Phetchaburi had a flourishing economy and important links to Ayutthaya when it was the capital of Siam. The quality of art and architecture was such that its artisans were considered to be on a par with those in Ayutthaya.
After Ayutthaya fell and the Rattanakosin period began, Phetchaburi retained the artistic and architectural integrity that is still in evidence today.
As for Phetchaburi's food, there are many factors that contribute to the province's great variety. The geography ranges from deep forest and mountains in the west near the Myanmar border to coastal areas facing the Gulf of Thailand in the east. The province also encompasses many ethnic groups. In Ban Laem district on the coast, Chinese, Muslims, Mon and local Thais live together. In Khao Yoi district there is a community of Thai Song Dam, or Lao Phuan, who settled there as refugees almost 200 years ago. The inhabitants of Phetchaburi city are mostly indigenous Thais whose ancestors settled there a very long time ago and their culture, traditions, art and cuisine have been strictly preserved and passed down.
The city is surrounded by the largest agricultural area in the Central Region, and the agricultural products, which are mostly sent to Bangkok, include sugar palms, limes, mimosa-like cha-om leaves, sour tamarind paste, tender tamarind shoots, the herb called krathin, cucumbers, mara khee nok (miniature bitter melons), tamlueng vines, chillies, basil, lemon grass, kaffir lime and various kinds of aubergine. So considering the range of landscapes, ethnic cultures and culinary ingredients found in Phetchaburi, it is no surprise that the cuisine encompasses a great many different kinds of dishes.
Much of the food cooked in Phetchaburi city is similar to that prepared throughout the Central Region, although the fish and other seafood comes from the sea rather than from rivers. But there are also local Phetchaburi dishes that cannot be found anywhere else. Kaeng hua tan (made from the fruit of the sugar palm) seems to have originated in Ban Lat district, where sugar palms are most numerous. The white pulp of immature sugar palm fruit is cut into thin slices and boiled in salt water until it loses its bitterness. Curry seasonings are then mixed with dried fish and fried in coconut cream, and the cooked fruit is added. When it is done the curry is seasoned to balance its salty, sweet and chilli-hot flavours.
Phetchaburi has its own version of khao chae (rice served in chilled, scented water accompanied by condiments), a dish that can be eaten at any time of day. Phetchaburi-style kui tio, or rice noodle dishes, can be made with either pork or beef, and are served in a thick, red-coloured broth. A feature that differentiates them from other noodle dishes is the chillies they are served with, which come in three forms: extremely hot chopped raw chillies, milder chillies pickled in vinegar, and finally a very spicy chilli sauce.
Many traditional central Thai dishes are eaten in Phetchaburi, including phanaeng (a thick, rich, coconut cream curry) made with pork or beef, kaeng khua (another thick coconut cream curry) with either dried fish or dried cockles with tender tamarind shoots, kaeng khio wan nuea (a spicy coconut cream-based beef curry) and kaeng pad poo (a spicy coconut cream-based crab curry).
Native Phetchaburi foods generally have strong flavours but are not overly hot. In some, like the phanaeng dishes, sweetness is prominent. Food ordered in almost any restaurant in Phetchaburi will have the same balance of flavours, and the level of quality is always high.
Especially interesting places to eat in Phetchaburi include Khao Kaeng Phatchaya on Ratchadamnoen Road in Phetchaburi city and the stall of a nameless vendor who sets up next to a row of shophouses on a pavement across from the Phetchaburi Sanitation Department near the market. The menu includes the fermented rice noodles called khanom jeen served with a choice of three sauces _ nam phrik, nam ya or chao nam _ or with kaeng khio wan gai (chicken curry).
All are really delicious, but the place is usually ignored by tourists who are generally unwilling to sit on the low stools set on the edge of the sidewalk. The dishes are served with chopped luk taling pling (a very sour fruit) instead of pineapple, something not found anywhere else.
Two curry shops near Khao Yoi cater to travellers on their way to Hua Hin or Cha-am, and both are equally good. One is called Ran Mae Luan, the other Ran Tu Phochana. There is also an excellent beef noodle shop on Tha Karong Road, roughly across from the Esso petrol station in Phetchaburi city. The noodles are delicious but the kaeng khio wan nuea (beef curry) is even better.
There are other places well worth a visit outside of town. One serving local seafood dishes is near the entrance to Bang Taboon Bay on the bank of the Taboon River before the bridge, called Ran Rim Thalay. It serves kaeng khua poo ma kap bai chakhram (crab curry with chakhram leaves), pad pet pla krabain (spicy, stir-fried sting ray), and yam hoi khraeng (sour-hot cockle salad), hoi lawt phat tom hawm (shellfish fried with spring onion) and pla thu sod thawt krathiem (mackerel deep-fried with garlic).
There is another shop that specialises in the food of the Thai Song Dam ethnic group. To get to it, enter Nong Ya Plong district and before you reach Khao Yoi (the road to Bangkok), continue for about two kilometres until you reach an irrigation canal. A short distance along the bank of the canal is the Thai Song Dam village of Ban Huay Tha Chang. There you will find Ban Pa Song, a village home with tables and chairs set up under a granary.
The food is very good. There are spicy stir-fries made from frog or catfish, kaeng pa kraduuk moo awn (a spicy curry without coconut cream made with pork cartilage), moo sam chan khluk see iew thawt (pork belly meat flavoured with soy sauce and deep-fried) and yam nuea sot kap makhuea (a sour-hot beef salad with aubergine).
The dipping sauce at Ban Pa Song is a special treat, made with ground, dried chillies mixed with a wonderfully fragrant spice, nam pla and shallots used by the Karen people called prik phan.
These are just a few of the many dishes that make up the varied by distinctively central Thai cuisine of Phetchaburi province. At the weekend or on a day off, when the allure of delicious and unusual food beckons, Phetchaburi should be at the top of your list.