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Spice exploration ...................................................... Ruth Williams

Breakfast by the sea at the Boathouse, Kata Noi, Phuket

DO FRY THIS AT HOME This dish is based on a recipe supplied by chef Rattana Pholtaisong from the Boathouse Restaurant + Grill, who oversees the restaurant’s Thai menu and cooking classes. Ingredients 120 grams Hokkien-style yellow or egg noodles 40ml vegetable oil 20 grams or 2 shallots, thinly sliced 200 grams shrimps, peeled and deveined 20 grams local celery 110 grams kale 10ml dark soy sauce 150ml chicken stock 10ml oyster sauce 5 grams brown sugar

2 grams white pepper 5ml Maggi sauce (optional) • Heat vegetable oil in a wok and fry shallots until brown. Remove from pan, drain on paper towels and set aside for garnish. • Add shrimps to wok, stir-fry for two minutes. • Add chopped celery and kale and stir-fry for two minutes or until kale has just wilted. • Add yellow noodles to the wok and mix. • Add thick black (dark) soy sauce and chicken stock. • Season to taste with oyster sauce, brown sugar, white pepper and Maggi sauce (optional). • Serve with the fried shallots on top.

In Phuket, food is like the nightlife and beach scene – there’s something to suit most tastes. Tin, trade and tourism have all influenced today’s dining choices on the Thai island. Whether you are looking for southern Thai cuisine, international favourites, the subtleties of the island’s take on Peranakan cuisine, or just to get a fix of familiar Thai favourites, there’s plenty to explore. Inland Phuket Town is ignored by many visitors, but not for long perhaps. The Thai Peranakan Association has nominated Phuket Town to be the fourth Unesco City of Gastronomy. In the 19th century, during the island’s heyday as a tin mining, smelting and trading centre, Peranakan or Straits Chinese from trading hubs such as Singapore and Penang moved to Phuket to make their fortunes. Hokkien miners from Fujian and the then Malaya flocked here to work in the tin industry. Both groups married local people and the resulting Thai Peranakan (Baba Nyonya) community thrived. Peranakan architecture, restaurants and coffee shops are concentrated in the streets around Thalang and Dibuk roads. This is also the location of what seems to be everyone’s favourite Peranakan restaurant: Thai Raya Restaurant (48 New Dibuk Road Phuket City, tel: +66 76 218155), in a restored early 20th-century shophouse. Raya serves local dishes such as kaeng neua poo kab mee khao (crabmeat curry with white Phuket noodles), nam prik koong siap (a simple spicy shrimp dip, eaten with fresh

vegetables and cashew leaves), moo hong (sweet pork with soy sauce) and oh-aew (a banana jelly dessert). Boathouse Restaurant + Grill (182 Koktanode Road, Kata Beach, tel: +66 76 330015) serves superb French and Thai cuisine on a chic terrace overlooking Kata Noi beach. Previously called Mom Tri’s Boathouse, the boutique resort has recently had a US$6 million refit. Jean-Noel Lumineau, Thailand’s only Maître Cuisinier de France, oversees the à la carte and degustation menus. Wine director Georges Ciret curates a list of more than 850 labels, with more than 30 wines by the glass.

People want to eat seafood and something cooked simply but well JEAN-NOEL LUMINEAU, BOATHOUSE RESTAURANT + GRILL, PHUKET

“Bangkok has celebrity chef restaurants. But when people are in a place like Phuket they want something more simple,” says Lumineau. “People want to eat seafood and something cooked simply but well.” Lumineau builds his menu around locally grown vegetables and high quality, imported ingredients such as Angus beef, and duck from France. Chef Rattana Pholtaisong is in charge of a Thai menu that includes a choice of lamb or chicken massaman curries and Phuket-style

