The first time I ever came to Thailand, one of my destinations was Phuket. Everyone talks about gorgeous, tropical, exotic Phuket. I arrived with a girlfriend, took a whirl around Patong and left immediately the next day. Full of girly bars, American pop music and expats, it wasn’t the locale of my dreams. But after years of talking to friends in Bangkok, I’ve repeatedly been told that Phuket Town is a charming haven with spectacular food. So I’m here for the next two days to eat as much as my body will allow.
Today was an excellent start.
After checking in to my guesthouse, I went to reception and got down to business. I told her that I was here to eat really delicious food and could she recommend something. I had a primal fear that she would send me to a relative, or a friend of a relative, or some combination of a relatively friendly relative who would benefit from my lack of food direction. I should have feared not. The woman was as giddy as a group of kindergartners after a cupcake party. She began to tell me all of her favorite places in the neighborhood and each of their specialties, smiling from ear to ear that I wanted to know the local dishes. She market the spots on a map and repeated the directions several times to ensure that I made my way.
I chose the khanom jeen shop in the market as my first stop. The owners at first ignored me when I arrived but I waited patiently for them to acknowledge me. They didn’t though, so I asked for a plate of noodles. They waved me away and said the food was too spicy. I answered back that “kin dai ka“, “I can eat”, and then the whole situation changed. The owner eyed me with a mix of suspicion and curiosity, but handed me a plate of noodles anyway. I picked four different kinds of curries to try and their eyes went wide. They seemed astonished that a westerner would want to eat something so spicy.
As I sat down to eat, I felt all eyes on me. So I took a big spoonful of the Southern style fish curry and said “arroy!” The tension released in the air and everyone shook their heads and smiled. The woman across the table from me struck up conversation and we talked about how “if food isn’t spicy, it isn’t delicious.” Everyone around the table nodded in agreement, including myself.
I’ve come to learn that the easiest way to meet people when traveling by yourself is to sit down at a local restaurant and eat what the locals eat. They immediately take an interest in you because you’ve taken an interest in their culture. Food is the easiest topic to talk about because everyone is eating it! My Thai language skills are pretty average, but I can have a lengthy conversation about food, ingredients, spices, cooking techniques…because I’ve found that I can connect to Thais through food. Actually this works with any culture, but I just happen to be obsessed with this one.
By the end of the meal, the woman across the table from me was trying to feed me ripe mangoes and the owner asked that I come back tomorrow and try more curries. “Of course!” was my answer.
The rest of the day I spent walking around the town and just enjoying being in a new place. Phuket Town is a lovely alternative to Patong, if you’re into charming, delicious, friendly towns. In Patong, you’ll come away with experiences…probably just not the same as these!