Phuket is blessed with fine weather almost year round, some of the best beaches in the world, stunning views and vistas, a vibrant, fun-loving population and culture and a delicious, distinctive cuisine that has become known and loved worldwide.
Phuket. Sand, sea and tropical delights
Thai food is justifiably renowned for its diversity, subtle combinations of tastes and flavours and fiery spices, though not all Thai food is spicy. Generally, an authentic Thai meal will consist of one spicy dish, one milder dish and some that are flavoured with just garlic and a few herbs.
The skills of the food carver
Eating is a leisurely activity for Thais, often lasting an entire evening spent talking and enjoying the company of family and friends, and as distinctive as its taste the aesthetics of presentation have also become something of an art form. Chilies, carrots, tomatoes, papayas, radishes, pumpkins and cucumbers are skilfully transformed into beautiful, intricate flowers and artfully arranged for display. Once the preserve of the women of the royal court, this artform is now seen almost everywhere and the most skilled practitioners are highly esteemed by their fellow Thais.
Rice, the staple of any Thai meal
Rice is endowed with spiritual significance for the Thai people and the growing of rice and the many festivals and rituals associated with its cultivation are indicative of its importance to Thai culture, and it is the foundation of every meal. Indeed, when Thais meet a common phrase used is Khun kin khao reua yang? คุณกินข้าวหรือยัง, ‘Have you eaten rice yet?’ For many rural folk rice with just a few condiments or a fish sauce is standard fare, but with growing affluence there are these days many more dishes that comprise the main daily meal.
A fiery green curry with vegetables
Curries, kaeng, แกงin Thai, are the spiciest of Thai dishes and are the core of Thai cuisine. Green curries, yellow curries and Indian curries and some southern curries that are drier and have an added coconut flavour are among the best known. The fiery Tom Yam, ต้มยำ, a clear, spicy, lemongrass soup, is often used as a base for many dishes that add vegetables, meat and seafood. Milder curries often make use of coconut milk and there are a great number of curries that contain no potent spices at all.
The ubiquitous Hispanic import, chillies
Ayutthaya, the former Thai capital, was for centuries an emporium for trade and a magnet for foreign traders and merchants, all of whom have made contributions to Thai cuisine. Chinese, Malays, Japanese and Portuguese in particular brought exotic ingredients and influences from all parts of the world which have become an integral component of Thai cooking. Thai chefs ingeniously incorporated these new ingredients in unique and original ways to add yet another level of richness to the Thai culinary repertoire.
The boniato, another Hispanic intruder, used in making desserts
Thais love their desserts, collectively known asKhanom, ขนมin Thai, and they come in a bewildering array ranging from delicate and sophisticated offerings to cakes and ice creams. Coconuts and bananas, which are found virtually everywhere in Thailand, are the main ingredients, as are eggs and flower-derived, scented syrups. Tapioca and soybean flour are frequently used as a base, and some other surprising ingredients like onions, are often added to Thai rice puddings for instance, offering a decidedly different slant on an otherwise very simple dessert.
Tasty little delights to end a meal
While on holiday in Phuket you can spend an enjoyable morning, afternoon or whole day at one of the many excellent cookery schools dotted about the island in great locations that offer the opportunity for you to make some of your favourite dishes under expert guidance. For absolute novices and seasoned chefs alike these courses will take you from the basics and guide you through the steps to creating authentic Thai dishes you can try out on your friends back home.
The Blue Elephant, restaurant and cookery school
Many schools will show participants how to make a selection of well-known Thai favourites and some offer exclusively vegetarian and vegan classes. A trip to one of the local markets that Phuket’s residents frequent is often included as part of the package where advice about how to choose and bargain for the best selection of produce available is offered. The price of the course will often include pick-up and return to your hotel or apartment complex.
Learn to cook the Blue Elephant way
For the really adventurous one of Phuket’s finest restaurants, the Blue Elephant, runs five-hour courses, mornings and afternoons, that will teach you the art of Thai royal cuisine. Here, in the most picturesque and elegant surroundings you will receive expert guidance in creating what were once dishes served exclusively to members of Thai royalty, but now form part of the restaurant’s extensive menu. You will be given a thorough introduction to the restaurant’s culinary ethos and philosophy after which you will learn to make a four-course meal in a modern, fully equipped kitchen with everything provided. Once you are done you can sit down to enjoy your day’s efforts and sample dishes from the restaurant to compare and contrast with yours.
Lobster and coconut curry
Phuket Thai Cookery School offers the chance to discover the secrets of truly authentic Thai cooking in the blissfully serene and scenic setting of Koh Sirey Beach. The course begins with a trip to a local market to shop for ingredients, during which the many and varied vegetables, fruits and spices on offer and how they are used will be explained to you. The school’s expert chefs are on hand the whole time to offer help and guidance in making five dishes which you can then enjoy and share with your fellow participants as you relax on the sundeck and take in the gorgeous ocean views.
Organic Thai fermented soybean sauce and rice
If you are looking for a more intimate and relaxed experience the Organic Thai Cooking School in Rawai is the perfect location. Classes take place in a traditional outdoor kitchen in a tropical garden with a highly experienced Thai cook who will take you through all the stages of preparation and cooking. The school has its own organic farm which grows all its produce without the use of pesticides or toxic chemicals. The class ends with a visit to a local market to learn all about the bewildering array of vegetables, fruits and spices used in Thai cooking.
For those wanting to make some of Thailand’s most popular dishes the Phuket Thai Cooking Academy in Kathu, half way between Phuket Town and Patong Beach, offers a fun way under expert tuition to learn the true Thai style of cooking. You choose five dishes from 27 available and prepare them from scratch under the watchful eyes of the school’s chefs. The school caters to all levels of experience and offers a market tour, courses in vegetable and fruit carving and courses for vegetarian and vegan cooking as well. Private classes, group classes, team-building events are also catered for, as well as birthday parties and special events. After the class you might enjoy a visit to Kathu waterfalls to cool off after your creative culinary exertions.
The Blue Elephant, the former governor’s residence, at night
The schools described above show something of the range and diversity of classes available, but there are dozens of really excellent cookery schools in Phuket each unique in its approach and its worthwhile doing a bit of research to find the one that fits the bill for you. Almost all offer pick-up and drop-off services, top-level instruction from highly qualified and accommodating chefs, trips to local markets, fruit and vegetable carving for the more artistically gifted and an offer a cultural experience that is hard to match. You not only learn new skills but interact with like-minded food buffs and dip your toe into the delicious and exotic world of Thai cuisine.