Footpath Feasting: Phuket Street Food in Phuket Town
Phuket street food in Phuket Town includes everything from crispy savoury pancakes called a-pong to flaky roti dipped in tiny bowls of curry — all delicious outcomes of the Thai island’s deep culinary influences from China, India, Malaysia, Southern Thailand, and beyond.
The first thing you need to know is that Phuket street food is primarily to be found in Phuket Town, also called Phuket Old Town or the Old Town of Phuket island.
You’ll find street food stalls, hawker centre-like food courts, and family-owned eateries in dilapidated shacks and simple restaurants right across the island of Phuket.
But most of what you’ll see being pounded in the mortar and pestles and tossed in the woks — everything from fiery som tam salads from Isaan to the ubiquitous pad Thai, a modern Thai invention — is not from Phuket at all.
As every Phuket-born native we met across the island over the course of our month-long research trip on Phuket cuisine attested, the most genuine Phuket street food is to be sampled in Phuket Town, preferably in the small side-street stalls, rustic food courts and simple shop-house eateries in the heart of the old town.
Phuket Street Food in Phuket Town
Many of these street food stalls and eateries have been ran by the same families for generations — families whose ancestors brought the dish to the island from places in China, India, Malaysia, and Singapore, adapting recipes to suit the local produce that was available, and innovating slowly over time to appeal to changing tastes, absorbing other culinary influences in the process.
Look out for street food treats such as crispy bue tord, deep-fried snacks of a battered local grass with shrimp, and unctuous bowls of mee hokkien, stir-fried Hokkien noodles. To learn more about Phuket’s specialties, click through to this post.
Quintessential Phuket Breakfast
For a typical Phuket breakfast, try dim sum and kanom jeen.
Dim Sum Phuket-Style
Head out between 6-8am to join the locals for siew boi (Phuket-style dim sum) at crowded dim sum joints such as Guangdong-style Juanhiang (Chana Charoen Road) and Boonrat 1 (off Bangkok Road, behind the fresh market), each of which claims to be the oldest at around 100 years of age.
While you’ll recognise many of the quintessential Cantonese-style dim sum dumplings and steamed buns, in Phuket they are sweeter, there are a lot more fried snacks, and locals will slather on chilli sauces rather than soy.
Take a seat and the staff will bring over some Chinese tea followed by a platter with a selection of small dishes of steamed buns, dumplings, deep fried snacks, and Portuguese-style tarts. Boonrat 1 also does a delicious joek (rice congee).
Staff do the rounds with trays of dishes as they’re done, but just raise a hand if you want more.
Phuket-Style Kanom Jeen
Head to Po Lamai (where Satun and Dibuk Roads meet; between 6am and 10am is best), the most legendary of Phuket’s famous kanom jeen shops, for the cold white coils of noodles, made from fermented rice, and drowned in rich, creamy, coconut-based curries and curry sauces.
Take a seat and the waitress will bring over bowls of noodles and a basket of fresh greens for your table, but you will need to go to the buffet-style table at the entrance to select your curry sauces from the stainless steel pots. Order an iced-coffee as soon as you sit down. For tips on how to eat kanom jeen see our post on Phuket specialties (link above).
Note that it’s perfectly acceptable to go back for seconds with kanom jeen, however, you might want to save room for more Phuket street food. If this branch of Po Lamai is too busy there’s another, quieter one, Mae Ting, down the road near the intersection of Satun and Maeluang Roads.
Phuket Style Soups and Noodles
Across from Po Lamai you’ll spot Pehteow Noodle established in 1949. You’ll note that it’s empty in the morning when the elderly owners like to sit around with their friends and neighbours drinking tea while their big pots boil on the stove.
Return after they open (around 11am until 4pm or whenever they sell out) to sample the handmade Guangzhou style noodles and wantons, crafted on the premises. The noodles are served with a clear pork-rib broth that’s been simmering all night, made to an old family recipe. The secret to the tender noodles is apparently in their kneading style.
For now, make your way to the corner of Phuket Road and Soi Taling Chan, on the traffic circle opposite the clock tower, to try Mee Ton Poe (also written: Mee Ton Poh). At the island’s oldest and best Hokkien noodle joint, three generations of the same family from China’s Fujian province have been dishing up bowls of the thick, yellow egg noodles since 1946.
Locals love them served with pork, seafood and Chinese greens, either in a clear soup or stir-fried (mee pad Hokkien), sprinkled with shallots and pork crackling, and with an optional soft fried egg (sai kai) plopped on top.
