Jul 2, 2019
It’s famous for coconut curries and burning spice, but southern Thai food goes beyond the massaman and khanom jeen classics. From Chumphon down to Songkhla, we try six other specialties with influences from Chinese migrants to neighboring Malaysia. By Eloise Basuki. Photographs by Leigh Griffiths.
OYSTERS (Hoy Nang Rom)
Following the Kradae canal until it spills out into the gulf of Thailand reveals one of Surat Thani’s hidden treasures: a clutch of stilted seafood restaurants hovering above the river mouth’s mangroves. At Nai Ao Seafood, families pass steaming bowls of prawn tom yum, plates of grilled horseshoe crab and blood clams, and always a dozen plump, glassy oysters fresh from local riverside farms. Mix and match each shell with the offered accoutrements: fried onion, garlic, lime and three types of chili. Kadae, Kanchanadit, Surat Thani; 66-77/379-311; oysters from Bt35.
STIR-FRIED LIANG WITH EGG (Bai Liang Pad Khai)
The glossy green liang leaf is a hallmark of the south, commonly swirled into coconut-shoot broths or wok-fried with egg and garlic. Like the also ubiquitous prawn and stink bean stir-fry, you can find bai liang pad khai at almost every southern restaurant. At the overwater Tha Rua in Kra Buri, Ranong, both dishes come with a view of Burma across the riverine border. Nam Chuet, Kra Buri, Ranong; 95-9/0565-6916; mains from Bt100.
STEAMED BUNS (Salapao)
As you head north from Ranong airport and the province’s untouched isles shrink from view, the highway leads to another best-kept secret: Ban Thapli, an actual salapao (steamed bun) “village.” Flanking the road are strings of stalls stacked with steamers warming cloud-like, not-at-all doughy buns. Sunanta has a wide variety, from sangkaya to taro to barbecue pork. Phet Kasem Road, Kra Buri, Ranong; 66-82/270-3426; from Bt6.
HAT YAK FRIED CHICKEN (Kai Tod Hat Yai)
As the capital of the south, the busy hub of Hat Yai has a diverse cuisine. Its famously crisp fried chicken has a Malay twist, infused in a herby cumin- and pepper-spiced marinade. At popular Decha restaurant, you can order the bird with Malay-style yellow rice or the more common sticky rice, plus the essential fried-onion topping. Chee Uthit Road., Hat Yai; 66-81/098-3751; from Bt50.
KING MACKEREL (Pla Insee)
Forty kinds of curries, soups and stir-fries pile the counter of Mae Cha-liao, a family-run shophouse in Lang Suan, Chumphon, but their king mackerel is a star. Third-gen owner and chef Tim Mantharanon sources her seven-kilogram fish from the nearby gulf, which she says has a more buttery flesh than those from the wavier Andaman sea. Order it in golden fried steaks or in a tamarind-laced kaeng som curry. Khan Ngoen, Lang Suan, Chumphon; mains from Bt35.
TRANG-STYLE ROASTED PORK (Trang Moo Yang)
Ears, cheek, hock and belly—you’re going to want a little of each on your plate when ordering Trang moo yang, the province’s famous pork. Marinated overnight in Chinese spices and honey, then barbecued whole for at least four hours, the result is a tangle of caramelized crunch and fall-off-the-bone meat. Go for breakfast at Trang Moo Yang restaurant, and pair it with the province’s other specialty, dim sum, which arrived with the early southern Chinese migrants. 201/5 Huai Yod 19 Rd., Trang; 66-89/723-9328; mains from Bt40.