Tantalising to the taste

Phuket is using its diverse culinary offerings to entice tourists

While Phuket is a top tourist destination famous for its beaches and natural beauty, the island's multicultural environment is no less vibrant and has a unique charm.

A cook demonstrates how to make the famous oa tao stir-fried noodles mixed with taro and shellfish and seasoned with local condiments. PHOTOS BY ACHADTAYA CHUENNIRAN

With its long history, the Pearl of the Andaman combines the diverse cultures of southern Thais, ethnic Malay Muslims and ethnic Chinese, particularly Hokkien Chinese, who live together in peace and harmony.

A wide variety of foods represents a potpourri of cultural and culinary diversity that never fails to tantalise the taste buds.

Local bodies, the private sector and gastronomic entrepreneurs have joined forces to promote the unique dining scene in the province to give tourism an added boost.

An annual food festival has been organised for four consecutive years and has proved to be a success. Local culinary delights play a crucial part in attracting more tourists and visitors to the island.

Sampling the local cuisine is an indispensable part of travel programmes provided by tour operators. Last year, more than 5 million people visited Phuket, with hundreds of millions of baht in revenue brought to the resort island.

One-dish meals are popular in Phuket. A popular one is khanom jeen (fermented rice noodles) served with a sauce called nam ya made of fish, coconut cream, chilli paste and seasonings. It is eaten with a garnish of fresh vegetables and herbs.

Chinese immigrants also brought their own culinary specialities to the island, including a variety of delectable fried noodle dishes. Phuket's nam phrik kung siab (chilli dip mixed with sometimes smoked, dried prawns) is also a well-known delicacy.

Paiboon Upatsaring, chief of the Phuket provincial administrative organisation, said the fourth Phuket Local Food Festival was held from Jan 25-29 at Saphan Hin beachfront public park. The festival was a collaboration between local bodies, private firms and residents to introduce Phuket's unique gastronomic culture to the world.

There were more than 100 food stalls and booths offering savoury dishes and desserts native to Phuket. There were demonstrations of how to make local dishes including tom som (sour and spicy fish soup) in a giant pot. Events such as the Miss Phuket beauty contest, a transsexual beauty contest and other stage performances were attended by many tourists.

Fresh spring rolls are hand-stuffed with fillings.

Phuket governor Tri Akkaradecha said the use of Phuket's traditional cuisine to promote tourism has proved a success. Visitors can explore the province's multicultural aspects, which are best represented by food.

"We are ready to support efforts to organise the food festival to highlight Phuket's culinary culture. We are confident this will help promote another aspect of Phuket tourism," Mr Tri said.

Sunthorn Pholrong, director of Phuket Vocational College, said the college has supported the festival all along. For this year's event, it prepared tom som in a giant pot, demonstrated how to make local dishes and desserts and organised exhibitions on the history of local cuisine.

"The college is part of a campaign to preserve local food. It has a division teaching both students and those who are interested about how to make local dishes," he said.

Sarayuth Mallum, vice-president of the Phuket Tourism Association, said the island's cuisine was distinct from that of other southern provinces and if the food festival were held regularly, it would help attract more tourists.

Bang-onrat Chinaprayoon, director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand's Phuket branch, said it was common for tourists to seek out and sample local dishes in cities, adding that Phuket's culinary scene has something unique to offer.

She welcomed joint efforts to improve Phuket's traditional dishes in terms of taste and hygiene.

Ms Bang-onrat suggested that local food be packaged so that visitors who enjoyed Phuket's culinary experience could take products back to their friends and family members and tell them how the food fascinated them. "Word-of-mouth promotion is best," she said.

Phuket mayor Somjai Suwansuppana said the Office of Contemporary Art and Culture under the Culture Ministry was working with Phuket municipality to push the island to be listed as a Unesco Creative City of Gastronomy under the organisation's Creative Cities Network. The office and the municipality signed an agreement to jointly push for the listing on May 24 last year.

"Joining Unesco's Creative Cities Network will complement tourism in Phuket," she said.

Thira Jiasakul, head of Phuket's club of gastronomic entrepreneurs, said the island was home to people of various ethnicities co-existing in harmony, contributing to culinary variety. All entrepreneurs have cooperated by ensuring that food is delicious and clean.

"The entrepreneurs are happy that authorities have realised the importance of Phuket's culinary traditions," he said.

Bua tord, or bua sea grass, which is found along the coast of Phuket. It is dipped in batter and fried.

Ar Pong, a traditional Phuket sweets, is a crispy, thin, deep-fried pancake.

Bai miang leaves stir-fried with egg.

Khanom tuay sweets made from coconut and palm sugar are sold in small ceramic cups.

Nam phrik kung sod, chilli dip mixed with fresh prawns, with a garnish of fresh vegetables.

Loba pork innards are fried and eaten with a special sauce.

A chicken curry is served with mesh-like bread.

Grilledkoy morakot shellfish, a rare treat from the Andaman Sea, with spicy sauce.

Moo hong pork stew, showcasing Chinese culinary influence.

The pla nam snack made with mixed herbs and meats.

Phuket khao yam mixed vegetables flavoured with condiments.

Stir-fried noodles, a staple of the Phuket gastronomic scene.

About the author

Writer: Achadtaya Chuenniran
Position: Writer