Published on February 3, 2008
Late last year I was in Phuket shooting an episode of my TV show and had the opportunity to eat at quite a few great restaurants. I remember driving to the border between Phuket and Phang Nga and crossing the bridge that links the island to the mainland, to eat at the well-known Pu Dum, whose name means Black Crab.
Pu Dum has been serving great food for more than 20 years. The secret is in the selection of the best and freshest ingredients.
Its chefs are trained by the owner, who's a great cook. She's never had formal training but somehow knows the art and the science of it. Her chefs are particularly good with seafood.
Southern food isn't always very spicy. Try the stir-fried mieng greens with dried shrimp, for example. Mieng greens are the young leaves from the mieng shrubs that grow beside rubber trees.
The leaves are nutty and sweet, and when stir-fried properly with either eggs or dried shrimp, they're really delicious.
A lot of Westerners like southern Thai cuisine because it uses lots of vegetables, both cooked and fresh.
Another local delicacy is sator seeds, which are also sweet and nutty and great when stir-fried with pork or shrimp.
Pu Dum does justice to the local crabs. Try the stir-fried crab with pickled lime. The salty, sour bite of the lime complements the meat deliciously.
Another dish I recommend is deep-fried turmeric-marinated fish. The small fish is fried until crispy making it terrific with beer or wine.
Time for something hot and spicy and very southern: You haven't really been to the South if you haven't savoured the sour flavours of gaeng lueng - yellow curry.
The yellow colour comes from the fresh turmeric in the curry paste. Try it with fresh fish and coconut hearts - really spicy but delicious. It goes well with steamed rice and an omelette, the creaminess of the latter helping to make the sour curry richer.
Then there's the famous dip of the South - nam prik kung sieb - made from dried shrimp with the shells still attached. It's eaten with lots of vegetables that are grown locally, the tips of mango tree leaves and sator being good examples.
There are two more dishes you should really try if you visit Pu Dum.
Steamed and curried fish mousse - known as hor mok - is available in most Thai restaurants, but here the curry paste is hand-pounded and the resulting texture and taste are finer for it.
Then there's a soup made with coconut cream and turmeric that's quite creamy and not fishy-tasting at all. It reminds me of tom kah gai - chicken galangal soup with coconut milk. Galangal is replaced with turmeric, but it's still seasoned with lime juice and fish sauce to cut the richness of the coconut milk.
So next time you're in Phuket, make the short trip to the Pu Dum. It's sure to add Southern authenticity to the enjoyment of your stay.