In January 2013 I decided to leave Bangkok and try my luck in Phuket. Phuket is Thailand’s biggest island and one of the main tourist spots in the country. Phuket has an amazing beautiful landscape and beaches with clear turquoise water and refined white tropical beaches. In the south, the west coast is separated by a mountainous ridge from the rest of the island. The west coast is where the famous beaches of Patong, Kata, Karon and Surin are located and where the density of tourists is by far the highest of the island. East of the mountainous ridge lies the Muang Phuket district and its capital Phuket. The landscape here isn’t as amazing as on the west coast, but this is the place where the “Thai” life of the island takes place. Beside the presence of the governmental departments, this is the place where traditional festivals are hold annually, where contests of singing birds are hold regularly and where the football stadium of Phuket F.C. resides. This is also the place of hundreds of Thai restaurants which offer exclusive local foods, Thai night club (witch in strong contrast to the clubs of Patong, have nearly 100 % Thai audiences), local markets and the city pillar of the province. Actually indigenous Phuketians are actually Chinese, strictly speaking Peranakan Chinese, though they developed in an own branch of Peranakan culture, which is also called Thai Peranakan (more about this later in this section). In this section of my webpage, I will provide you with information about beaches, markets, festivals, religious places, general Thai and Phuketian customs and believes, as well as local foods of Phuket. But not only do I want to present information about Phuket itself, I also want to give information about trips and neighboring provinces, which can be easily reached from Phuket. If you have any specific question about my posts, or want to add some additional information, feel free to post comments.
For today’s dinner I had a famous Thai dish called tom yam. Basically this dish is served in two varieties, tom yam nam khon and tom yam nam sai. The first has a sour taste and is thicker, due to some added coconut cream (hua gathi) and curry powder (phong gaeng tom yam), whereas the other one consists of clear water (nam sai). Tom yam is often made with shrimps (tom yam gung) but my favorite one is definitely with chicken (tom yam gai). In Thai restaurants, there are often two kind of chicken available – the house chickens (gai baan) and the farm chickens (gai liang). House chickens can be seen everywhere and walk usually free between houses. They are fed with everything, usually leftovers. Farm chickens on the other side are raised in commercial large scale farms. If I can choose, I usually order gai baan. Maybe they not getting as tender as farm chickens, but they enjoyed probably a far better life than the commercially raised farm chickens. Tom yam nam khon and tom yam nam sai both usually contain Thai ginger, lemongrass, mushrooms, chili and kaffir lime leaves. The whole nam of my meal was tom yam gai baan nam khon.
For today’s lunch I ordered a yam, a spicy Thai salad. There are hundreds of different yams but what they have all in common is a sweet, sour and spicy taste similar to the famous somtum. I ordered a cucumber yam, which is called yam taeng gwaa with seafood. Thale means sea, thus the menu’s name is yam taeng gwaa thale. The sea food consisted of squid and fish. To the sliced cucumber stripes were added sliced carrots and parsley.
Today I had one of my favorite meals, which can be ordered in almost every Thai restaurant allover the country. Phat gra phraw means fried basil and there are various varieties of this dish, such as phat gra phraw muu (fried basil with hashed pork) or phat gra phraw gai (fried basil with hashed chicken meat) or phat gra phraw nua (fried basil with hashed beef). Do you want the meal with rice, then add raad kaaw to the name of your menu. Do you want additionally a fried egg, add sai khai daw. I had fried basil with chicken on rice with a fried egg, so the meals name was phat gra phraw gai raad kaaw sai khai daw. The meal is always served with a salty fish sauce containing small and very spicy chili and is called nam pla phrik. Thai basil has antibacterial properties and is rich in vitamin A. Beside that it it contains a lot of fibers which stimulate the digestion.
Today my girlfriend cooked me a meal I never enjoyed before, which is called gaeng wunsen plaa grapong. The curry was spiced with fish sauce, a seasoning powder, Thai ingwer and kaffir lime leaves. Then the famous wunsen noodles were added. Wunsen are found allover Asia and are made of the starch of mung beans, yam, cassava or potatoes. To the curry we ate some chicken drumsticks with chilli sauce (sauce prik) and raw fruits (phak) which are eaten with most Thai meals. Our phak included just snake beans today.
