The kind of Thai food Phuket restaurants will serve you might surprise you, particularly if you consider yourself an aficionado of the cuisine. The reason being that the stuff you get here is really Thai food.
You may be familiar with the fact that American-style pizzas bear very little resemblance to the Naples originals, or that Irish bars the world play on the “oirish” stereotypes rather than any actual connection with the Emerald Isle. Well, Thai food is no exception to this trend of adapting specific cultures for a global audience, resulting in the widespread “westernisation” of Thai food. Here’s a few tips on how to spot the genuine article.
Too much meat
If you’re served a simple Tom Yum Gung (spicy shrimp soup) and find only a couple of shrimp in it, the chances are that you’re eating real Thai food. Phuket restaurants tend to be quite light on the meat, in keeping with typical Thai servings. By contrast, western palates tend to be quite partial to meaty dishes and, as such, westernised Thai food will often feature a very generous serving of shrimp.
Too few herbs
Thai chefs make up for the shortage of meat on their plates with very generous portions of herbs. These are a major contributor to the intense, complex flavours of real Thai cuisine. This is especially evident in dishes like Pad Krapow (stir-fried holy basil). In a westernised version, you’ll find the dish heavy on meat and light on basil. In Thailand, the opposite is true.
A relatively common criticism of Thai food is that it’s too sweet. If you find this to be true, you’ve clearly not been eating real Thai food. Phuket locals tend to not like sweet flavours, which explains the popularity of dishes like som tam (green papaya salad). The principle ingredient is unripe fruit – typically papaya, as the name suggests, but mango can also be used – to which further sour flavours are added. The reality is that a surprising number of Thai dishes are actually very sour and, since this isn’t a popular flavour in the west, they often get sweetened for international audiences.
Spring rolls with everything
A common feature of Thai meals in western countries is the fried spring roll. While these are not unheard of in Thai cuisine, they’re certainly not as popular as you might believe them to be. Known as por pia tod here, you’ll be lucky to find them anywhere other than the more touristy areas of Phuket. Locals just aren’t that crazy for them.
Ever wondered how Thais manage to keep so slim? The healthy Thai cuisine certainly helps, but so does eating many small meals throughout the day instead of three large ones at specific intervals. With this ‘little and often’ attitude to food, Thai food in Phuket tends to be served in quite modest portions, particularly when compared to the amounts served in western Thai restaurants.