If you can fit in more food, try Mee Somjit, another 60-year old, legendary Hokkien eatery. You’ll see a long list of dishes on the menu, but once again, stick to the house-made Hokkien noodles, whether in a soup or stir-fried. The locals favour the noodle soup, served with a sweet, seafood-based broth, made with Phuket prawns.
Lunch at Lock Tien Food Court
You’ll find many of Phuket’s most quintessential dishes are still made by the original families who brought them to the island, and you’ll find some of them at the 1950s-era hawker centre Lock Tien Food Court, on the corner of Dibuk and Yaowarat Road. This is a great spot for lunch, when it’s busiest with locals, as you can graze on a number of typical Phuket dishes, however, it’s open all day, from 6.30am until 4.30-5pm. Closed Tuesday.
The island’s oldest food court is really just a motley collection of ten or so stalls under a tin roof with tables at the centre. Many of the families have been dishing up their specialties between 50 and a hundred years.
You can go and order at the stalls and point to what you want, or sit down and someone will soon deliver a plastic menu and can take orders for you from any stall.
At the entrance on the left at the Pae Lee stall, three generations of hawkers have made O-ew, Phuket’s famous banana jelly dessert that’s beloved by locals but is an acquired taste that we didn’t quite acquire. The banana jelly is medicinal tasting and I’ve never been a fan of the crushed ice the Thais love so much on their dessert, but it’s definitely worth sampling.
The lady at the next stall will be rolling Phuket-style popiah, which she’ll slather in a sweet sticky tamarind sauce. These fresh spring rolls, made from wheat-flour wraps stuffed with finely chopped char siu-style pork, grated turnip, bean sprouts, peanuts, rolled in lettuce are of Hokkien and Teochew heritage from Southeastern China’s Fujian province. I do love her popiah but I would prefer that she goes light on the sauce.
Beside the popiah lady, at the famous loh bak stall (also written as lor bak and lo bah if you’re researching this dish), an old Phuket family makes snacks of deep fried pork offal and entrails, fried in bean curd skin, and served with deep fried tofu and a spicy red chilli sauce that are far more tasty than they sound. They sell out fast so be warned.
On the Dibuk Road side of the food court, two stalls serve up two incredibly delicious noodle dishes, mee hoon pah chang (fried noodles with pork bone soup; the same dish that Aunty Chang makes, below, only slightly different) and mee nam Hokkien (Hokkienese style prawn noodle soup).
Street Food Snacks on Soi Soon Utis
On Soi Soon Utis (also written as Soi Soon Uthit), a lane off Yaowarat Road, a block from Lok Tien (running alongside the adjoining handicraft and souvenir shop), you’ll discover a handful of historic food carts that open at various times of the day.
A-Pong Mae Sunee, a 30-year-old stall is famous for its crispy, thin a-pong, a deep-fried, crepe-like, rice-flour pancake served with crisp greens. Originating from Malaysia, where a-pong is a popular sweet, normally eaten as a mid-morning or late afternoon snack, in Phuket it comes in both a sweet and savoury form. You’ll find a number of stalls dotted around town, but locals swear this is the best.
Owner Sunee’s son and daughter-in-law now operate the stall, where the a-pong is done over hot coals. The even temperature ensures the crepe doesn’t burn and gives it a smoky flavour. The stall is theoretically meant to be open from 9am-4pm, with a break for lunch, but we only found it open in the afternoon.
Beside it is another historic stall, called Mee Hoon Pah Chang, which means ‘Aunty Chang’s mee hoon’, or pork bone soup. Here you’ll find Aunty Chang herself, a sweet old lady with kind eyes, selling her wonderful pork bone soup with fried noodles. When we visited, she directed us to a large empty garage like space that looked like a shop under construction, where she had her plastic chairs and tables set up. I expect when the shop is finished she’ll set up in the alley. She’s open only from 1pm until she sells out, generally between 4-5pm.
Close by, another stall offers o-tao (also written as oh tao), a delicious baby oyster omelette from China’s Fujian province, brought to the island by the owner’s ancestors. If this stall is closed, there’s another, ran by second-generation cook Sondhaya Mitrmuang (nicknamed ‘Ya’), whose father established the stall 30 years ago, on Phuket Rd in front of Bang Niew School. It’s open daily from around 6pm until late. You’ll also find an a-pong stall here.
Once you’re done, take a stroll to the very end of this charming little street, where you’ll spot a shophouse with a sign for their delicious home-made cookies for sale. Needless to say, you should buy some if they’re open.
