Just got back from Krabi, Phang-nga, and Phuket, three southern provinces. Am not a real big fan of beaches, and as a result never tended to visit the south very much dispite having lived here so many years. I’ve been going there a lot lately though, first for a guidebook I’m contributing photos and text to, and most recently to take photos for a cookbook I’ve agreed to do that will be called Flavours of the Street: Southern Thailand. Honestly, I’m still not too big on the beaches, but I’m beginning to love ahaan pak tai, southern Thai food, more and more.
I would start out my days in the south with a light breakfast. One of my favorite aspects of southern culture are the ubiquitous coffee and tea shops. Along with the caffeine are a variety of traditional Thai sweets, as seen below:
After breakfast I would typically wander around to take photos at the local markets for my book. The pic below is from Krabi’s huge new market:
Normally indoor markets are dark and smelly and nearly impossible to take photos in, but this is obviously an exception and I hope more markets are being built this way!
Living so close to the coast, fish is not surprisingly a staple food of southern Thais. There is a huge variety, ranging from fish, to shellfish, to crabs to squid, as seen at Phuket’s morning market:
Fish are prepared a number of ways, including my personal favorite, grilled whole, as seen in Phan Nga’s evening market:
As well as the Malay speciality, sate:
served, as always, with the famous Malaysian peanut-based dipping sauce (which many people in the US and Europe mistakenly identify as Thai), and cukes and shallots in vinegar.
I, however, almost always went for the curries. The people in the south seem to love any soupy dish poured over rice, unlike people in Bangkok, who would probably rather eat noodles or a fried dish, and they do curries very, very well. Curry, kaeng, in Thai, is a general term, and can describe anything from a thick coconut milk curry to a thin, watery broth. Here is a typical raan khao kaeng, rice and curry shop, at Krabi’s night market:
Take a closer look:
The yellow color of many of the dishes come from the use of turmeric. Some of the curries are already prepacked in to-go bags. Some of the more remarkable curries I had on my trip were a kaeng khua, a thick coconut-milk curry with pineapple and cockles in Phang-nga, and an excellent kaeng som, a thin very spicy and sour curry with fish and papaya, again in Phang-nga.
I love discovering new places, and found the tiny picturesque town of Phang Nga a great place for southern Thai food. There seem to be more cafes here than any other town of any size in Thailand, all offering delicious snacks. On the other hand, I found Phuket City to be vastly overrated in terms of its food. There are few restaurants in the town center (at least compared to other Thai towns), and the choices weren’t so great. Krabi’s night market was excellent, a mostly Muslim affair, but not as tasty or exciting as Satun’s much smaller night market. In general, I still think the best overall town for food in the south is still Trang. It has everything; old-school Chinese cafes, excellent southern Thai restaurants, Muslim food, Chinese food, a really fun morning market, and the best night market I’ve ever been to.
Last month I happened to be in southern Thailand taking photos for a guidebook. I’m also in the early stages of collecting info and photos for a book on southern Thai food, so I made a point of taking lots of food pics. Thought I’d share some of those here as the food in southern Thailand is quite interesting and quite different than that of other parts of the country.
These wacky green pods below are known in Thai as sator. I’ve heard them called “stinky bean” in English. They are an essential element of southern Thai cooking and are probably the most recognizeable ingredient associated with this part of the country. Open them up and you’ll get a bunch of lima bean-like pods. They can be eaten raw with nam phrik (chili paste), or fried, and have a very pungent odor. One fun side affect of eating sator is that the next day your urine will smell very strongly of sator. For more on the captivating but neglected topic of urine and food please visit noodlepie.
Another important ingredient in southern Thai food is khamin, turmeric, seen here below. It is this stuff that makes so many of the curries in southern Thailand yellow and orange. It is also used with seafood dishes to counter the undesireable “fishy” smell they sometimes have. And it’s also used in soaps and lotions and is thought to lighten the skin.
Below is khanom jeen, fermented rice noodles, with naam yaa pak tai, a southern-style coconut curry with pureed fish. Sounds nasty but is excellent, and really freaking spicy. When you order this dish you also get a tray of fresh “cooling” vegetables to counter the spiciness, including cucumber, bai bua bok (pennywort) and young cashew tree leaves.
The pics below are all of raan khaao kaeng, southern-style curry shops. You order a curry or two, served over rice, and are also given a small bowl of a very spicy chili paste called nam phrik and a tray of fresh veggies.
The two curry shops below are in Satun, a province in the deep south of Thailand. The people here are predominately Muslim, and their food is halaal, meaning it follows Muslim dietary rules and doesn’t have pork or alcohol or blood
Fried chicken is also a big deal in the south and is usually made by Muslims as well. The women making this were using their bare hands to dip the chicken into the boiling oil, although I think they were doing it just to show off. Fried chicken vendors can be like that sometimes.
Because of the long coastline, seafood is an important staple of the people of southern Thailand, regardless of religion. The pic directly below was taken at the tiny market in Satun, and the grilled squid pic was taken in Nakhorn Sri Thammarat, a great city for food.
And for dessert, sweet sticky rice with sangkhayaa, a type of egg custard. This stuff is available all over Thailand, but is an essential dish at the numerous Chinese-style raan kopii, or coffee shops in southern Thailand.