Unravelling Street Food
Longan and Stuffed Eggs
Most of you already know Thailand is known as ‘The Land of Smiles’. However, when walking through the produce section of your local supermarket, or past one of Pattaya’s many street stalls that specialize in fruit, or if you happen upon one of the roving fruit vendors that ply the city’s sois, you can’t help but notice the delicious and inexpensive fruits of this nation are indeed plentiful and diverse. Because of its geographical position, its warm tropical climate, and its rich soil, Thailand surely must also qualify to be called ‘The Land of a Thousand Fruits’.
The list of unfamiliar and exotic fruits available is long, and without further ado, this month we’ll take a look at the Longan, or as it is known in Thai, Lamyai, which in Chinese means ‘Dragon Eye’.
Longan - ‘Dragon Eye’ or Lamyai
The Longon is not native to Thailand. It was initially brought here by Chinese immigrants and the fruit now flourishes in Thailand’s Northern provinces. This fragrant, sweet and juicy fruit grows in clusters on trees. On the tree, the fruit’s outer-shell resembles a cantaloupe. However, after harvesting, the Longon’s skin will darken and turn brown as it ripens.
A fully ripened Longan should have a leathery, bark-like shell that is beige to light brown in color, and thin and firm to the touch. A pale skinned Logan is generally considered unripe. The higher moisture content of an unripe shell makes it softer and more difficult to peel. While a ripe Longan’s shell is easily removed by simply squeezing the shell until it cracks (sort of like shucking a peanut or cracking open a sunflower seed), or it can be peeled like an orange. It is best to start peeling near the stem. Once you’ve separated a small portion of the shell, the fruit will usually slide right out.
Beneath the skin, you will find a translucent, whitish flesh, that when split in half exposes a small, glossy, black seed in the center. The appearance of the halved fruit very much resembles an eyeball --- hence its nickname of Dragon Eye. Keep in mind that both the skin and the seed are not edible and should be discarded.
The mildly sweet, succulent, and juicy flavour of the Longan is not unlike that of a grape, but the pulp of the fruit is slightly denser and a bit firmer than an ordinary grape. Longan’s are usually eaten fresh as a snack or mixed into many Thai desserts, and can also jazz-up the flavor of a salad.
The Longan fruit is low in calories and high in vitamin C. In fact, just a half cup of shelled Longans provide approximately eighty percent of the daily recommended dose of vitamin C. Longans are also an excellent source of antioxidants which help protect the human body from both cancer and heart disease.
Thai Stuffed Eggs or Khai Yat Sai
Khai Yat what? Okay, repeat after me, “KHAI – YAT – SAI.” In Thai, these words mean ‘stuffed eggs’. Now you’re probably wondering how to stuff an egg. Well, to be honest, you’ve got me there. But that’s not really important, because a Khai Yat Sai is actually a Thai style omelet that tastes great whether you eat it for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Essentially this dish is a stir-fry, wrapped up inside a paper thin parcel of fried egg that is then served on top of a bed of steamed rice. Like most Thai stir-fries, the stuffed eggs or omelet is quick and easy to prepare and readily available from most Thai street vendors who specialize in rice-based dishes.
In most instances the filling inside the omelet consists of minced pork, chopped onions, diced tomatoes, and whatever assortment of seasonal vegetables that the cook chooses to throw in. These can be comprised of broccoli, baby corn, bell peppers, spring onions, carrots, cauliflower, etc. All the ingredients are stir-fried in hot oil along with garlic, coriander, fish sauce, and salt and pepper. What makes this particular stir–fry special is its slightly spicy, yet sweet tomato flavored sauce mixed into the filling while it is cooking. The combination of oyster, tomato (ketchup), and chili sauce combine to give the filling sort of a Thai/Italian tomato sauce flavor.
After the filling has been cooked, whisked eggs are poured into a separate hot, oiled wok and swirled around until there is a paper thin layer of cooked egg, roughly ten inches in diameter. In just a matter of seconds the egg is cooked, and the filling is added. The edges of the egg are carefully folded into a rectangular shaped envelope, and the entire omelet is laid on a bed of steamed jasmine rice.
For my money, the stuffed omelet is probably the most filling of all Thai stir fried dishes. I can honestly say that I have never walked away from one of these omelets hungry. Like all Thai stir-fries, minced pork is interchangeable with chicken, beef and seafood, or it can be substituted with additional vegetables to make a vegetarian omelet. As an added bonus, Khai Yat Sai goes remarkably well with any of your favorite sauces, such as chili, sweet chili, tomato, H&P, A-1, or even BBQ sauce!
Khai Yat Sai is also a great dish for those foreigners who do not like spicy Thai food. Virtually every Westerner I have introduced this dish to, who normally shun anything spicy, have thoroughly enjoyed it. As always, the size, price, and actual contents of a Khai Yat Sai will vary, but I’ve yet to eat one that I didn’t like.
With steamed rice, a stuffed omelet will usually cost between 40 and 70 baht. However, if the omelet and rice combination turns out to be too much for you to eat, you can order the omelet without rice and save yourself about10 or 15 baht.