Phuket’s Muslim Curries and Roti Shops
Across the road from Soi Soon Utis, you should find Jee Nguad where a lovely little woman specialises in kari mei fun. While this is a generic translation for ‘Singapore noodles’, what you’ll get here is an ultra-light creamy curry with thin vermicelli-style rice noodles that is undoubtedly a cousin of Malaysia’s Penang curry laksa or curry mee. And it’s sublime. She also offers cheh hu, a Chinese-Muslim salad, which her ancestors brought to the island from Malaysia.
She is only open in the mornings for a few hours and not every day. We walked past many times over four weeks (there is no sign nor street number) until we finally found the shutter up and her smiling face. Her shop is so clean, the stainless steel sparkles.
On the corner of Thalang Road, you’ll find two of Phuket Town’s oldest Muslim restaurants, Aroon and Abdul, right beside eachother, and another diagonally opposite, Phuket Muslim. All shophouse restaurants are still ran by the descendants of the original Indian families who opened them some sixty or so years earlier.
Wherever you go, order the flaky, piping-hot roti, made to order, and dip it in the rich, robust chicken, mutton and beef Muslim curries, redolent of Indian spices like star anise, cardamom and cumin.
They’re all good and Aroon has the longest menu, but we like Abdul’s, where Abdul in his cute hat and glasses can be founding making the roti out front and his wife, who cooks the curries, will be sitting at the back chatting to her friends over coffee. If you still have room, try Aroon’s too — for the cha-chuk, a frothy pulled tea-coffee combo served in a tall glass.
Phuket Kopi and Chinese Baked Goods
At the opposite end of the street, atmospheric Kopitiam is the spot to sample the thick, sweet creamy coffee that’s so popular with Phuket locals. Like many shops Kopitiam sells the old-style Chinese cakes, pastries, tarts and cookies made by Keng Tin, Phuket’s best Chinese bakery that’s been around since 1942. All of the baked goods are made to the original recipes on the premises.
Keng Tin specialties include the popular tao sor pia, small firm buns filled with salted egg or green bean, and pung pia, sweet puffy pastries doused in icing sugar. They also sell charcoal-roasted sesame-coated snacks made from rice flour and taro root, snail-like black pepper filled biscuits, and their famous duck-shaped cookies, wrapped in plastic, which make great gifts for the kids.
For a wider range of products you could do the hard slog to Keng Tin in the sticky heat back down Phuket Road, past the Hokkein joints, to the bakery and shop at the Bang Niew intersection, opposite Robinson’s department store. Or not. Perhaps it’s time for a cold beer…
Phuket Street Food Tips
- Visit the Phuket Thaihua Museum (28 Krabi Road), which we’ll tell you about another post. It has wonderful displays on many aspects of Phuket’s history, from tin-mining to traditional costumes, however, there’s a brilliant exhibition on Phuket cuisine and Phuket street food, which makes for an excellent introduction to eating in Phuket Town. Look for the round table, which also describes some of the eateries and locates them on a map.
- Pick up a copy of the Phuket Treasure Map. Most hotels seem to have this map in their lobbies amongst the piles of brochures advertising elephant rides and James Bond Island cruises. Our map was dated Oct-Dec 2013, but it went some way in helping us to locate the culinary treasures above, some of which I marked up on the map while at the museum, others which chefs we’d met on the island had told us about.
- Skip the hotel breakfast and head out early to eat; partly to take advantage of the cooler morning temperatures, but Phuket’s locals start breakfast around 6am and much of their eating happens between then and late morning. You’ll find some of these Phuket street food spots open for lunch, but many close immediately after, while others open late afternoon.
- Be patient in your search for Phuket street food, ask around and ask older locals. Many of these Phuket street food stalls and eateries are hard to find. Some are only open for a short time each day, others for as little as a few hours, closing early if they sell out. Some stalls and eateries also close 1-2 days a week. We would be told places would be open when they weren’t and would ask neighbouring shopkeepers, hoteliers and stall-holders about a noodle joint we’d heard about only to have them shrug their shoulders. The next day we’d find the shop or stall open — right next door to the neighbour who appeared never to have heard of them. When asking around, ask older folks rather than younger people who may not even be from Phuket.
- Be persistent and be strong. Over the course of a month researching Phuket street food we walked past places we’d heard were must-tries that had been there for many years only to find shutters pulled down with no sign nor a single sign of life. We’d pass by another day for the umpteenth time only to find an eatery jam-packed with diners or a busy stall set up with locals tucking into bowls from plastic stools at stainless steel tables that had been set up across the road. Be persistent, be strong, and resist the pad Thai, as the Phuket street food specialties will be worth the wait when you find them!
For more stories on street food see our Footpath Feasting series.
If you’re heading to Phuket, see our reviews of our recommended Phuket beach resorts and boutique hotels, all tried and tested.