity chef restaurants. But when people are in a place like Phuket they want something more simple,' says Lumineau. 'People want to eat seafood and something cooked simply but well.' Lumineau builds his menu around locally grown vegetables and high quality, imported ingredients such as Angus beef, and duck from France.
Chef Rattana Pholtaisong is in charge of a Thai menu that includes a choice of lamb or chicken massaman curries and Phuket-style dishes such as mee sapam goong (Phuket hokkien noodles with prawns - see recipe) and moo hong.
On the road to the landmark Heroine's Monument, an unassuming restaurant called Farang (Si Sunthon Road) pulls in a mainly Thai clientele, plus a few expatriate residents. The location next to a petrol station is not promising, but its outdoor tables look out over a wooded slope.
Describing itself as fusion, the Farang menu lists mainly Thai and Italian dishes. Prices per dish are low - 100-200 baht (HK$25-HK$50) a dish - but flavours hit the spot every time. Marinated pork neck, beef salad and tom yum goong are piquant, served with plenty of fresh leaves. Italian-style salmon steaks, salads and crabmeat with linguine are standouts in this modest cafe.
Sailing around the Andaman Sea is part of Phuket's appeal for yacht-owners. Starwood's newly opened The Naka Island (32 Moo 5, Tambol Paklok, Naka Yai Island, tel: + 66 76 371400) is a single resort tropical island worth dropping in on. Ian Thomason's fusion menu puts subtle Thai flavours into the dishes. Mains include seafood, steaks and a whole Phuket lobster served with citrus marinade and coriander root cream, and grilled asparagus with chilli and lime sauce.
Smile Restaurant on Kamala Beach is a classic Thai beach bar (smilerestaurant.org, tel: +66 76 385515). Well-known Thai dishes are sold with the global selection of condiments on the table being the nod to foreign tastes. Try the spicy som tam (green papaya salad), phad thai, gaeng kiao wan gai (green chicken curry) and the massaman beef curry.
Do fry this at home
This dish is based on a recipe supplied by chef Rattana Pholtaisong from the Boathouse Restaurant + Grill, who oversees the restaurant's Thai menu and cooking classes.
120 grams Hokkien-style yellow or egg noodles
40ml vegetable oil
20 grams or 2 shallots, thinly sliced
200 grams shrimps, peeled and deveined
20 grams local celery
110 grams kale
10ml dark soy sauce
150ml chicken stock
10ml oyster sauce
5 grams brown sugar
2 grams white pepper
5ml Maggi sauce (optional)
Heat vegetable oil in a wok and fry shallots until brown. Remove from pan, drain on paper towels and set aside for garnish.
Add shrimps to wok, stir-fry for two minutes.
Add chopped celery and kale and stir-fry for two minutes or until kale has just wilted.
Add yellow noodles to the wok and mix.
Add thick black (dark) soy sauce and chicken stock.
Season to taste with oyster sauce, brown sugar, white pepper and Maggi sauce (optional).
Serve with the fried shallots on top.