I may love my luxury dining experiences, and relish the opportunity to dine fancy, but I also love to eat local. Eating local, though, starts with understanding local ingredients. The perfect way to start understanding those ingredients is to explore the fresh food markets. But, when traveling to a beach destination, like Phuket, Thailand, we often spend all of our time enjoying the pool and the ocean view. We never think about touring a food market. That’s why this tour of the Patong market, Phuket’s local fresh food market, was such a treat.
Touring Food Markets When Traveling
While touring Patong market I was in heaven. There are times when I’m not fond of walking through wet markets in Southeast Asia. Sometimes, they tend to be a little too authentic, and a little too wet. Chau Long market in Hanoi, is a perfect example. Vendors are slicing up meat and dealing with all of the nasty bits. The ground is soaking wet, and splashy. Enough said.
It’s in direct comparison to the food markets in Europe. Our favorite is Santa Catarina market in Barcelona, where the market is as functional as it is beautiful. It’s clean, bright, airy, and with lighting perfect for photos.
The Patong market in Phuket, fell somewhere in between. I think it was why I was so at home there.
The market building is set on two stories. Upstairs, vendors are selling dried goods and cooked food. Downstairs the market was organized, with loads of space to walk around. Stalls were well organized. The entire building was open and airy. At first, I assumed this meant the market was a bit too touristy. But, most of the shoppers were indeed, Thai, preparing for a big festival the following day.
Touring Patong Market in Phuket
I love the colors of food markets in Asia, from the bright colors of the produce and flowers, to the red and green of the chili peppers. Most of the stalls had little plastic bags ready to go for customers to bring their chili peppers home.
The produce was piled high, sometimes so high that I worried peppers or cabbages would topple over.
I loved watching people peruse the stalls at Patong market, looking for the perfect produce, or perfect piece of fish. I am sure there were some serious negotiations going on, as it is customary to bargain at local Thai markets.
Because we were close to the beach, a large percentage of the Patong market included fresh fish and seafood. I enjoyed watching the seafood swim in their tanks, having no idea what their future held. Some of the clams were spitting water high into the air, almost in protest of their destiny.
Touring Patong Market With a Chef
Another reason why I enjoyed this particular food market was that we were touring with a Thai chef. Just after our tour of the market, we were scheduled to take a Thai cooking class. This was the first stop so that we can learn about the ingredients we would be using.
The chef was certainly pointing out ingredients that I did not know anything about, even though we are pretty knowledgeable about Thai food. He was also able to translate for us so that we could chat with some of the vendors.
One of my favorite stalls included not only chili peppers, but also garlic, ginger, shallots, and more. The stall included piles upon piles of the ingredients that make Thai food amazing!
The girl working the stall was friendly too, not minding at all that I was picking up all of her products and smelling them!
The chef was able to answer my questions about the difference between ginger and galangal, and the other roots we saw, including bright orange turmeric! To an untrained eye, they may look identical. But, to the chef’s eye…
He also explained the differences between the various kinds of chili paste used in Thai cooking. Of course, he warned us about how spicy Thai food is. We countered that we can handle the spice.
We were about to learn to cook the famous tom yum soup in our upcoming Thai cooking class. While at the Patong market we saw the “tom yum” bundle. This is something we learned about during our Bangkok food tour, but I had forgotten about it. The bundle includes lemongrass, kaffir lime leaf, and galangal, which is similar to ginger. It’s everything needed to make tom yum soup, all tied together to make it easier to shop for.
I could have spent forever in the Patong market, snapping photos and taking videos. What would be even better is to to be able to shop there to cook at our own kitchen! It was easily one of the better markets I’ve been to in Southeast Asia, and worth a stop while traveling in Phuket.
We were supported by the Centara Grand Phuket during our Patong market tour and Thai cooking class, but all opinions are my own.
Amber Hoffman, food and travel writer behind With Husband In Tow, is a recovering attorney and professional eater, with a passion for finding new food and drink destinations. She lives with her husband, Eric, in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. Together over the last 20 years, they have traveled to over 70 countries. Amber is the author of the Food Traveler’s Guide to Emilia Romagna.