Little Shop of Nostalgia - Review of Kopitiam Café and Restaurant, Old Phuket Town, Thailand
Have you been to Old Phuket Town, Thailand?
If you’re in Phuket Town, there’s a charming little restaurant that’s worth a visit: Kopitiam Café and Restaurant. Situated inside one of the historic rowhouses (built in the late 19th century) in the town’s old quarter, this restaurant is a perfect place for those who enjoy tasty, affordable home-cooked food and want to learn a quick history lesson!
The cuisine is traditional Thai with a touch of Chinese influence. Like many lifelong residents of Phuket Town, the restaurant’s owner, Wilai Bumrungwong, is of Hokkien Chinese descent. She uses family recipes (passed down from generations), and fresh local ingredients, to create the wonderful dishes on the restaurant’s menu.
Located on the famous Talang Road (with Sino-colonial style homes, herbal medicine shops, temples, shrines), Kopitiam is quite easy to find, especially with its vivid green door and beautiful red lanterns on the verandah. Inside, the décor is reminiscent of an old Chinese tea parlor: dark teak tables and chairs, antique wood screens, old-fashioned ceiling fans and light fixtures, fading silk banners with gold Chinese writings, etc. A dozen or more black-and-white photographs hanging on the wall, along with a few rusty vintage mirrors, complete the Old World look and charm of the dining room.
The menu, however, is in modern Thai and English. You can’t help but notice a long list of hot and cold beverages (coffee, tea, beer, soda) on the front page. Kopitiam, after all, is a coffee shop and a favorite hangout of many Phuket Town locals where they gather to visit over a cup of coffee or tea. At Kopitiam, coffee and tea are not served in cups but in small vintage glassware - a classy touch! The waitress recommended a drink made of beetroot and dragonfruit juice - one of several Kopitiam’s intriguing herbal drinks. Served in a tall glass with ice, it's sweet, a little tangy, and with just a tiny hint of mint this drink is so refreshing, perfect for handling Phuket’s infamous hot humid weather!
There are plenty of mouthwatering main fares on the menu including shrimp cakes, chicken green curry, deep fried pork and steamed grouper with black beans. You will also find a good selection of pad thai dishes and Hokkien-style fried noodles with pork or chicken. Vegetarians not to worry, Kopitiam offers some great vegetarian choices, like vegetarian spring rolls or stir-fried tofu with vegetables and even a vegetarian version of the popular tom yum goong traditional Thai soup.
Again, we took the lovely waitress’ recommendation and ordered a couple of dishes from the lunch specials of the day (posted on a large blackboard near the cash register): noodle soup with shrimp and stir-fried chicken with pineapple and cashew nuts.
The soup was excellent. A steaming bowl of rice noodles - topped with succulent shrimp, mustard greens and carrots - in a delicate clear broth garnished with slivers of scallion and ginger. Simple yet delicious! The soup was big enough for two people (we always share food at restaurants) and according to the waitress, there was no MSG used in the broth.
The stir-fried chicken was also very nicely done: generous amount of chicken meat, along with onions, carrots, pineapple chunks and cashew nuts, all perfectly cooked in oil and light soy sauce seasoning. A sprinkle of chopped red chili pepper and scallion completed the dish. The aroma was fantastic! Flavorful and spicy enough to arouse the taste bud. Served with steamed jasmine rice and fresh cucumber slices, this delightful dish was also more than enough for one person to enjoy.
After lunch, out of curiosity, we browsed the black-and-white photographs on the wall. Impressive snapshots of Phuket Town in the old days when mining and maritime trading were the main commercial activities. Some of the photos were amazing! We did learn a few things about the history of Phuket Town from these photos. There’s even more history to be discovered if you walk toward the back of the restaurant, where there is a large antique bookcase with a fascinating collection of vintage knick-knacks (books, maps, vinyl records, jewelry boxes, tea pots, etc.) on display.
Kopitiam Café and Restaurant is a true gem. The combination of great food, modest price, gracious service, and nostalgic ambience makes this place unique and memorable. Interesting facts: Kopitiam means “coffee house” in Hokkien Chinese language. The Bumrungwong family also owns a herbal medicine shop next door and another restaurant named ‘Wilai’ on the same street.
Lunch for two costs 270 Baht (about $8USD) including drinks. Don't forget to purchase some home-made snacks like dried banana (with or without added sugar) for only 25 Baht (about $0.75USD) at the cash register so you can continue to enjoy the flavors of Kopitiam later while exploring Phuket Town. The only regret we had was that we did not try any of Kopitiam’s tasty coffee drinks because, well, we are not coffee drinkers!
Kopitiam Café and Restaurant,
18 Talang Road, Old Phuket Town, Thailand
Hours: 11AM-10PM Monday-Saturday. Closed Sunday.
ABOUT THIS HUB
The author and his partner recently spent a month in Thailand. They stumbled upon Kopitiam one day while trying to find a 200-year-old Buddhist shrine in Phuket Town. All photos were taken by the author with a SamsungPL120 DualView 14.2MP Digital Camera.
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Copyright © 2012 Viet Doan (punacoast)