With Thai food being famous around the world, a visit to a first-class Phuket Thai restaurant is an essential part of any trip to the country’s favourite resort destination. What makes the cuisine so special is the unique balance of five kinds of flavour, with experienced chefs building the taste through instinct, rather than exact measurements.
When trying Thai food in Phuket, you will probably notice that relatively few of the dishes are overwhelmingly sweet, with the obvious exception of the fruity desserts. However, sweet ingredients are an important part of every recipe as they act as a counterpoint to some of the extremely sour components, ensuring that the dish remains palatable. Common sweet ingredients include cane sugar and coconut palm sugar.
If you’ve ever tried the extremely popular spicy papaya salad (locally known as “som tam”) at a Phuket Thai restaurant, you will know how fond Thai people are of sour flavours. Even the famously sweet mango is often picked and eaten before it has fully ripened, when the flavour has a distinctly sour edge. Ingredients like lime, tamarind and pineapple are commonly added to prove that tongue-twisting kick to a dish.
Those who are new to Thai food in Phuket could be forgiven for believing that spiciness was the primary flavour of the cuisine. It is certainly true that a great many Thai dishes depend heavily on chillis and peppercorns to give them that distinctive heat. However, this is just because Thai people grow up with chillis as such a regular part of their diet that their heat tolerances are much higher than that of the average tourist. Fortunately, you can usually ask the chef to tone it down a little, if you’re not used to it, but the sensitivity the spiciness creates in your mouth does add something special to the dining experience.
The yin to the yang of spiciness, creamy ingredients like coconut milk help to temper some of the heat and also add a certain smoothness to a dish. This, like sweetness, is rarely the overpowering flavour, but it can be an essential one in curries and even the popular Phuket Thai food Tom Yam Goong (spicy prawn soup).
It is almost impossible to find a Phuket Thai restaurant which does not have a bottle of fish sauce on every table, it is such a popular element of the flavour. Aside from the distinctive fishy aroma, this additive serves exactly the same function as the soy sauce it looks like – it adds salt. As with the common use of sea or rock salt in other cuisines, the primary purpose here is to amplify the other flavours and those of the dish’s main ingredients, intensifying the dining experience.