Saturday, May 19, 2012

Green Curry in Phuket Thailand

Centuries before Phuket began attracting sand-and-sea hedonists, it was an important trade center for Arab, Indian, Malay, Chinese, and Portuguese traders. Indian and Arab merchants brought green curry to Ayutthaya, the ancient Thai capital north of Bangkok, in the 14th to 16th centuries, but southern Thailand – especially the island of Phuket – claims its cooks are the masters.

Dubbed “Pearl of the South” by the tourist industry, Phuket (pronounced “Poo-get”) is Thailand’s largest, wealthiest, most populous, and most visited island, and a province in itself. The jagged coastal terrain of this 310-sq-mile (810-sq-km) island encompasses broad sandy bays, rocky peninsulas, limestone cliffs, and tropical vegetation. Phuket’s interior supports rice paddies and rubber, cashew-nut, cacao, pineapple, and coconut plantations, along with one last remnant of rainforest.
Formerly called Ko Thalang, and before that Junk Ceylon (an English corruption of the Malay “Tanjung Salang” or Cape Salang), Phuket has a culture all of its own. It combines Chinese and Portuguese influences with that of southern Thais and the chao naam (sea gypsies), an indigenous ocean-going people. About 35 percent of the island’s population are Thai Muslims, and there are about as many mosques as Buddhist temples. There’s lots for visitors to do (and spend money on), from sampling the delicious seafood to taking scuba-diving or snorkeling trips. And while most entertainment-seeking tourists flock to the flashy beach towns of Patong, Karon, and Kata, there are calmer spots, notably Nai Han and Kamala, and even relatively untouched coastal areas in the north, such as Nai Yang, Nai Thon, and Mai Khao.
Phuket cuisine combines Chinese, Malay, and Thai elements to create brightly colored, heavily spiced dishes. One favorite is kaeng khiaw-waan – literally “sweet green curry” – which is served with roti (a round wheat flatbread descended from Indian paratha), khanom jeen (thin rice noodles, served cold), or rice.
The curry’s green color derives from the plentiful presence of green chili peppers, cilantro root, kaffir lime peel, and green peppercorns, which are pounded with roasted coriander seed, fresh lemongrass, fresh galangal, fresh garlic, and salty shrimp paste to create the distinctive thick, green, pungent curry paste. This is cooked with coconut milk and eggplant, to make the curry slightly sweet and creamy, together with red chili peppers and the main ingredient – which might be chicken, beef, or seafood. Before serving, the dish is garnished with whole fresh sweet basil and chopped cilantro leaves, giving it a final fresh, tangy fragrance that’s hard to resist.

Best Places to Eat Green Curry

Krajok See

Krajok See used to be a closely guarded secret in Phuket town. It is named for the antique colored glass panes (krajok see) in its windows, and aside from the impressive cuisine, regular customers are drawn by the cozy and friendly atmosphere, enhanced by wooden ceilings and candlelight. Nowadays the restaurant is so well known that reservations are a must, as there are only about eight tables and one sitting per night (the restaurant is not open for lunch). Apart from green curry, another dish to look for here is kung sarong, shrimp wrapped in vermicelli, fried, and served with a tangy dip. Be sure to bring cash, as credit cards are not accepted. After 10 PM, the tables are pushed against the wall, a DJ spins tunes, and everyone dances.
26 Takua Pa Road, Phuket town; open evenings only, Tue–Sun; +66 7621 7903

Thai green curry has a sweeter flavor and lighter texture than Indian curries; lime and lemongrass add refreshing citrus undertones

Also in Phuket
A more down-to-earth, no-frills version of green curry can be found at legendary Roti Chao Fa (+66 7622 1771; inexpensive), run by local Muslim Thais for over 30 years on the southwestern outskirts of Phuket town. As the name suggests, the large open-air restaurant specializes in roti, the unleavened flatbread derived from India’s paratha. Customers dip roti into any of several curries, including green curry, served from large stainless-steel cooking pots. Rice is also available. Also in Thailand In Bangkok, Roti Mataba (www.roti-mataba. net; moderate) serves green curry very much in the southern Thai style, with roti or rice, in a charming two-story shophouse overlooking Santichaiprakarn Park. It’s famous for its many variations of mataba (stuffed rotis), offering sweet and savory fillings from curried chicken, fish, or beef to banana or condensed milk.
You can also sample other classic Thai-Muslim dishes here, such as matsaman, a tasty Indian-style curry with potatoes and peanuts.
Around the World
On the other side of the world, in San Francisco, California, Manora’s Thai Cuisine (www.; inexpensive) offers one of the more authentic versions of Thai green curry found in the city, and at a reasonable price. Here it is served with a choice of chicken, beef, pork, or shrimp, and comes with both eggplant and green beans.

What Else to Eat in Thailand

Favorite Phuket dishes tend to draw from two primary sources, Chinese and Malay. Ba-mee moo op hong teh (egg noodles with roast pork in a soy-mushroom sauce) is a Chinese-sourced dish, as is khao man kai, literally “chicken oily rice,” but more commonly known as “Hainanese chicken rice.” From the Malay side comes roti kaeng, a simple meal of griddle-cooked round flatbread with curry (kaeng). One of the bestknown southern Thai curries is matsaman, a fragrant Indian curry with peanuts and potatoes as well as chicken or beef. Kaeng kayi is a more local curry made with boiled cashew nuts. One dish that combines both Chinese and Thai elements, khanom jeen, is a delicious mix of thin rice noodles with a thick curry of fish, Chinese ginger, chili peppers, and coconut milk.
A Day in Phuket Town
Food is key to enjoying a great day out in Phuket town, so start the day with an eye-opening cup of kopi (strong Chinese-style black coffee) at Kopi de Phuket in the historic On On Hotel, accompanied by a plate of roti kaeng kai (flatbread with chicken curry) or some local candy from the large jars on the counter.
MORNING : Meander through the historic central district, taking in the colorful Straits Settlement architecture, a 19th-century tradition. Walk up Khao Rang, sometimes called Phuket Hill, northwest of town, for views of the city, jungle, and sea. Take an outdoor table at Tungka Café for a lunch of egg noodles with smoked pork, a local specialty.
AFTERNOON : Wander through the Ranong Road Day Market to shop for southern Thai fabrics and rattan crafts. Then visit the atmospheric Shrine of the Serene Light, off Phang-Nga Road, a Chinese temple that is nearly 200 years old.
EVENING : Finish the day with a hand-crafted bowl of green curry at Krajok See (see facing page). If you feel like an evening out, head to Timber Hut on the Yaowarat Road to enjoy music from local bands.
Getting to Phuket
Phuket airport has international flights. There are planes and buses from Bangkok. A rental car is worth considering to get around the island.
Where to stay in Phuket
Thalang Guest House (inexpensive) offers simple, clean rooms in a Straits Settlement town house.
Sino House Phuket Hotel and Apartment (moderate) is a boutique hotel mixing vintage and modern decor.
Royal Phuket City Hotel (expensive) in the capital of Phuket provides the town’s most luxurious accommodations, with a gym and pool.

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