The long history of foreign trade in Phuket has helped create a vibrant local culture known as "baba" or "Peranakan;" it combines influences from Thai royal cuisine, Europe, Southern China, and the Malay states.
Peranakan cuisine is uniformly delicious and surprisingly egalitarian: many of the dishes listed below can be had at Phuket's street food stalls and five-star restaurants.
Mee Hoon Gaeng Poo
Mee hoon gaeng poo is the best Southern Thailand seafood experience in Phuket: a rich stew of coconut milk infused with curry paste, combined with wild betel leaf (bai chaplu) and hunks of crab meat. It's usually paired with rice vermicelli noodles or khanom keen. At its best, mee hoon gaeng poo yields subtle spicy top notes that set off the creamy umami flavor of the coconut milk base.
Phuket’s favorite breakfast food (also spelled khanom chin) consists of bunches of fermented rice noodles, served with a soupy curry with your choice of meats and an assortment of vegetables and herbs on the side.
The most authentic khanom jeen experience takes place in Phuket Town, where you can dine on these noodles from any number of casual street vendors.
The noodles are often accompanied by a range of sides—think different types of curry sauce with bases of fish or crab, chunks of beef or chicken, bean sprouts, hard-boiled eggs, and fresh vegetables.
The Hokkien Chinese are wizards at cooking pork belly, and their Phuket Baba descendants’ moo hong have shown they’re equal with their ancestors. Baba Thais braise these fatty pork cuts in soy sauce blended with palm sugar, coriander root, star anise, and peppercorns for hours. The resulting pork is so tender it truly will melt in your mouth.
Both savory and sweet at once, moo hong is best eaten with a healthy helping of rice. This pork dish is a staple of Baba home cooking, but you’ll also find this in many upscale restaurants around the island.
Nam Prik Goong Siab
This shrimp dip brings life to the bland foods it pairs with: just sprinkle or mix in to zing them up. Nam prik goong siab’s ingredients pack a one-two punch of saltiness and spice: dried shrimp, shrimp paste, shallots, lime juice, shredded mango, and chili all mixed together.
The resulting melange is served in a bowl, then spooned onto your choice of milder-tasting sides: blanched or fresh vegetables, white rice, omelets, and hard-boiled eggs.
The name translates to "Hokkien-style noodles," but Phuket Town has proudly claimed it as its own: yellow egg noodles, stir-fried with prawns, squid, pork, and bean sprouts can be ordered at many Phuket Town diners and classy restaurants.
Every eatery has its own take on Hokkien mee: some add dumplings to the mix, while others garnish the bowl with a freshly-cracked egg that cooks in the noodles' residual heat. Another variant, mee nam Hokkien, is served as a broth instead of stir-fried.
Phuket locals gladly eat the parts of the pig that most Western tourists reject. Pork face, intestines, tongue, and other “variety meats” are seasoned with five-spice blend, blanched in a soy-sauce-infused stock, then deep-fried to produce loba, a crisp-and-chewy pork dish.
Loba stalls generally serve their stock in trade alongside deep-fried morsels of tofu or tofu-covered meats, spring rolls, and shrimp fritters; all these should be dipped in the accompanying tamarind-based sauce before being popped into one’s mouth.
Sataw Pad Kapi Goong
The skunky smell of Thai sataw beans may not be to everyone's taste. (No wonder picky Westerners call it the "stink bean.") But this edible bean grows wild all over Phuket and is the basis for a favorite southern Thai dish. Dishes that use it, particularly sataw pad kapi goong, turn the beans' unique taste to the dish's advantage.
To make sataw pad kapi goong, sataw and prawns are stir-fried in shrimp paste, then eaten with rice. The sharp spiciness and umami of the shrimp paste and chili work surprisingly well with the sataw's native taste: for the adventurous eater in Phuket, this dish should be on anyone's dining bucket list.
Mee Hun Ba Chang
Midway between visiting Phuket Town’s museums and shops, stop by a noodle shop to lunch on this rustic dish. Vermicelli rice noodles are stir-fried with a black soy-sauce dressing, then garnished with chives and fried shallot pieces.
Mee hun ba chang is always served with a side dish, usually consisting of pork spare ribs in broth, spring rolls, or satay.
This street food folds up baby oysters, boiled taro root cubes, onion, garlic into a spicy batter, then garnishes the lot with fried pork rind. It sounds simple enough, but it has an outsized place in Phuket foodies’ hearts (and stomachs). It’s eaten as a snack, not as a full meal in itself.
Phuket Town locals have made oh tao a staple of Chinese New Year festivities, as the “stickiness” of the ingredients represents the “sticky” strong bonds between family members.
Cool down in Phuket’s summer months with this super-sweet shaved-ice dessert. The key ingredient of oh eaw is flavorless cubes of white jelly made from banana starch and gelatin derived from seeds from the Ficus pumila creeping fig. Syrup and boiled red beans complete the ensemble.
The overall result resembles the mitsumame dessert from Japan, another jelly-and-bean-based ice dish made for the summer months. Oh eaw is one of the best foods in Phuket to have on the cheap, as a dish costs no more than 20 baht (about 60 cents).