When people ask what I think of Phuket, I tell them the food is simply fantastic. It’s an answer that weirds out many because I know that the question is just another way of asking whether I agree with the raving reviews of Phuket’s beaches. They are what Phuket is famous for, after all, so why would I talk about the food instead?
Beach bum that I am, and I’ve been a beach bum since childhood, I wasn’t impressed with what I saw of Phuket’s beaches. Not because the sand wasn’t as fine and pearly white as Boracay’s. A beach can have black or gray or beige or even pink sand and be great. But when you’re standing only knee deep in water and you can’t see your toes underneath, the water can’t be that great. So, I talk about the food instead. Because food in Phuket is, for me, something to rightly rave about. And I’m not even talking of posh restaurants. I’m talking about hawker food and market fare.
We arrived in Phuket on a warm and humid day (is there a non-warm and non-humid day in Phuket, anyway?). My friends wanted a massage right there on the beach; I wanted to take photos and swim. I took photos. I swam. But, like I said, the water was not too clear. I went back to shore and laid back on the beach chair that cost me a hundred ringgit (as the beach attendant said, “Nothing’s free in Phuket”).
After their (unsatisfactory) massage, my friends joined me. We bought fresh coconuts from a nearby stall…
… and fried vegetable spring rolls and grilled chicken from a passing hawker.
And they were just marvelous. The coconut water was cold and its meat succulent, the spring rolls were still hot and crisp, and the chicken, clipped in split bamboo, tasted and smelled of herbs and spices that seemed to spell T-H-A-I C-U-I-S-I-N-E.
But the snack by the beach was only the prelude. Our real target was a restaurant that reputedly served very good Pad Thai Noodles and Yum Pla Dook Foo (Crispy Catfish and Green Mango Salad). We failed to locate the restaurant, entered a flea market instead and that was where we found the most glorious food that made up for all my disappointment about the beach.
Inside the Patong Otop Shopping Paradise was a small unassuming place called Lily’s. Despite the absence of Yum Pla Dook Foo from Lily’s menu (we were told that not many people look for it), we decided to have early dinner there. We chose Pad Thai, a spicy prawn dish for my friends, a steamed whole fish, and chicken and pineapple rice.
The Pad Thai noodles were a cross between the bihon and the sotanghon, topped with lots of chicken fillets, mung bean sprouts and onion leaves, and served with crushed peanuts on the side.
The steamed fish was served in a shallow pool of thin coconut milk, garnished with lime slices, and topped with chopped onion leaves, garlic, chilis and cilantro.
The rice, smelling faintly of turmeric and lemongrass, was served in the hollowed out half of a pineapple so we knew that the pineapple tidbits mixed in with the chicken, rice and cashew nuts were fresh.
Boy, what a feast it was! The cook in me felt so alert and alive as I mentally deconstructed all the dishes and meticulously took photos so I could make my own versions when I got home.