One of the joys of a holiday in Phuket is the chance to savour its superb cuisine. Its waters are rich with crabs, tiger prawns, shrimp, mussels, squid and half a dozen varities of fish, and its land abounds with fresh vegetables and fruits. Seafood, fresh from trawlers, and vegetables from the countryside are sped to kitchens to be turned into unforgettable dishes.
Phuket is best known for its giant lobsters, huge, hard-shell beasts which must be seen to be believed. Observe them live in tanks in front of restaurants on Patongs Thaviwong Road (the road parallel to the beach). Lobsters can weigh up to 3kg, have bodies 35cm long and antennae 60cm long. Often, people are struck by a strange urge to pick these creatures up and have themselves photographed.
The island has always been known for its Thai cuisine but as its status as an international resort grows, more and more Asian and Continental restaurants are springing up to add variety to mealtimes. Phukets restaurants cover all the major cuisines of the world, at prices to suit the pocket of the visitor.
Unlike many other holiday resorts, top class hotels and restaurants in Phuket never had a monopoly on good food. The island has always been known for its culinary discoveries in unpretentious settings - a laternt-lit seafood shack by the beach, or a Thai curry shop in the suburbs of town.
Dining can be a major pastime here. The warm evening air makes it inviting just to sit around, talking with friends and ordering an array of dishes to savour lazily while sipping a glass of frosty Thai beer. The biggest attraction are the low prices. One can drink and dine sumptuously for less than 250 baht per person.
Most visitors prefer their seafood cooked Thai-style. Thai cooks rely on garlic, lemon grass, chillies, coriander, shrimp paste and dozens of herbs and spices to impart a delicious flavour to their dishes. Among the favourites are plamuuk phat kratiem prik thai (squid fried with garlic and black pepper), homok talay (a seafood casserole made of chunks of fish and shellfish, smothered in a coconut mousse and wrapped in banana leaf), tom yam kung (a spicy soup of shrimps seasoned with lemon grass and served in a charcoal-heated tureen), or its cousin, po tak (the Fishermans Net Bursts) which blends half a dozen seafood items in a tangy broth. For variety, try plaa chalam phat prio wan (sweet and sour shark) or an appetizer like deep-fried sea cicadas.
Plaa jaramet nung kiem bue (steamed pomfret with Chinese plum), plaakapong phat priew wan (sweet and sour red snapper), pu phat pong garee (crab fried in a curry sauce), and hoi malang pu op moh din (mussels in a savoury coconut milk broth) are all mouthwatering delights. You can also order seafood prepared European-style, like lobster thermidor, grilled prawns, fish in butter sauce and a dozen other styles.
Phuket and the south have their own cousine distinct from other parts of Thailand. You may also want to try the Muslim restaurants for something different. These are the small, open-front shops found in Phuket and Surin towns and easily recognized by the Arabic script on their windows.
A note: The very practical Thais eat with a fork in the left hand and spoon in the right, using the fork to shovel the food onto the spoon and into the mouth.
Desserts are a Thai speciality. Try coconut ice cream (ice cream kathit) and a host of other goodies with a base of coconut milk or vermicelli and incorporating sticky rice and luscious fruits. You can literally munch your way down a street and not repeat a taste.
The traditional Thai meal-ender and the perfect counter to the spiciness of the meal and the heat of the night is a simple plate of fruit, usually papayas, pineapples and watermelons, peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks. Vary it with bananas, tangerines and seasonal fruits like jackfruits, rambutans or mangosteens. The pineaple grown in Phuket is small and a bit tough but very sweet. If you crave a taste treat akin to gourmet cheese, bite into a durian. It is a dining experience unmatched anywhere.
For a refreshing drink, try a shake made of pureed fruit, srushed ice and a light syrup. Chilled young coconuts are delicious; drink the juice, then scrape out and eat the tender young flesh. Soft drinks like Coca-Cola are found everywhere. Try Vitamilk, a soft drink made from soya beans. For a refreshing cooler, order a bottle of soda, a glass of ice and sliced lime. Squeeze the lime into the glass, add the soda and your thirst is instantly quenched.
Cofee drinkers should sip the very strong Thai coffee flavoured with chicory. Tea drinkers will find the odd orange-coloured Thai tea sticky sweet but delicious. On a hot day, the Chinese prefer to drink a cup of hot, very thin tea, but never with ice as they believe that ice is bad for the stomach. Try all three over ice anyway.
