These are the dog days of summer, which is why I have not been writing as much as I should. I have holed myself up in Phuket with directives from my editor to update my book, but I have been unable to do any work, since it would impinge on my eating everything in sight in a bid to transform into Russell Crowe. I am only halfway there right now. Catch me in a few months, when I will look like I am auditioning for the lead role in a George Lucas biopic.
One thing I did manage to do was convince my friends to trek into the Old Town, where gorging on dim sum for breakfast is a thing. Everyone is familiar with dim sum (aka yum cha), but the experience in Phuket is unique. Because this is Thailand, most of the difference is in the sauces. The dipping sauce is thick, sweet and spicy, meant for everything on the table; when you don’t feel like that, you have the tart black vinegar known as zisho, ideal for the rolled rice noodles stuffed with minced pork, or the steamed pork dumplings crowned with bits of fried garlic.
Because of the island’s sizable Chinese population, Phuket is chock-a-block with dim sum places, some more reminiscent of the motherland than others. But for a real Phuket dim sum experience, few are more famous than Boonrat Dimsum . However, both Boonrat Dimsum shops are only open from 6-10am, which means a mad scramble into town unless, unlike us, you managed to get to bed nice and early the night before. The worry was that we would be unable to pick out the humble shophouse with the red sign on the road, but we needn’t have worried, since it was the only place completely mobbed with waiting customers.
Both branches have the same open shophouse setting, with the various offerings — steamed dumplings, various meatballs, stewed pork ribs, steamed buns — out in front for you to poke at and salivate over until your table is called. Despite the enormous queue, tables were quick to turn over — so quick, in fact, that my friends, who had opted for a quick snack of pig’s trotter on rice (khao kha moo) next door during our wait, had to cut short their pre-breakfast and hurry back.
(Photo by Christian Bauer)
Because we were just on the edge of closing time, there were only a few things to choose from: specialties like rice porridge, sausages, sticky rice dumplings, everything deep-fried, radish cakes, steamed stuffed buns and even chicken feet were all gone. Instead, we had to content ourselves with steamed pork, crab and shrimp dumplings, seaweed-wrapped minced pork, steamed rice noodles with pork, and numerous meatballs made from either fish or pork bits. It was still a substantial spread. My friends, who were Chinese Malaysian, said they had never experienced dim sum like it before, which is a very good thing to say because it gives you the choice to take it positively.
The next time I come, I will, obviously, come earlier. I might even come on a weekend, when yellow chicken curry with steamed buns are available. Who knows, I might even treat myself to the Boonrat “Gold” branch, where fried spring rolls and Western breakfasts are available (although why would you order a Western breakfast at a dim sum shop? It reminds me of those Thai seafood places that offer plates of sad, soggy fried chicken wings on limp lettuce leaves as a consolation prize for the one seafood hater who couldn’t be left at home).
And, of course, I will need to find more hungry friends.