In july 2013 Yo and I returned to the land of the sweaty armpit. We left Jacana in her berth at Hobsons Bay Yacht Club in Melbourne, and took the big silver bird to catch up with some of our cruising mates from a decade ago (Glen from Firefox, Gatesy and Ali from Legs Eleven, and Steve from Cautelle) and to renew our relationship with Thai cuisine.
Without boat jobs to occupy us we had time to give the local restaurants a good going over.
Here are our favourites in order .
MA MA KLONG
Opposite the beach at Rawai. Sit in the shade of the trees right by the sea wall in a cool sea breeze.
The waiters take your order then dart through the traffic to the restaurant on the other side of the road.
This is a medium priced restaurant catering primarily to middle class Thai people. Food and singghas for 2 was about $20 Australian
The standard of cuisine is excellent.
Winged bean salad with shrimp and pork. (yam tua plu)
The dish is topped with toasted dessicated coconut and lemongrass .
It can be ordered with chicken, but we much preferred the more traditional version of shrimp and ground pork.
Deep fried flossed (shredded) catfish with green mango salad
Found in Phuket town, in Chinatown, in Dibuk St (that runs east west). It is just to the west of the Bang Yai canal that runs through town.
It has its own car park and is a fairly pricey place by Thai standards, with a reputation that stretches to Bangkok. Meal and singgha's for 2 is about $50 Australian.
The food exhibits traits of Peranakkan, Chinese, Phuket cooking. Very good. And served in an original Sino Portuguese house.
The standout dishes are:
Deep fried whole fish in crisped lemongrass and tamarind sauce
Crab meat in yellow curry
The mudcrab is all meat - no hard work de-shelling here, and the morsels are the size of walnuts. It is served with a side dish of steamed rice noodles.
On a corner between the main market in Phuket Town and Robinsons Department store in the sth east cnr of town.
It's so nice to have an Updown instead of more Downtown joints.
This place is ultra clean, friendly, dinkum Thai tucker, and spotless toilets.
Prices are good - about $11 Australian for 3 dishes and a large singgha.
The best we've had. The noodles come with your choice of prawn, pork or chicken, and the lot is encased in a thin omelette and served with shredded banana flower, crushed peanuts, tiny dried shrimp and crushed dried chilli.
Stir fried pork in red curry.
When they are available this dish includes those wonderful fresh green peppercorns.
Stir fried rice with chilli paste with sweet pork and salted egg
An interesting dish with contrasting tastes. A central island of spicy rice is surrounded by little mounds of sweet, salty, and sour - sweet belly pork, the salty egg, the sour of shredded green mango and the sweet and sour of threads of pineapple.
Salting eggs in brine for between 14 and 20 days is a way of preserving them. The salt concentrates in the yolk of the egg.
MEE TON POE
Found in Phuket town on the Sth West cnr of the large 5 way roundabout. You can easily recognize the joint by the charcoal sate grill and the large steamer out the front.
This place specializes in hokkien inspired food and is one of our favourites. It falls into the Thai cheap category.
Pork sates over charcoal
They are famous for the sates that are served in lots of 10. Dirt cheap, well marinated and a tasty sambal sauce.
Known in Singapore and Penang as Otak Otak, these are a spiced fish mousse, wrapped in banana leaves and steamed. Delicious. Order 2 per person, as they are quite small.
Fried Rice With Salted Eggs and Baby Clams
A little oily, but quite delicious.
A beaut authentic Esaan restaurant.
From the Chalong roundabout take the road to Kata. Look out for the entrance of the Phuket shooting range. On the opposite side of the road about 60 metres on towards Kata is a sign in Thai amalgamated with an advert for coke a cola. It is easy to miss but persevere. It is worth it.
Plenty of onsite parking. Dirt cheap. A large singga and 2 courses was $7 Aust. Heaps of locals eat here daily, and the turnover is large, but so is this open-sided restaurant.
Done over the coals it takes on a smokey flavour. The slight oiliness of the catfish keeps the flesh moist.
Pork neck lab
Another version of these unique north eastern salads - limey, chilli, shallot yummy, and pork neck is such a good cut of meat for this.
Flossed catfish salad
Here we go again. Even better than the pork neck. The grilled catfish is forked into tiny shreds, then fried till crisp and served with a sour green mango salad that cuts the richness of the oily catfish.
By the way always order kaoy niiao (sticky rice) in the Esaan restaurants. It's what the locals always eat with this food. It is steamed in those woven baskets then served in them to the table. Quite often it arrives only slightly warm.
The locals will eat with the hands, making little balls of rice; pushing a pocket in the centre, then picking up the morsel of laab etc and usually dipping it into a prik naam pla sauce or chilli paste.
The grilled chicken is very good here and most popular with the stream of locals.
Salt crusted fish
The entire fish is encrusted in salt and then grilled. Good oh.
LEAMHIN SEAFOOD RESTAURANT
A really handy place if you need to pick someone up or drop em off at the airport.
As you head north on the main road, about 1 or 2 kms , before you turn left to the airport, look out on the left for a large sign, a drive in carpark out front.
The place seats 300. You won't spot a farang, at's all locals and the quality is extraordinary.
3 dishes and singghas came to about $22.
Yellow curry with soft shelled crab and young coconut heart
When the crab are caught around full moon, they have shed their old shell and are growing a new tender young covering. No need to peel these small explosions o f sweetness.
Stir fried Collard greens with chopped salty egg
An interesting way to serve up your greens. Crisp, tasty.
Stir Fried Collards with Salted Fish
Another snazzy way to add interest to the veg.
Grouper with Yellow Curry and Coconut Tree Tip
Unusual but tasty, but only for those who like the chilli. The different flavour and texture of the tender coconut tree tips is surprisingly palatable.
BANG PAE SEAFOOD RESTAURANT
Head north towards the airport. About half way, turn right at the heroines monument.
If you get to the Ao Po turnoff you have gone too far. There is a sign on the RHS saying Bang Pae. It is in the vicinity of another sign for a waterfall. Turn right and go to the end of the road. Voila.
$30 Oz for 3 dishes, rice and 2 large singghas. Frequented by middle class Thai people and their families. Right in the mangroves. Maybe dusk would be a mozzie problem.
Spicy tamarind sour fish soup with fern leaf and fern leaf omelette
The name won't mention the fern leaf. The waitress will just ask if you want the vegetable with it. Say yes. Something different and balanced with nice textures.
Cutting up small squares of the fern leaf omelette and putting them in the soup was a winner.
Guewan greens, scrambled with eggs and glass noodles.
Another tasty innovative way to serve the greens. Couldn't get a translation for guewan, but you could substitute a number of the asian green leafy vegs.
SStir fried crab meat in black pepper
Another dish with obvious Chinese ancestory., with all the peeling work done for you.
HOT HOT OR HOT
We like chilli and cook with it a lot in our Szechuan, Vietnamese and Indian cooking, but in Thailand we have been brought to tears with pain of the tongue. Searing pain, worse than waterboarding in Guantanamo Bay.
Glaang means medium in Thai.
We have found that if you ask for glaang chilli heat, you normally end up with farang medium and that means next to no heat. The cooks use those long mild chillis that are about as hot as round capsicum.
So we ask for glaang thai mai glaang farang- medium thai not medium farang.
This generally works for us - a nice chilli heat but no pain.