Thailand’s Krabi province is best known for spectacular white sand beaches kissed by aquamarine sea and sheltered by dramatic limestone cliffs. The provincial capital has none of this, but it does boast picturesque salty seas of its own — spicy southern Thai curry seas. And boy are they delicious, these seas.
Many of the city’s residents follow Islam, and Thai-style Halal food is hawked from hole-in-the-wall khao gaeng (curry and rice) shops on every corner. That means curry, spicy and plentiful.
We began our day at a little spot called “Muslim Food” where Maharaj Road meets Soi 2. Here we bumped into the best gaeng som we’ve ever had; the fish was tender and the dish’s signature bright red-orange juice was spicy (we like spicy) but not overly sour. In a word: bravo.
A half-hour of checking out Krabi’s accommodation scene later, we were hungry again, and the central market on Sukhon Road (aka Maharaj Soi 10) happened to be conveniently close by. The entire front of the market is lined with tropical fruit that grows in abundance throughout southern Thailand. Krabi is especially famous for mangoes — sweet and delicious, with or without sticky rice.
But this market isn’t just sweet and juicy, it’s also savoury and spicy. Really spicy. Like, southern Thai spicy.
After a quick perusing, we ducked into a nameless joint with as many trays of curry as they had chairs for customers to sit on. On the long, shared table sat complimentary trays of raw veggies. You would think the cucumbers, long beans and Asian eggplants would be there to cool the spice of the curries, but this is southern Thailand, and southern Thailand likes it hot. Accompanying the veggies was a fiery bowl of nam phrik kapi (spicy shrimp paste) for dipping, and extra spice.
Don’t worry, the locals won’t think any less of you if you reach for a plain cucumber in a futile attempt to stop your nose from running uncontrollably. They did laugh at us, though, as we put on our warrior face to get through a plate of dark, rich and extremely spicy panang. It could have been the endorphins talking, but we found the dish to burst with a complex array of flavours that shone through the spiciness. It was 25 baht for a heaping plate of rice and one portion of curry, but feel free to pile your plate with as many curries as you like.
We returned to the market a couple of hours later to see what the chefs had whipped up for the evening crowd. The answer: a whole lot of very colourful food.
With a couple of curry plates already digesting, we refrained from diving into another without carefully considering the possible ramifications. Then, rather thoughtlessly, we picked up a 10-baht dish of khanom pho, bites of rice flour rolled in coconut meat with a centre of coconut milk sweetened by palm sugar. It’s like a fabulous Thai-style truffle with coconut in place of chocolate.
From there, we nearly couldn’t hold ourselves back from a cauldron of kai anusawari, stewed chicken that resembles the pork served in the popular street dish, khao kha muu.
But this is a Muslim town, and we couldn’t pass up a chance to try a Krabi version of the famous Thai-Muslim dish, khao mok kai, or yellow biryani rice with roasted chicken. We sniffed it out at a sidewalk restaurant called Roti Chachak near the corner of Maharaj and Issara Road. Served from a giant steaming bowl, the rice tasted as though it had been seasoned by a seasoned khao mok kai professional and the moist and tender chicken fell off the bone — magnificent.
Roti Chachak is also a go-to spot for, you guessed it, roti, the unleavened bread of southern Indian origin that’s popular throughout Southeast Asia but is a particularly big hit in southern Thailand. Cut into bite-size chunks and served with sugar and sweetened condensed milk on the side, Roti Chachak’s offering did not disappoint. Throw in a cup of wood-fired kopi and a complimentary pot of Chinese jasmine tea and … what beach?
Of course, we will be swimming off all these calories when we do hit the beach in nearby Railay, but we won’t be surprised if Krabi town pulls us back for one more good dip in the curry before we head home to Bangkok. In fact, you can bet on it.
PS The stomach ache came anyway … and it was worth it.
By David Luekens
Last updated on 31st January, 2015.