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A meal among Phuket’s mangroves

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PHUKET: THE location of Chaiyo Seafood Riverside Restaurant is simply breathtaking. Situated in Bor Rae district of Phuket, beside Mudong Canal at the point where it meets the sea of Ao Yon Bay, Chaiyo is where diners come to enjoy local dishes and fresh seafood while watching the water ebb and flow. On the other side of the canal, the richness of the mangrove is still evident, and if you are lucky you may spot a monkey or two.

The atmosphere is somewhat rustic (a wooden bridge, tree-trunk tables and chairs, and a thatched roof) with the main dining area divided between the al fresco terrace and a spacious, open-sided hall. There are also a few huts on stilts by a large pond, which offer some degree of privacy, and a modern air-conditioned room on the far side. A long wooden bridge/walkway leads to the terrace dining area.

Chaiyo Seafood was established some 20 years ago by Phuket-born Thira Jiasakul. As chef and owner, Thira only uses authentic recipes of local dishes handed down by his mother and grandmother and the menu reflects this heritage. He knows the locals are finicky about the quality of their fish and keeps the seafood fresh in bamboo containers submerged in the seawater just below the terrace. Over its lifetime, the restaurant has garnered quite a following among locals and tourists alike.

By way of introduction, the menu features Chaiyo’s own recommendations. It is worth starting there if you are new to Phuket food, as you won’t go too far wrong ordering a platter of mixed grilled seafood for two, for example.

But we regulars had other ideas. To quell impending hunger we first ordered the famous Phuket tempura, deep-fried shrimps on a fan of aquatic grass (buer tod). Considered by Thais as an appetizer, buer tod is great with a cold beer or a glass of chilled white wine.

Next up was deep-fried snapper in chilli sauce (pla kapong tod kruang). It had the right texture – crispy skin and firm flesh – but opinions were divided about the sauce. To the rescue came prawns in tamarind sauce, which this time received rave reviews. We loved the large prawns, lightly fried with shells still intact (the locals like it that way) and laced in a thick unctuous sauce that featured a perfect blend of tamarind and just enough brown sugar. Tamarind prawns are hard to get right, as our group knows only too well having been disappointed many times by poorer versions, but we highly recommend tamarind prawns here.

Crabs are in season now and although they are actually caught all year round, they are tastiest during the new moon (according to my friend and fellow foodie Wanida Hongyok) so a plate of steamed crabs (pu mah) were ordered and enjoyed by all. Mud crabs (pu talay) were on offer as well, which are best stir-fried with curry sauce.

Steamed fish custard (hor mok) is an all-time favorite. But why settle for the usual type, when you can order mussel hor mok served in their beautiful shells? This was a pretty dish, which belied its spicy kick. Not for the faint hearted!

Other mains ordered included a salad of wild fiddle-head fern with boiled shrimps (yam pak good), which was a winner, and the perennial favorite crispy-fried sand fish with turmeric (plat tod kamin).

When word got out that we were doing a food review for the Phuket Gazette, a complimentary dish of grilled emerald clam was offered. Chaiyo’s manager, Khun Joi, explained that the clams were a newly discovered andpopular delicacy. Emerald clams are found only in the waters of Phuket and Phang Nga. Bright green in color, the clams are pretty to look at, and some of us even ate and liked them. Chaiyo is the only restaurant in town that serves emerald clams,” say Joy proudly.

As usual, it was a great dining experience. The service is somewhat slow but was largely made up for by the friendliness of the waitresses. We went there on Sunday and the place was lively, with Thais enjoying the day out with families and friends.

Chaiyo Seafood Restaurant opens daily from 10.30am to 11.00pm. Location: Bor Rae-Khao Kad Road (road to Ao Yon Bay), Tel. 076-393101, 076-393101, 081-5976808.

Keep checking our online Phuket Lifestyle pages, or join our Facebook fan page for the best in local hints and tips.

This article appears in the current (May 11-17, 2013) issue of the hard-copy Phuket Gazette newspaper, now on sale at newsstands throughout the island. Digital subscribers may download the full newspaper, this week and every week, by clicking here.

— Nanthapa Pengkasem

 

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