Banzaan Fresh Market is a large market in Phuket’s popular Patong Beach area. The name is redundant as banzaan means “fresh market” in a Chinese dialect widely spoken in Southeast Asia. The market is located just behind Jungceylon Mall, a modern, multi-level shopping, entertainment and dining complex and the most well known meeting point in Patong.
During the day, the market’s stalls are brimming with all kinds of tropical fruits, plants and vegetables as well as fresh meats and seafood. The market is open seven days a week.
The action switches outside at night. Beginning at 18:00, the area in front of the market becomes a giant seafood restaurant. Visitors can peruse the many stalls selling an enormous variety of local delicacies, select their favorites, and have them cooked and served on the spot. The market and restaurants close at 21:00.
The process can be confusing. The first time you visit, it is best to go with a local or someone with experience. The assortment of seafood is staggering and includes many varieties of fish, Phuket lobsters, tiger prawns, eels, clams, oysters, octopus, squid, scallops – you name it. All of it is freshly caught. Some of the seafood on display is still flopping or squirming. Some is swimming in small tanks.
It is a seafood lover’s paradise. Once you find the items you’d like to eat, an attendant weighs and prices them and asks how you’d like them prepared.
Service is very informal. Plasticware, wooden chopsticks, and styrofoam plates is a fancy as it gets.
After a few trips to Asia, having fish served with head, tail and fins seems normal. The U. S. practice of removing all of that now seems fake.
I’m not sure, though, this is the lobster I selected. It is possible there could have been a switch during cooking. To avoid doubt, you might ask to have your lobster marked in some way before it is taken away.
Dining tables are not under roof. A light rain fell for three minutes or so during our meal. We just kept eating. The food was too good to let a few raindrops interrupt the meal.
Dining at Banzaan Fresh Market is definitely cheaper than at a local restaurant or restaurants at home but it is not dirt cheap. On the other hand, the ambience of the market, while unique and charming, doesn’t approach the standards of most restaurants.
Cost, of course, depends on what dishes you order and portion size, but a reasonable estimate for a filling meal is about $10 – $15. We splurged a bit. Our meal of fish, lobster, Tiger Prawns, regular prawns, oysters, rice, and beverages came to almost $20 per person.
The least expensive option is buying prepackaged “street food” for 150 baht (approximately $5) from vendors in another section of the market.
A Word On Street Food
“Street food” is now a tourist attraction in Thailand. It is advertised as a “must do” activity in many tourist publications. I overheard a woman who had just checked in with her family ask the desk clerk to recommend a spot for street food. It struck me as amusing.
Authentic street food is the food that many Thai people purchase on the street because most inexpensive apartments prohibit cooking. Many women earn money for their family by having small cooking carts they can roll out to the curbside from which they can prepare a few simple dishes to sell to passersby. Enterprises like those support Thailand’s claim to zero unemployment.
Although Banzaan Fresh Market serves authentic Thai food on the street, this is not street food as I’d define it. While the food at Banzann is cheap for tourists, it is much too expensive for most Thais to enjoy frequently.
Bangla Boxing Stadium
Banzaan is directly across the street from Patong’s Muay Thai boxing stadium. The stadium loudspeaker repetitively barks out the invitation to the night’s events. It brought to mind the monotonous droning of a state fair midway announcer. Warning! You may hear “Tonight, tonight, Bangla Boxing Stadium” in your sleep:)
The scene at Banzaan Fresh Market seems chaotic at first. Once you understand the process it is easy to enjoy a fantastic and inexpensive meal. Going with a local helps, but many attendants speak good English (other languages too probably) and will be happy to assist in identifying and selecting seafood and options for preparation. Next time I’d like to try the scallops.
The next post will report on a Thai barbeque buffet in Patong. These are also fun and inexpensive ways to experience the local culture.
Have you been to Banzaan Fresh Market? What is your definition of Thai street food?