We’ve often been asked “What’s the best food you’ve had in mainland Southeast Asia?” If forced to choose, we’d opt for an easy way out and vote Thai food as the king of cuisines in the region. And after eating our way through Bangkok, Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, and Krabi in the south, our vote more specifically goes to Krabi.
Krabi offers Thai staples, more spice (if you want it), freshness, variety, semi-exotic but palatable dishes, authenticity and warm smiles – all at staggeringly low prices.
Where to go and what to eat:
Night market on Maharat Soi 10
Influenced by Malaysian and Muslim curries, the sauces here run electric yellow, orange and red. Choose from pre-prepared but fresh concoctions in metal tubs with combinations of shrimp, squid, fish, pork, beef, or chicken, and an array of vegetables. Southern Thai dry fry curries (without the coconut milk) are also popular here.
Dishes here are incredibly inexpensive, usually running 30 baht ($0.85) for a scoop of rice and your choice of two curries. One food stall makes a point (by way of a sign) to indicate that foreigners and locals pay the same low price.
After you order, most stands will direct you to one of their dining tables, often outfitted with a condiment tray – loaded with fresh long beans, cucumbers, Asian eggplants and a spicy nam prik dipping sauce – which alone could serve as its own meal. Pitchers of drinking water and cups of ice are provided, gratis. We always drank the water and never had any stomach problems.
A vast selection of curries are on offer here, and extend well beyond the red and green curries you are used to seeing at home or on the tourist trail in Thailand. The best approach is to walk around, find something that looks interesting and ask what’s in it. Fortunately, the market is fairly self-contained, so you cannot spend hours wandering and starving while you choose. Here are a few highlights:
- Shrimp with long beans, dry fry curry
- Stingray curry – if you want to breathe fire, this one’s for you. Tasty, but bony.
- Morning glory with taro in coconut milk – if you are put off by spice, this is a safe bet. Even better paired with a spicy dish – it serves as a cooling agent.
- Shrimp and sator (stink bean, but don’t let the name scare you) dry fry
- Fish cakes – mildly spicy, a good snack to nosh as you begin your search
- Curry fried fish
- Dry fry Panang-style pork curry
- Grilled, skewered squid
- Pad Thai – served with a combination of squid and shrimp
- Spicy green papaya salad – with tomato, papaya, garlic, chili, lime, dried shrimp, and roasted peanuts.
- Endless varieties of tropical fruit, some peeled and packaged with a chili-salt for dabbing and dipping
- Mango and sticky rice – Audrey developed an addiction to this dessert. The Krabi version is even sweeter and tastier than Bangkok’s.
Khanom Jeen Soup Stand, on the corner of Soi 6 and Krabi’s main street
Khanom Jeen, for us, vies for most outstanding food in all of Southeast Asia, along with its Cambodian sister soup, num banh choc . This particular stall was a taste above the rest for its outstandingly smooth curry broth. The fact that it didn’t include any stray mystery bits or chicken feet also scored points.
At a khanom jeen stand, you’ll be given a small mound of fresh rice noodles and your choice of a ladle of mild yellow curry fish reduction, sweet peanut-based red soup, or both. Our favorite is a combination of mostly yellow with a dollop of red.
The experience reaches a climax of simplicity as you are directed toward a table adorned with a large “condiment” tray. The tray usually contains some combination of long beans, cucumbers, Asian eggplants, Thai basil, bean sprouts, morning glory in coconut milk, pickled palm hearts, onions, carrots, bitter leaf, and a mimosa-plant looking herb. Heap anything and everything on your soup plate. Dive in.
This dish is the ultimate WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) eating experience. The taste is remarkable, simple, and clean. Your body will love you for it.
Oh yeah, the price. 10 baht ($0.30) a bowl, including all you can consume condiments.
“Muslim Restaurant”, the large, one-room, cafeteria-style hole next to the Vieng Tong hotel may at first appear bleak (flaking wallpaper, half-peeled sticker images of various mosques), but it delivers. This is the real deal. Once you taste roti here, you’ll realize that everyone else (on the streets and in restaurants) is only pretending.
To witness the simple, regimented process of roti production alone makes a visit worthwhile. Don’t just stop there, though. Order a roti with one of the simple Muslim curries from the metal tubs in back. If curries and spice are not your thing, order a sweet roti with condensed milk. It melts in your mouth.
Rotis here are to die for – a pounded swirl of flaky bits on the outside and moist dough on the inside. The result, whose preparation and frying is aided with various oils but pounded and dried with a towel, is not the typical greasy squished pancake served on the backpacker trails of Bangkok and Luang Prabang.
Krabi Good Dream
If you’re looking for an early evening break on the backpacker trail, try Krabi Good Dream. Standard red and green curries are tasty and substantial. Our favorite was a fusion-twist penne pasta with fried chili basil, shrimp and squid. Arrive in the evening (just before 8:00PM) and enjoy the latest pirated DVD movies in English.
If you mysteriously tire of the local cuisine, Italian-owned Viva on Pruksa Uthit Road offers authentic, fair-priced Italian food, including a tasty homemade ravioli in mushroom cream sauce.
Video – Krabi’s Street Food and Market Scene
Practical Details – Transport and Accommodation in Krabi, Thailand
How to get there: Flights from Bangkok on Air Asia, 1-2-go, Thai Airways and Nok Air. Trains go to Suratthani, and then transfer by bus to Krabi.
Where to stay: Good Dream Guesthouse at 83 Uttarakit Road. Owned by American Bryan Rilinger, the guesthouse has nice, clean rooms from 200 BHT (fan) to 400 BHT (A/C). Free wifi (rooms 3&4 have best connectivity). Good food. firstname.lastname@example.org, 075 622993
Where to eat: see above
What to do: Most people use Krabi as a jumping off point to go to Ko Phi Phi, Ko Lanta, Ao Nang, Railey and other beaches in the region. In Krabi, a visit to the morning market on Hemthanon Road is colorful and tasty. Just walk around the streets, enjoying the feel of a laid back Thai southern town.