Eat like a local: Top 5 most popular Thai noodle soups in Phuket

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RL Street Eater This is a story provided by a Real Life Phuket partner. It has been edited for clarity. For inquiries send an email to sale@reallifephuket.com
Photo: Alpha / Flickr

With many years of Phuket being marketed as a luxury tropical paradise, most people around the globe sincerely believe that local expats enjoy a constant vacation lifestyle. A luxury villa by the sea, a convertible in the car park, beach fun every day (and luxury yacht trips every other day), lobsters for lunch, and Tom Yum Kung for dinner... Isn't that Phuket's daily routine?

Well, maybe for some people it is. Yet, the majority of the Phuket expat community are people with much simpler lives: they have jobs, they have bills to pay and mouths to feed, they are integrated in the Thai community to one degree or another. And of course, this has an impact on the daily menu.

In our brand new Eat like a local series we will tell you about what locals REALLY eat on a daily basis. No Lobster Thermidor, no Seabass Seviche, no Dry-Aged Wagyu, and no Royal Thai Cuisine. Just simple – yet amazingly delicious – everyday Thai dishes that will surprise your palate and will not cost a fortune.

Let's start with Thai noodle soups. Available nearly at every corner or through delivery services, they are the choice of millions of Thais and expats.

Kuay Tiew

Photo: Ron Dollete / Flickr

When we say noodle soup we mean Kuay Tiew, when we say Kuay Tiew we mean noodle soup. Simple. One may argue that Kuay Tiew is the name of a specific type of noodles, but let's be honest: now it's an umbrella term for a noodle soup you get from a street stall or at a food court.

The best thing about Kuay Tiew is that is can make it your own. Pick your broth (most likely chicken or pork), pick your noodles (thin or thick, flat or round, etc), pick your proteins (red roasted pork, crispy pork, chicken)... and in less than 5 minutes the dish is ready. You don't even need to speak Thai as all the ingredients are on display and you can just point at what you want.

To spice up the treat use regular condiments available right on the table: chili flakes, vinegar, fish sauce, sugar.

RL Street Eater's tip: I prefer wide rice noodles (sen yai) with crispy pork (moo krob) and red pork (moo daeng) spiced-up with chili flakes and vinegar with marinated chilies.

Yen Ta Fo

Photo: Gary Stevens / Flickr

Most of Thai noodle dishes are of Chinese origin and Yen Ta Fo is the best illustration of this. Yen Ta Fo has a distinct pink color which comes from a fermented soybean paste. This paste also gives the soup its iconic lightly sweet and sour taste (while the paste itself is quite strong of terms of flavour).

As with other noodle soups, you are free to choice your favourite noodles and proteins. And oh, there is always a huge crispy chip on top!

RL Street Eater's tip: You can spice the soup up with any of the regular condiments, but they would most likely kill the flavour of the soy bean paste. Better first try the soup “virgin”.

Boat Noodles

Photo: Vee Satayamas / Flickr

Dark, thick, and rich, Kuay Tiew Ruea is a staple of Bangkok street food. The dish was originally served by vendors cruising numerous canals of the city in their small boats, but now you can enjoy Boat Noodles at any food court or just order the dish via Food Panda or Grab. This is specifically handy in Phuket as the island simply has no canals suitable for boats.

The special ingredients in this dish are star anise, dark soy sauce... and specifically prepared pig or cow blood, that adds to the soup's dark color and thickness. Please, don't be scared of this ingredient. You won't taste anything weird.

RL Street Eater's tip: The original version of this soup was cooked with beef and it's really the best. And once again, please don't be scared of that “blood” (actually after preparation it is no longer blood at all).

Tom Yum Noodles

Photo: Alpha / Flickr

What do you think about some noodles in your Tom Yum? You won't find this dish in a luxury or tourist-oriented restaurant, but open your Food Panda app... and there it is! Just don't expect the regular creamy Tom Yum soup. Most likely it will have no creamer in it at all but will be well-packed with spices.

Maybe it's not the Tom Yum you know and love, but definitely a noodle soup you need to try.

RL Street Eater's tip: Try this one with chicken or pork instead of shrimps. And be careful about the level of spiciness (even Targarien's dragons were mortal).

Mama

Photo: Alpha / Flickr

Yes, it is here on the list. You make look down on them, but instant noodles are incredibly popular all around Asia and it's absolutely no crime to eat them. Come to any Kuay Tiew stall on your street and you will see instant noodles among all the others.

The most popular brand is Mama and the name is now a general term for all instant noodles. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Mama is included in “survival kits” distributed among those in need. But even if your wallet is ok, it's better to have a couple of packs in the top-secret corner of your pantry (for a guilty pleasure, night hunger, or else).

And by the way, some of the more expensive instant noodles in Thailand (like THB40) can surprise you with the quality of noodles. Try Oriental Kitchen for example.

RL Street Eater's tip: The most popular instant noodle flavour in Thailand is Tom Yum Kung. But my choice Tom Saeb with pork.