The deep south

_DSC6507 On my most recent trip I spent a week in three of Thailand's southernmost provinces: Songkhla, Pattani and Narathiwat. Due to a violent insurgency that's been brewing since 2004, there's not a lot of folks visiting these parts, but there's still a lot of interesting things to see...and eat.

Every big city in the south has a night market. Hat Yai's:


featured a few stalls selling curries, grilled seafood and khanom jeen (fresh rice noodles served with curry). There were also several stalls selling kai thawt hat hai, Hat Yai-style fried chicken. However where it concerns the local dish, the residents I talked to consider Kai Tod Daycha, with three branches around town, the best:


Hat Yai-style fried chicken differs from elsewhere in its spice-laden marinade, and Daycha served the eponymous bird over fragrant yellow rice, or with a side of som tam (papaya salad).

In addition to Muslim-style food, there are also lots of ethnic Chinese in the south, and at a cafe in Hat Yai I had a wonderful bowl of ba kut teh:


pork ribs cooked in a herbal broth and served with sides of rice and deep-fried bits of dough. And yes, that's an entire head of garlic there in the broth.

Moving south, Pattani also has a much smaller, but still interesting night market serving a mix of Thai-Muslim and Chinese dishes:


The city also has one of the most vibrant morning markets in the region:


Most people in Pattani are ethnic Malays and there were more conversations in Yawi (a Malay dialect) than in Thai. In addition to language, breakfast is also very different in Thailand's deep south. Undoubtedly the most popular morning meal in these parts is khao yam (pictured at the top of this post), rice, often cooked with a type of purple flower, and topped with a bunch of finely-sliced herbs, roasted coconut, and a type of fish sauce called budu. The thin red strips are a kind of flower called dawk dala.

Another ubiquitous breakfast, especially in Muslim areas, is roti, a type of crispy pancake associated with Thai-Muslim cooking, and often served with a curry dip:


Thai Muslims really love sweet food, and will often put a tablespoon of sugar or three into the dip. In fact, despite southern Thai food's reputation as the hottest regional cuisine in the country, I found that many dishes featured sweet as their leading flavour. In Songkhla they like a dish called tao khua:


thin rice noodles and deep-fried crispy bits swimming in an insanely sweet sauce.

After a meal like that, I rarely felt a need for dessert, but really fell for khanom kho:


These are soft balls of dough and coconut meat surrounding a tiny cube of raw sugar. The combination of the soft, fluffy outside and the crunchy inside was amazing.