Far away from the excesses of the west coast, Old Phuket Town is without a doubt the island’s culinary centre. Founded by Chinese immigrants more than a century ago, this historic district was once the province’s commercial capital – a bustling entrepot that attracted traders from China, India and Arabia. Eventually, descendants of these visiting merchants put down roots on the island, giving rise to a rich array of cuisines. Today, you’ll find a slew of eateries serving everything from traditional Malay-influenced curries and Hokkien Chinese noodles to contemporary durian-accented ice cream, all set in heritage shophouses – a legacy of the Old Town’s former glory.
Lock Tien Food Court
Hugely popular with visitors, Lock Tien serves up the best of local food in a shaded open-air courtyard. Snag an empty table and order a bowl of Hokkien-style fried noodles garnished with a fried egg, a plate of popiah (fresh spring rolls served with a sweet-spicy sauce), and several skewers of pork satay. You’ll see what the fuss is all about.
Corner of Yaowarat Rd and Dibuk Rd
At the heart of the Old Town’s multicultural mix is the Peranakan (known locally as Baba-Nyonya) community – descendants of the Chinese workers who arrived in the early 20th century to find work, and ended up staying on and marrying Thais. While they have now been integrated into the local community, you can still sample nostalgic Nyonya fare at the vintage-style Kopitiam by Wilai. Try the bak kut teh (pork ribs in a peppery broth) and slow-cooked massaman curry (a rich but mild coconut curry).
18 Thalang Rd
Cafés don’t come any cooler than this. Bookhemian’s interiors are an exercise in industrial chic – think stark, unpainted walls, one of which is lined with design, film and architecture tomes. However, while many come for its signature coffee (served with marshmallow crème topping), what sets it apart from other cafés is its cavernous co-working area, and an exhibition space that doubles as a cinema.
61 Thalang Rd
Manas Dada, better known as Arun, is the owner of this eponymous roti shop on Thalang Road, Old Phuket Town’s main thoroughfare. A fluent speaker of Thai, English, Malay and Arabic – courtesy of 20 years living in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia – Arun serves up the best roti (fried bread) on the island. Pair it with beef curry and a cup of cha chak (pulled tea), before rounding off your meal with some off-the-menu roti bom (sugar-covered roti dipped in condensed milk).
124 Thalang Rd
Ironically, this sweet venue is located on a street that was once the island’s most salacious. Formerly Phuket’s famous brothel district, Soi Rommanee is allegedly named after a working girl from Romania. Today, it’s home to a pretty row of brightly-coloured, restored shophouses, among which you’ll find this retro-inspired ice cream boutique. Sample delicious and unusual flavours, such as lychee sorbet and durian, all handmade from scratch.
16 Soi Rommanee
Please check the establishments’ respective websites for opening hours before visiting, and remember to adhere to safe-distancing measures while out and about.
This article originally appeared in the March 2017 issue of Silkwinds magazine