dishes such as mee sapam goong (Phuket hokkien noodles with prawns – see recipe) and moo hong. On the road to the landmark Heroine’s Monument, an unassuming restaurant called Farang (Si Sunthon Road) pulls in a mainly Thai clientele, plus a few expatriate residents. The location next to a petrol station is not promising, but its outdoor tables look out over a wooded slope. Describing itself as fusion, the Farang menu lists mainly Thai and Italian dishes. Prices per dish are low – 100-200 baht (HK$25-HK$50) a dish – but flavours hit the spot every time. Marinated pork neck, beef salad and tom yum goong are piquant, served with plenty of fresh leaves. Italian-style salmon steaks, salads and crabmeat with linguine are standouts in this modest cafe. Sailing around the Andaman Sea is part of Phuket’s appeal for yachtowners. Starwood’s newly opened The Naka Island (32 Moo 5, Tambol Paklok, Naka Yai Island, tel: + 66 76 371400) is a single resort tropical island worth dropping in on. Ian Thomason’s fusion menu puts subtle Thai flavours into the dishes. Mains include seafood, steaks and a whole Phuket lobster served with citrus marinade and coriander root cream, and grilled asparagus with chilli and lime sauce. Smile Restaurant on Kamala Beach is a classic Thai beach bar (, tel: +66 76 385515). Well-known Thai dishes are sold with the global selection of condiments on the table being the nod to foreign tastes. Try the spicy som tam (green papaya salad), phad thai, gaeng kiao wan gai (green chicken curry) and the massaman beef curry.


Never mind the size, savour the flavour ...................................................... Pavan Shamdasani The dosa, that venerable rice-anddal pancake favourite of many an Indian vegetarian restaurant, isn’t easy to come by in our small yet cuisine rich city. Limited kitchen space, a reliance on meat-heavy meals and a general lack of calling for the dosa has meant the dish is often relegated to questionable outlets in Chungking Mansions. But in Tsim Sha Tsui there are two fairly hidden vegetarian restaurants that have battled it out over the decades. The dosa is their weapon, each dishing out the classic masala mix. Woodlands, in the Wing On Plaza on Mody Road, has been proudly offering its humble and hearty cuisine since 1981, while Branto, on a side street opposite Chungking, has been serving in a commercial office building for decades. The two aren’t neighbours,

but the five-minute walking distance has torn many a dosa lover as to which is the finer, more authentic Indian pancake. We enter Woodlands on a rainy weekday evening, a 1980s plaza victim in the luxury mall age. The restaurant is empty at 7.30pm, its three-decade-old decor feeling even drearier with nary a soul seated. By itself, the lack of customers would be a bad sign for most restaurants – but one has to remember that Indians eat late, and sure enough, two tables are filled within minutes of our arrival. Our oversized masala dosa (HK$55) arrives quickly – too quickly, in fact – along with the two standard side sauces of dal and curd with spices. The pancake is undercooked, with the top layer too crispy and the bottom too soggy, while its excess batter means one has to shovel heavy masses before getting to the masala. Further disappointment kicks in when you do – the stale, savourless potato and onions taste like they came out of a

tin. We leave feeling stuffed but disappointed in our search for the master dosa. However, Branto’s decidedly different vibe immediately relieves the excess weight: the restaurant is almost packed with customers. But this isn’t part of the after-8pm eating habit. Among the numerous South Asians here for home-style cooking are a host of foreigners eager to sample the cuisine – Australians, British, local Chinese; word spreads quickly in this town, and an even mix of customers is always a good sign. Branto’s masala dosa is cheaper (HK$39) and smaller – but for a dish of its size, this isn’t a terrible thing. First glance reveals the pancake’s clean shape, with the bread perfectly fencing in the fine masala mix. But the true sign is tearing into it, and in this, the dosa excels. It’s crispy on top and chewy underneath, with the contrasting pancake made all the merrier with a scoop of Branto’s masala: freshly made, moist and with a multitude of

spices (bay leaves, cloves), its delectable mix soon overrides Woodlands’ disappointment and leaves us thoroughly satisfied – and the feeling is shared by the other diners, given the dosas being devoured around the restaurant. The verdict: Woodlands may have the years on its side, with longtime fans raving about its endless delights, but what it offers is quantity over quality – a no-no for a dish of this size. Branto’s backing from both South Asians and foreigners is a telling sign; it offers the ideal breadto-masala mix and arguably the best dosa in Hong Kong. Branto 1/F, 9-11 Lock Road Tsim Sha Tsui Tel: 2366 8171 Woodlands UG 16-17, Wing On Plaza 62 Mody Road Tsim Sha Tsui East Tel: 2369 3718

Masala dosas from Woodlands (above) and Branto. Photos: May Tse

SCMP - March 2012  

Boathouse Phuket Hotel on SCMP - March 2012

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