Following on from my last post about Pina Coladas, Pad Thai and pig out breakfasts, I’m going to put on my more serious foodie and talk about some of the finer eating in Phuket.
Whilst we sunned it up in Phuket we were determind to experience some champion seafood. That could be either brilliant or risky… it’s Thai belly haven for sure if we got it wrong, but how could we not attempt after witnessing the local fisherman buzz up and down passed the resort every single morning with net fulls. There was definitely something big and juicy out there to catch and it definitely had to get in our bellies quick smart.
We were worded up by a couple of locals who worked at the resort to go see ‘a guy’ in the local village. It’s always best to get ’the know’ from the locals no matter where you are I figure. In this case, our ‘guy’ despite being infamous for selling the freshest fish, his catch looked a little ‘fishy’ (pardon the pun). You’ve got to remember that many markets and villages don’t have fancy pancy refrigeration systems like we take for granted. Actually at large they don’t have any refrigeration at all. You’re lucky if the flies are kept off them. All the same, we wern’t going to except anything drastically below our western standards. Sitting food out in the stinking heat surely has to give anyone (bar the locals) a rotten bought of Thai belly and we wern’t feeling that risky.
Instead we played it safe. Well, as safe as you can get in Thailand and headed to a somewhat tatty restaurant (they all are though aren’t they?) known for it’s seafood. It turns out this is where all the local fishermans net fulls end up. They had a staggering range of dishes on the menu which made the ordering process painful. I suffer servere indecisiveness in such situations. So much so I irritate myself. I’m not sure how we narrowed it down but we ended up having Sweet Chili Crab (probably my friends in the basket) & Chili Prawns. Nothing too adventurous but at least we knew what we were getting. We have always been friends with Chili. Chili appears in a large portion of our home cooking but nothing can prepare you for Thai Chili. They don’t just use sprinklings. It’s often by the hand full I’d say and you can guarantee that it will be in even the most unsuspecting dish. We liked to look for the hidden chili in everything we ate. It was a bit of a game and sure enough it would turn up ready to bite your mouth off. Whether you found it before that moment or not was pot luck. It could seriously take your breath away. Even on pizza after specifying “no hot chilli please” it blew us away. Obviously that sentence doesn’t translate. Little Vick was not pleased. He was onto it early and refused to try most Thai dishes after coping a mouth full of it accidentally. From that moment on he lived on a diet of mostly yoghurt and fruit. This is a boy who eats everything. He has a very adventurous pallet. Luckily he stayed at kids club on this particular day when we really asked for it. 2 dishes with Chili in the dishes title. When we gave our order the Thai waiter monotonously asked us in his broken English how hot we wanted the prawns dish. Not spicey, mild or hot? My eyes bulged when Mr Vick replied confidently ”hot please”. The waitor awoke from his haze and asked us to confirm that again whilst his accompanying waitress let out a bit of shocked giggle. We were in for it. I got the feeling by the way the cute little waitress shrieked that not even she would attempt to eat this dish. I sat and waited preparing to have every single taste bud burnt off. Sure enough the dish did not disapoint. The prawns looked so deliciously fresh. I couldn’t wait to get my mouth around them. The chili couldn’t be bad enough to stop me. HA! I pulled up very quickly. The sauce was UNBEARABLE! It was the kind of dish that burn’t your belly before it even hit your lips. Still, I gave it a shot. I had a good half a dozen fork fulls determind to enjoy the prawns but after a bit I nibbled on the crab instead, which was fresh, fluffy and delightfully sweet. Perhaps it was a matter of pride or the fact he had to prove himself to the waiters that Mr Vick ate the entire prawn dish. I kid you not. I have not seen a man sweat so profusely from the brow over a simple prawn dish. He was on fire, puffing from the mouth, but still determined. I sat back and watched wondering why you would do it to yourself and wondering what the after effects might be. Needless to say the very next day Mr Vick feel quite ill for the remainder of our trip and developed a lifelong grudge towardsThailand. Little Vick and I remained unscathed and happy tourists.
Before we left that tatty seafood restuarant we did manage to purchase some fresh fish to cook ourselves for dinner. But not before a few perplexed looks from the waiters. They thought we wanted to them to cook it first and for us to take it away. Seems no tourist had ever cooked for themselves here. We choose our little fishy straight from the waters of a cement tank beside the kitchen. Couldn’t complain about the freshness here. It was a medium sized Sea Bass which cost us about 700 baht or approximately $10.30 - more than if we had them cook it in a dish for us in their restuarant. We were slow to catch on to the fact that we were being stooged big time! But we were on holiday, all care free so we tottled home for some home cooked Thai fish for dinner and loved every bite. It was one of the softest, fluffiest fish flesh I have had the delight to experience. Worth every bit of the $10.30 and we got to say we cooked our own Thai seafood dish using local (caught in the ocean waters viewed from the resort) catch!
Thai belly is almost guaranteed if you’re a traveller in Thailand. It’s takes even the most careful traveler as it’s victim that’s why I would recommend you take some kind of hydration salts ‘in case’. We made friends and out of all of us (there was 8), there was only 3 of us who didn’t get Thai belly at some point during the trip. Little Vick and I were two of those 3 (we are ace clearly). There is something going on with the Thai’s bellies that makes them like iron steal. They are not so susceptible to the bugs and bacteria that makes us so violently ill. They’re clearly used of unrefrigerated meat and more casual hygene standards. Lets face it if a food inspector went to Thailand they would resign on the spot before they even got started. It’s their worst nightmare! I don’t think the Thai’s would even know what a food inspector is so they can sell pretty much anything. You need your radar on to spot dodgy looking options and preferably steer clear from the local street vendor who has oodles of aromatic food sizzling away for a small price. If you want to travel cheaply to Thailand you eat from these vendors, but at your own risk. A risk I couldn’t take whilst travelling with a vulnerable toddler. We were all actually so vulnerable. I was continually looking at food carts asking the question how long has that meat been sitting out in the heat for? Thai belly fear meant we mainly ate at ok looking restaurant’s and at the resort where we paid western prices for western standards. Thailand’s infamous cheap travel label is a myth in my opinion. If you want to live on the more dangerous side and eat as locals would, sure it’s cheap. If you want to keep your bowel in tact you need to pay compariable western prices for standards. It’s a question of how much you value your health over your pennies?
It means I missed out on some adventurous looking food. The food at markets are a sight and worth a look even if you have little intention of tasting. I saw things on sticks with legs that I have never seen before, nor can I name. I wish I’d taken photos (WHY DIDN’T I????)Markets are mostly good on the pocket so it can make for a good outing and a few cheap purchases of sunglasses and tshirts. The markets in Phuket town had a pungent smell of the streets which was a mix of sweat, rotting vegetables and unknown herbs. Not a smell to make one hungry or want to buy their food. The all time bestest market you could experience is the weekend Phuket Town Night Markets. They are buzzing with locals and tourists EVERYWHERE and I say if the locals shop there, it must be cheap! There are sunglasses, tshirts, wallets, watches, gimmicks galore and of course food food food. A must do for sure for any bargain or market lover.
It goes without saying that you need to ALWAYS drink bottled water. A fellow traveller we knew was struck down with gastro after ordering a tea based drink whilst out in Phuket town. Seems the ice cubes put it in where not from the bottled water variety.
Thai Cuisine is all about great food, and not so great food. It’s hit or miss. It’s either fresh or slightly dodgy. It’s often an unforeseeable experience. Sometimes you need to dodge a bullet when you’re choosing but mostly you couldn’t get a tastier dining experience. Meet Mr Thai Green Curry below: