The place to start a culinary exploration of Phattalung is the local fresh market, which seems to pull everything in its direction, like a black hole, right in the heart of downtown. Spanning a large roofed area and spilling onto the surrounding streets, it’s a fun place to watch old women haggle over still-flapping fish, bright-green stink-bean pods, piles of fresh turmeric and all sorts of meats, fruits and vegetables. Within the market you’ll find a few stalls selling Thai sweets, noodle soups and curries with rice, making this a good option for a local-style breakfast. Several rice shops found along the lane running west from the northwest corner of the market are good places to pick up khao sang yod, an extremely healthy grain of rice that’s native to Phattalung and grows hardly anywhere else in the world.
Phattalung also has a small but lively night market that sets up immediately south of the train station. It’s a great place to try Muslim-Thai favourites like khao mok gai (turmeric rice with roasted chicken) and flaky roti topped with sweetened condensed milk. You’ll also find Southern Thai-style gai yang (turmeric-glazed grilled chicken) along with usual Thai market favourites like fresh coconuts, chilli pastes with steamed veggies, curries, grilled whole fish, Isaan food and even some sushi. Several vendors have a few tables for dining on site; as a foreigner we received a lot of curious looks.
Southern Thai khao gaeng (rice and curry) is a highlight of Phattalung, and you’ll find colourful displays curries, soups and stir-fries fronting several shops and small markets all over town. We had good luck at Raan Thale Noi, a no-frills open-fronted shop marked by pictures of Thale Noi’s signature pink waterlilies decorating the walls. We tried gaeng tai pla, an intensely pungent and spicy fish-bladder curry with big hunks of fresh cumin; gaeng yok gluai gai, a mild and slightly sweet green curry with chicken and hunks of banana tree trunk; and gaeng som tai, Southern-style sour orange curry stuffed with fresh fish and man kii nuu, a bite-size potato-like starch that literally translates as “rat shit taro.” Yes, this is a place that adventurous eaters will not want to miss.
Phattalung’s food scene is also strongly influenced by the Chinese-Thai minority. While we didn’t get around to trying to them, we’ve heard good things about the jok (rice kongee) served with barely boiled egg, ginger and other spices at a few restaurants on Pracha Bamrung Road. You’ll also find plenty of places serving khao man gai (Thai-style Hainanese chicken rice) and khao ka muu (stewed pork shanks with rice) scattered around town.
All around Phattalung, roadside vendors sell gluai tort, chunks of bananas that are deep-fried to create a decadent morning snack. Grab a pouch along with a heaping cup of chaa yen, milky Thai iced tea, and you’ll put away more than enough calories for the climb up Khao Ok Thalu. If you’re in the mood for Western-style baked goods, make a trip to Rok Yak Bakery, marked by a green and red sign with Thai script across from Krungthai Bank on Apaiborirak Road. They churn out fresh-baked brownies, chocolate cake, cookies and doughnuts, including some stuffed with sweet red bean paste.
For seafood in a waterside setting, take a songthaew east to Baan Lam Pam and grab a seat at Lam Pam Resort’s restaurant perched alongside Songkhla Lake. Up in Thale Noi you’ll find a string of more modest lakeside seafood restaurants that open at around 10:00 and compete for business, meaning that prices are reasonable. For a romantic splurge with a view of the area’s distinctive spider-like fishing platforms, the restaurant at Sri Pak Pra Resort is a great choice offering a range of Southern Thai specialties like gaeng liang, a soup-like curry made with the leafy green, pak liang, and pad pak sataw, stir-fried garlic and stink-beans with prawns.
Fresh market: Just northwest of the train station and north of Kuha Sawan Rd; open daily early morning to afternoon.
Night Market: Due south of the train station; open daily 17:00-22:00.
Raan Thale Noi: North side of Charoontarm Rd, just south of Prachabumrung Rd and a short walk south of Wat Kuha Sawan; open daily 07:00-15:00.