In this post am going to introduce you an important fruit for Thailand, as well as for all of Southeast Asia. The mango tree is essential for Thai agriculture and Thailand is the third biggest mango producer, behind India and China. The mango is an evergreen rainforest tree and originated probably in an area between Myanmar and Indian Assam, but spread early over the whole of Southeast Asia. The tree grows up to 45 meters and can survive over 300 years. The trees only bears fruits once a year between March and June. There are over a thousand varieties of the fruit and hundreds are grown in Thailand. One of the famous ones is the mamuang nam dog maai (“juice of flowers”, see right picture). The mango is consumed either green or ripe as well as integrated in many Thai dishes. Mango is used to create ice creams, milkshakes and juices. The raw fruit is usually eaten with a spicy dipping sauce (see my Post “Nam Chim and green mango“) and the famous mamuang kiaw sa woei (“green mango”, see left picture). The mango has a big cultural significance in Indian influenced cultures like Thailand. In Hinduism the perfectly ripe mango in often held by the Elephant headed God Ganesha (Thai: phra phikanet) and symbolizes perfection. In India, mango leaves are used to decorate archways and doors during weddings and other celebrations. There are many ancient tales about the fruit. The fruit is so important, that it was even declared the national fruit of four countries: Pakistan, India, Philippines and Bangladesh. Thais use the fruit also for healing purposes. They dry the seed of a ripe mango and then boil it in water. This juice is than used to get rid of parasite and worms. The leaves can also be boiled and used to clean wounds and treat inflammatory bowel diseases.
One of my favorite fruits available in Thailand is the fruit of the tamarind tree or makham how Thai people call it. The tamarind tree become huge, up to 25 Meter and is a really impressive and beautiful tree. The tree develops beautiful big flowers which finally develop into sausage-shaped brown fruits. The fruits are between 5 and 15 cm long and under a thin wall are the seeds embedded in a thick brownish pulp, which has a sour to sweetish taste. There are lots of varieties of this fruit ranging from very sour to very sweet. The very sour ones, are in Thai called makham priaw and the sweet ones are called makham waan. Thai people make a tamarind sauce out of the pulp, which then is used as a souring agent in many Thai dishes. Tamarind water is for instance a main ingredient of the famous gaeng mussaman curry. The young leaves of the tamarind tree are also used in Thai soups. The sour pulp contains extremely high quantities of tartaric acids. Beside that the pulp contains a lot of minerals such as copper, potassium, calcium, iron, zinc and magnesium and vitamins such as thiamin, vitamin A, folic acid, riboflavin, niacin and vitamin-C. Beside the healthy pulp, people create an oil extract out of it. This oil is used in traditional medicine as a laxative and as a refrigerant. The bark is also eaten and known for his astringent properties. Beside its uses in medicine, the tamarind pulp is also said to be an excellent cleaning agent for metal.
Today my girlfriend presented me another delicious meal called gaeng som gai. Gaeng is often translated as “curry”, but gaeng in fact simply describes a soup-like dish. Gaeng can be very watery or more like a thick soup or even a paste. Gaeng som for instance are very watery and can include a variety of sour (som) ingredients such as green mango, sour tamarind, taling pling or the moringa beans. In our case, my girlfriend used simply a powder called phong gaeng som. Additionally she added lemongrass, tomatoes, Thai ginger or galangal, some kind of cabbage (phad gaad kaaw) and kafir lime leaves (magruud). Inside that soup she boiled some chicken legs.
Today my girlfriend cooked three dishes for us. As she comes from Northeastern Thailand the dishes were of course Issan style. As we don’t have the tools to cook the typical Northeastern sticky rice, we eat the meals with the usual white rice. The first dish consisted simply of some vegetables and a dipping sauce (plate at the top). The sauce is called nam phrik gapi and is made of the following ingredients: chilli (phrik), shrimp paste (gapi), lemon (manaw), sugar (nam taan) and some flavors called churot. A variety of vegetables can be used for this dish. In our case we had yardlong beans, also called snake beans or Chinese long beans (tua fag yaaw) and some Thai cucumber called taeng gwaa. The raw vegetables are simply dipped into the sauce and eaten.
The second dish (left side) is called phad kha naa gai thood and is made of fried kai-lan (phad kha naa) and fried chicken (gai thood) . Kai-lan or kha naa is a leaf vegetable and belongs to the same species as broccoli but its taste is more bitter. It is used in various Asian dishes and is often stir-fried with garlic and ginger. In our case, the following ingredients were added to kai-lan: Chilli (phrik), garlic (gratiam), sugar (nam taan), some flavors called churot, fish sauce (nam plaa) and oyster sauce (sauce hooy naang rom).
Third dish is called tom graduug muu. It is a soup made of various ingredients in which a piece of pork meat (muu) and bone (graduug) are boiled. The soup is made of kaffir lime leaves (magruud), lemongrass (takhrai), Thai galangal or blue ginger (khaa) and chilli (phrik). The rhizome of the Thai galangal has plenty of health benefits and can be used for the treatment of skin infections and eczema, stomach aches, colds and fevers and to treat rheumatism. Lemongrass can also be used to treat fevers, colds and to lower bad cholesterol levels.