All Articles 10 dishes to try in Phuket

10 dishes to try in Phuket

From Thai curries to icy desserts.

Diana Hubbell
By Diana Hubbell9 Apr 2024 7 minutes read
Overhead shot of noodles.
A bowl of Hokkien mee in Phuket
Image: AN Studio/Getty Images

As Thailand’s largest and most popular island, Phuket is best known among international travelers for its white-sand beaches and raucous nightlife. That said, I would argue that the best reason to visit is the culinary scene. In Bangkok, where I lived for many years, dishes tend to err on the sweeter, milder side—but chefs in Phuket pull no punches when it comes to spice, acidity, and intense bursts of umami funk from fermented ingredients.

Thanks to its long history as a key trading port, Phuket is blessed with both a diverse population and a cuisine unlike any other in Thailand. Portuguese, Dutch, and English traders all left a mark here. Of particular note are the Peranakans, a merchant group with their own distinctive customs and cuisine who settled in Malacca, Penang, Singapore, and Phuket, among other places. By some estimates, 70 percent of Phuket’s population has Peranakan heritage, and many restaurants on the island proudly serve Peranakan dishes to this day.

Today, Phuket’s dining scene encompasses everything from Michelin-lauded restaurants to family-run hawker stalls. Here are just a few of the dishes to try on your next trip.

Khanom jeen

Noodles and greens on a white plate.
A plate of khanom jeen
Image: gritwattanapruek/Getty Images

These thin, delicate noodles are made by hand and have a slightly springy texture. Because khanom jeen are highly perishable and must be made fresh, they’re often challenging to find outside of Thailand and all but impossible to replicate at home. Street food stands in Phuket serving khanom jeen can be easily spotted by the sheer number of toppings. Look for several large pots of curries, along with an assortment of bean sprouts, fresh herbs, pickles, and assorted fresh and blanched vegetables. Toppings for khanom jeen vary by region, but in Phuket, it’s often ladeled with coconut crab curry or fish curry.

Where to get it: Kanom Jeen Saphan Hin, 66/2 Phuket Rd, Talat Yai

This popular eatery by Saphan Hin is easy to spot—just look for the large mural by Bangkok-based street artist Alex Face. The curries here boast the rich complexity that can only come from hours of simmering.

Tip: Bring cash. Service here is cafeteria-style, making for a speedy, delicious breakfast or lunch.

Pu pad pong karee

A square plate piled high with Pu Pad Pong Karee.
A plate of pu pad pong karee
Image: kendoNice/Getty Images

Although pu pad pong karee, or stir-fried crab curry, is beloved throughout Thailand, there’s no better place to try than Phuket, where the crab is likely to be exceptionally fresh. In contrast to soupier curries like gaeng kiew wan (green curry), this dish consists of chunks of seafood loosely bound with a sauce of scrambled eggs enriched with evaporated milk or cream. Dry curry powder, as opposed to a pounded curry paste of fresh chilies, provides the seasoning. Because pu pad pong karee is often made with pieces of whole, shell-on crab, this dish tends to be on the pricier side.

Where to get it: Hong Khao Tom Pla

This unassuming hole-in-the-wall caught the attention of Michelin guide inspectors, thanks to its top-notch seafood dishes. Pull up a plastic stool and dig into a crab curry brimming with chunks of sweet, fresh seafood.

Tip: Given the restaurant’s small size, affordable prices, and popularity, it tends to fill up quickly around dinner time. To make sure you snag a spot, come when it opens around 5:30 p.m.

Roti

Egg roti on a dark gray plate with dipping sauce.
Egg roti from Roti Teaw Nam
Image: julesten2016/Tripadvisor

Southeast Asia’s well-trodden backpacking routes are sometimes referred to as the “Banana Pancake Trail” in honor of this ubiquitous snack. This crisp, flaky flatbread can be found on just about every heavily trafficked walking strip around the island. Cheap and filling, Thai roti can trace its history back to Phuket’s Muslim Indian immigrant community. Savory versions make for an excellent accompaniment to Phuket's curries, while sweet iterations tend to come sizzled with a pat of margarine and topped with sliced bananas and a drizzle of condensed milk.