Locally-produced beers include Singha and the lighter Singha Gold and Singha Draft (in cans!), as well as Carlsberg, Kloster, Heineken and Amarit. Of the many Thai cane whiskeys, Mekhong is the most popular. A tad sweet, it is drunk on the rocks, with soda and lime or with a bit of honey added to it. Most foreign spirits are available and large restaurants usually have wine lists.
The widest number of restaurants and range of cuisines is found in Patong. We will give a listing of recommended restaurants which are interesting both for their food (pre-dominantly seafood prepared Thai-style) and for their ambience. While hotels offer some of the best dining in Phuket, my purpose is to get you out into the surrounding community to try something different. Thus, with rare exceptions, the restaurants listed here are privately owned but within walking distance of your hotel. If you plan to drink, make sure you have a driver as motoring is dicey at night.
Dining in Phuket is always a buyers market. At the beaches. restaurants cater more to international tastes and prices are higher. If you are more adventurous try the vendors at the beaches catering to local employees. They are always delighted to have foreign tourists sit down and try what Thais call floor of the town food.
Outside the hotels, Thai attempts at international cuisine can be a hit or a miss. Local seafood is a better bet, and for many, the highlight of an evening out. Fresh seafood is sold by weight, often from sumptuous displays on boats packed with ice.
Prices are usually clearly displayed on menus or signboards outside the restaurants. A filling meal for one person without drinks is categorized as follows: Inexpensive = less than 100 baht; Moderate = 100-300 bath; Expensive = over 300 baht.
Ka Jok See
26 Takua Pa Road
Tel 076 217903
Intimate and delightful off-the-wall Thai restaurant. Newspaper table covers, antiques and a porch with potted plants. Jazz music. Moderate
31-39 Chana Charoen Road
Tel 076 211269, 076 224349
Large, urbane Chinese-Thai restaurant specializing in Thai seafood and Peking cuisine. Lobster, oyster, sharks fin and suckling pig. Expensive
Phuket Shopping Centre, Rasda Road
Tel 076 215563
French-style eatery in the town centre Exotic coffees and teas by cup or pot. Reasonable selection of steaks, pizzas and ice creams. Moderate
5/72-73 Mae Luan Road
Tel 076 214201
Open-front restaurant decorated with vintage household artefacts. Tasty curries like masaman guy are made fresh daily. Moderate
Metropole Coffee Shop
Metropole Hotel, Montri Road
Tel 076 215050
Up-market yet very good value lunch venue with a bountiful buffet spread of Thai cuisine from four regions of the country. Prompt table service. Thai classical music plays in the background. Moderate
Phuket Fresh Market
Adjacent to the songtaew public bus stops numerous rudimentary Chinese and Muslim eateries sell authentic freshly-made Phuket street food such as kanom jiin noodles, assorted curries, and sweet meats, all at virtually give-away prices. Wash your meal down with a hot glass of strong kopi coffe. Inexpensive
Pearl Hotel, Montri Road
Tel 076 211044
Exquisite Cantonese restaurant on the top floor of the hotel. Classical Shinese style. Popular with local business community. Acclaimed by Gault Millault. Expensive
16 Wichitsongkhram Road
Tel 076 226164-7
Mammoth teak-panelled Thai, Chinese and Japanese restaurant claiming to be the largest in South Thailand. Some small air-conditioned rooms. The Srivichai southern Thai set dinner and show is highly sophisticated. Moderate
Top of Khao rang Hill
Tel 076 211500
Romantic open-air Thai restaurant with sweeping views of Phuket town and the coast. Small selection of Japanese and Western dishes. Restaurant is at its best by night with views of the town lit up below. Moderate
The Sundown Cafe
106/13 Suring Beach
Tel 076 270230
Delicious high quality Tex-Mex food served in bounteous portions in a small cafe setting by the beach. Also home-made pizzas, pastas, ice creams and Margaritas. Rythm and blues background music. Closed on Mondays. Moderate
Ban Rim Pa
100/7 Kalim Beach Road
Tel 076 340789, 076 341768
Delightfully located romantic restaurant with views of Patong Bay. Refined central Thai dining by candlelight. Reservations are advisable. Expensive
Malee Seafood Village
Thaviwong (Beach) Road, 50m south of Soi Bangla
Tel 076 340205
Busy outdoor seafood emporium in central Patong. The meal starts with a choice from one of the mouthwatering displays of seafood in the iceboat. Easy to run up a big bill if you choose lobsters. Moderate
82 Soi Bangla (beside Ocean Plaza)
Tel 076 342319
Choose from a wide variety of seafood laid out on beds of ice. Lobsters, still alive and kicking, are displayed in huge plastic basins for customers to pick. You have a choice of seadood cooked either Thai or European style. Moderate
Soi Patong Post Office
Tel 076 340674
Indoor dining on a wide range of pizzas, pastas and other Italian specialities. Moderate
The Royal Kitchen
Royal Paradise Hotel, 70 Paradise Complex
Tel 076 340172
Chinese restaurant perched on top of a 25-storey hotel. The panoramic views of Patong from the restaurant unfortunately attract a large number of group tour customers. Small choice of French wines. Moderate
Gan Eng 1
9/3 Chaofa Road, Chalong Bay
Tel 076 381212, 076 381323
Simple open-air restaurant on the waterfront. Popular with locals and tourists alike. Seafood dishes are a speciality. Moderate
45/33 Chaofa Road, Chalong Bay
Tel 076 381709
Breezy open-air seaside eatery popular with yachties. Inspired international and Thai food with daily specials from Italy to India. Moderate
Laem Kanoi Seafood
50m north of Phuket Island Resort entrance
Difficult to find, but well worth the rffort. A 1-km track leads to shaded open-air tables by the sea, ideal for pungent Thai curry and seafood dishes favoured by locals. Great at high tide. Inexpensive
33/76 Patak Road
Tel 076 396217
Busy, well-run Scandinavian-American restaurant serving free salad and soup with wholesome main course meals. Imported steaks and ribs a speciality. Good Thai selection too. Open all day. Moderate
36/10 Patak Road
Tel 076 396628
Comfortable Scandinavian restaurant in the heart of Karon. The thoughtful menu allows diners to tick options like medium or rare for their steaks, with fries or baked potato. Moderate
Thavorn Palm Beach Hotel
Tel 076 396116, 076 396552
Restaurant with an emphasis on royal Thai traditions. Nightly kim classical music performances and Thai dancing. Ask for one of the outdoor balcony tables from where you get excellent views of Karon beach as sunset. Moderate
On The Rock
Marina Cottage Resort
Tel 076 330625, 076 330493-7
Very popular small restaurant on the rocks overlooking Karon Bay. Strong on Thai food, seafood and international items. The lighting is a little bright in an otherwise immaculate setting. Reservations are advisable. Moderate
Patong-Karon coast road
Tel 076 286080
Seafood and international cuisine served in romantic tropical setting with superlative view overlooking Karon beach. Good place for sundowners before the lights flicker on in Karon. Moderate
Boathouse Wine & Grill
2/2 Patak Road
Tel 076 330015-7
Refined Thai and European dining on a romantic terrace overlooking the sea. Large wine selection and set menus available. Expensive
6/3 Soi Tuey Ngam Patak Road
Tel 076 330 740
Busy open-air restaurant in south Kata. Diners are typically hotel residents going local. Seafood is the mainstay but Italian fare is also served. Moderate
Kampong Kata Hill
112/2 Moo 4, Patak Road, Kata
Tel 076 330103
Unique Thai and seafood restaurant in a romantic open-air setting surrounded by wood carvings and assorted Asian objects dart. Spice is tempered for foreign palates. Moderate
111/11 Moo 2 Kata Centre
Tel 076 330580
Thai, Chinese and European cuisine by a former chef at the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok. He recommends shark steak, clams and mussels with Franco-Italian crepes for dessert. Unpretentious outdoor setting, seafood a speciality. Moderate
Regatta bar & Grill
Le Royal Meridien Phuket Yacht Club
Tel 076 381156
There is a colonial feel to this opulent but understated international and seafood restaurant in one of Phukets most exclusive hotels. Set menus or a la carte. Specialist wine list. Expensive
Sheraton Grande Laguna, Laguna Phuket
Tel 076 324101
Creditable Italian cuisine at palatable prices. This restaurant is especially recommended for the enormous breakfast and lunch buffets, leaving no stomach empty. Moderate
Dusit Laguna Resort
Tel 076 324320
Central Royal Thai cuisine served by waitresses in Thai classical costumes to the accompaniment of kim music. Romantic candelit setting beside a lake. Expensive
Banyan Tree Resort, Laguna Phuket
Tel 076 324374
Middle Eastern and Asian cuisine served in lush surroundings on chic earthenware crockery. Unfortunately, no view, but the cuisine is quite healthy. Moderate
Laguna Phuket enrance
Tel 076 324349
An open-air tapas-style bar with innovative fusion cuisine from around the world. Informal atmosphere. Open in the evenings only. Moderate