‘Local experiences’ and ‘authentic travel’ are the biggest buzzwords to hit the travel and tourism sector in quite a long time. Everywhere you look, people are seeking out original and unique experiences in various cities around the world. Food tourism and the idea that one will travel for food, although not new concepts, certainly have become heightened interests for many travellers looking to gain more from their experience in a foreign country during a holiday.
Eat Like a Local
As a designated UNESCO City of Gastronomy, Phuket prides itself on its diverse cuisine. It was the first city in Asia to receive this honour, and since then food tours, as well as general interest in local Phuketian food, has grown in popularity across the island. When The Michelin Guide expanded into Phuket, it gave foodies even more reason to taste their away around the island, and with good reason. The Michelin Guide awarded 12 restaurants in Phuket the Bib Gourmand, many of which are well-established local street food restaurants. For those looking to eat like a local while in Phuket, be sure to try a few of the various restaurants recognised by The Michelin Guide; they offer a good taste range into Phuket’s unique foods.
One of the oldest food shops on the island of Phuket, Chuan Chim is now run by the second generation of the family that originally started it. The restaurant is about as local as one can get with its plastic tables, chairs and no-fuss decor. Open for both lunch and dinner, Chuan Chim is a popular spot that is always busy. The food here is authentically Thai. Signature dishes include the crispy stir-fried basil with minced pork or chicken as well as a variety of fresh seafood plates. When dining at Chuan Chim, be sure to order their famous crispy fish topped with gravy. It’s divine!
One Chun Cafe n’ Restaurant is a trendy dining establishment in Phuket Town. Set in a historical building, One Chun features vintage decor and a menu that boasts extremely authentic Thai cuisine. The focus is on southern Thai dishes at One Chun, and the recipes used to create the menu have been passed down from grandma to auntie over the course of three generations. Looking for a tasty dish to order? Give their Moo Hong a try. It’s a lush southern Thai pork stew with Chinese roots that is as savoury as it is sweet. Moo Hong is made by braising chunks of pork belly with a variety of herbs, garlic, coconut sugar, dark soy, oyster sauce and star anise. The flavour is as unique as it is delicious, and the Moo Hong at One Chun is some of the best that you will find in Phuket.
Mee Ton Poe
Established in 1946, Mee Ton Poe is located near the Surin traffic circle in Phuket Town. It is truly a Phuket noodle institution. The shop is a popular place to eat for Phuketians and is also a hit with Chinese tourists. Mee Ton Poe is famous for its signature dish which is stir-fried Hokkien Mee, or Hokkien noodles. The noodles are thick, yellow and fried with seafood, pork and various vegetable toppings. A half-cooked egg on top completes the dish. Make sure to order this noodle dish as it is a really hearty treat. The best accompaniment to Hokkien Mee is a side of chicken satay with thick, creamy peanut sauce.
Dine with the Locals
When it comes to seeking out local dining experiences around the world, there is a large variety of innovative food tours to choose from. Additionally, when travelling, seek out the places that the locals eat at. Depending upon the city you find yourself in, it should be relatively simple to find a street cart and sample some of the unique local scene. Alternatively, travellers can search for creative programmes that bring them into a local’s home.
A social enterprise that facilitates authentic local food and experiences is the Cambodia-based ‘Dine with the Locals’ programme. Offering local food experiences in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Battambang and Banteay Meanchey, the programme allows tourists to explore cooking with locals and learn the differences between Cambodian street food and homemade Khmer food.
Travellers can choose from a variety of hosts, and the programme ensures that three delicious Khmer dishes will be cooked and shared. You can choose to get your hands dirty and help your host cook or be a bit more hands-off and just watch. However, the programme allows you to have lunch or dinner with a Khmer family afterwards. Some of the hosts also teach skills such as organic farming, silk weaving and modern Khmer art.
‘Dine With the Locals’ aims to provide additional income to Khmer families while facilitating relationships and allowing hosts, despite language barriers, to connect with travellers and the tourism industry. It is truly a wonderful initiative, and the response of interested tourists has been overwhelming.
On a recent getaway to Siem Reap, I participated in the ‘Dine With the Locals’ programme. It was a tremendous experience. I had such an enjoyable time meeting a local Khmer family, cooking with them, being shown around their home and just enjoying a simple yet delicious meal of fresh fish, vegetables and fruit together. In the words of the late Anthony Bourdain, “You learn a lot about someone when you share a meal to-gether.”
While sampling Michelin Guide street food around the world is certainly appealing for many, experiences like the one provided from the ‘Dine With the Locals’ programme are more enriching and allow travellers to gain insight into a truly local way of life. With the surge of Airbnb bookings across a variety of countries and the introduction of ‘Airbnb Experiences’, it begs the question when such intimate local experiences might come to Phuket. There is no doubt that the island is definitely ready for it. After all, you can learn much more from deep interactions with locals than you can from just slurping down a bowl of noodles.