Where to get it: Roti Teaw Nam, Phuket Town

For the perfect start to your day, head to this local favorite for gorgeously textured roti griddle-fried over charcoal. Pair your roti with massaman curry or, even better, order it shredded and topped with a pair of runny-yolked fried eggs.

Tip: Locals sometimes refer to this restaurant by the nickname “Roti Muslim.” It’s only open in the morning, so come early and bring cash.

Moo hong

A white bowl of Moo Hong paired with other dishes.
Moo hong from Raya Restaurant
Image: tvidya/Tripadvisor

Rich, hearty, and supremely comforting, moo hong, or stewed pork belly, is easy to love. To make this dish, chefs gently braise large hunks of the fatty cut with dark soy sauce, palm sugar, black pepper, garlic, and other seasonings for hours until tender enough to be cut with a spoon. It pairs well with pickled mustard greens for acidity and cilantro for brightness, plus plenty of rice to sop up the gravy. Like many specialties on Phuket, moo hong can trace its origins back to the island’s southern Chinese immigrants.

Where to get it: Raya Restaurant, Old Phuket Town

Deservedly one of the most famous—and highly praised—eateries on the island, Raya Restaurant feels a bit like a time warp. Since 1994, this family-run establishment has been serving classic Southern Thai fare in a restored Sino-Portuguese house. Note: Credit cards are accepted, but incur a small upcharge, so bring cash.

Tip: The moo hong is the must-order dish here, but don’t sleep on the goong pad sataw, stir-fried shrimp with stink beans.

Gaeng som pla

A bright yellow dish of Gaeng Som Pla.
Gaeng som pla at Mor Mu Dong
Image: Jang/Tripadvisor

Sour, fiery southern curries are a far cry from the sweeter, creamier variations that tend to dominate Central Thai cuisine. In gaeng som pla, which literally translates as “sour fish curry,” the thin broth is tinged a vibrant yellow from fresh turmeric and flavored with tamarind, lime juice, and often a daunting quantity of bird’s eye chiles. Krachai, a powerfully aromatic root related to ginger, adds a distinctive aromatic note. All sorts of fish may be used and variations of the curry incorporate fermented fish innards for an added hit of umami.

Where to get it: Mor Mu Dong, Chalong

Well worth the short drive out of Phuket Town, this local institution serves impeccable Southern Thai cuisine in a relaxed setting. The gaeng som here is bracingly tart and spicy, with a powerful hit of funk from the fermented shrimp paste.

Tip: As with most Thai restaurants, dishes are meant to be enjoyed family-style. If possible, come with a large group to try as much of the menu as possible.

Hokkien mee

A wide bowl with Mee Hokkien topped with a sunny-side-up egg.
Hokkien mee at Mee Ton Poe
Image: Dong yes sir/Tripadvisor

Pad thai, the sweet-sour-savory stir-fried noodle dish studded with scrambled eggs, cubed tofu, dried shrimp, and bean sprouts, may be all but synonymous with Thai cuisine abroad, but on Phuket, you’re more likely to see Hokkien mee being fried up at a hawker stand. Like pad thai—which was adapted from Chinese stir-fried noodle dishes by order of the nationalist prime minister Luang Phibunsongkhram—Hokkien mee is also rooted in Thailand’s Chinese immigrant community. While the dish can be found from Singapore to Penang, regional variations differ quite a bit. Here, egg noodles come in a rich, peppery gravy with greens and either pork or seafood.

Where to get it: Mee Ton Poe, Old Phuket Town

Located a stone’s throw from the old clock tower in historic Old Phuket Town, this third-generation family business has been slinging noodles since 1946. A blazing-hot, charcoal-fired wok gives these noodles their distinctive hint of smoky char.

Tip: Order your noodles topped with a fried egg and allow the yolk to ooze into the broth.

O-aew

Bright pink O-aew in a glass dish.
O-aew at One Chun Cafe & Restaurant, Phuket Town
Image: Amornpan S/Tripadvisor

Travelers looking to beat the heat on Phuket should seek out a bowl of this refreshing, icy treat. Originally a specialty of Phuket’s Southern Chinese population, this dessert consists of a jelly made from o-aew seeds. Sweet red beans, grass jelly, shaved ice, corn kernels, poached jackfruit, durian, and all sorts of flavored syrups may be added on top for a variety of textures in every bite.

Where to get it: One Chun Cafe & Restaurant, Phuket Town

From the pastel-yellow historic building to the family recipes passed down over generations, this humble restaurant near Phuket Walking Street shines. The savory dishes are exceptional, but it’s worth saving room for this traditional dessert here.

Tip: Note that the restaurant is cash-only.

Khao mon gai

A plate of Khao Mon Gai with a few sliced cucumbers on the side.
Khao mon gai at Kota Khao Mun Kai in Phuket
Image: hodu89/Tripadvisor

While not strictly a Southern Thai dish, khao mon gai, or Hainanese chicken rice, is nevertheless close to the hearts of locals in Phuket. The beauty of this dish lies in its simplicity and the quality of the individual ingredients. The best renditions are a study in technical finesse. Steamed rice is enriched with chicken fat and perfumed with garlic and ginger, then topped with slices of juicy, delicately poached chicken. A small bowl of soul-soothing chicken broth and a zingy, garlicky soy sauce sauce round it all out.

Where to get it: Kota Khao Mun Kai, Phuket Town

Locals line up around lunchtime for plates of perfectly executed khao mon gai at this humble, family-run spot. In addition to the chicken rice, the restaurant serves excellent char siu (roast pork).

Tip: Bring cash and be prepared to wait at lunch time, from around noon to 2 p.m. The restaurant opens early in the morning, in case you want a fortifying breakfast.

Kiean

A white dish with Kiean and dipping sauce.
Kiean at Lock Tien, in Phuket
Image: Arsalan A/Tripadvisor

Regional varieties of sausages are popular all over Thailand. Head north to Chiang Mai and you’re likely to find sai oua, a fragrant coiled sausage sizzled over charcoal grills and seasoned with lemongrass, makrut lime, galangal, and other aromatics. Head to Isaan province, in the country’s northeast, and you’ll find sai krok, short, chubby sausages stuffed with fermented sticky rice and loads of garlic. Kiean is Phuket’s entry in the genre. Traditionally, street-side hawkers deep-fry these pork sausages and douse them with a sweet soy sauce.

Where to get it: Lock Tien, Phuket Town

Essentially an open-air food court, Lock Tien serves well-executed renditions of Phuket classics without pretense. The Hokkien mee are also excellent here.

Tip: Prices here are incredibly affordable, but remember to bring cash.

O taw

A white plate of O Taw set on a leaf.
Plate of O Taw, in Phuket
Image: Nirad/Getty Images

It’s hard to imagine a better late-night food than o taw, although really, it’s great at any time of day. Picture a rubble of oysters loosely bound by eggs and taro, and fried on a griddle or in a large wok. The result is all crunchy edges and slightly gooey interiors, all of which usually gets topped with crispy pork and bean sprouts. Some vendors here incorporate prawns, squid, or other types of seafood. Since o taw has its roots in Phuket’s Hokkien Chinese community, it’s no surprise that versions of oyster omelets can be found from Taiwan to Singapore.

Where to get it: O Tao Bang Niao, 362 Phuket Road, Talat Ya

This unfussy, family-owned gem has been frying up superb o taw since the 1980s. The charcoal-powered flame makes for exceptionally crispy, satisfying oyster omelets.

Tip: Note that the restaurant is cash only.

Diana Hubbell
Diana Hubbell has been covering food and travel for publications including Atlas Obscura, The Guardian, The Washington Post, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, VICE, Architectural Digest, Esquire, Playboy, The Independent, and Eater for more than a decade. Currently based in New York City, she has also called Bangkok and Berlin home.