Unravelling Street Food
By Brian S.
In Pattaya you only need to walk just a few meters down any soi to encounter the local food vendors dispensing a wide variety of fruits, desserts, snacks, noodles, stir-fries, and yes, even scorpions. In many instances, the food is totally unfamiliar, and if there’s any signage, it’s usually in Thai. Thai ‘street food’ runs the gamut from the common to the exotic, and sometimes even the disgusting.
For many Westerners’ their food often looks mysterious and sometimes inedible! Because of this, many hungry farangs, out of fear or ignorance overlook the startling variety of street food Pattaya has to offer and head for the nearest burger joint, chip shop or pizza parlor instead.
To help better understand the secrets of Thai street food, the Pattaya Trader will do a feature each month on the seemingly endless array of Pattaya’s exotic culinary delights.
Dragon Fruit or Kaeo Man Kon
First of all what exactly is a dragon fruit and is it edible? In answer to the first question Dragon Fruit is a beautiful fruit that is grown in Southeast Asia, Central and South America, and Israel. Dragon Fruit is in fact a cactus, and comes in three colors, two having pink skin, but with different colored flesh (white and red), and one with yellow skin and white flesh.
Thai Dragon Fruit has a bright pink skin with green petal like stalks. The flesh is white, speckled with edible tiny black seeds. In regards to texture, the flesh is juicy, slightly crunchy. It is very sweet and tastes like a cross between a kiwi fruit and a pear. The fruit is low in calories, loaded with vitamins B6, B12, and C. It is high in zinc, phosphorus, and calcium, and it is an excellent source of fiber and antioxidants. Its only drawback is that it has a high sugar content.
To select a ripe Dragon Fruit, look for one with a bright, even colored skin. It should be firm, but should give a little when pressed by a finger or thumb. Avoid any that have blotchy skins, dry and brittle stems or petals, or those that are soft and mushy. An overly hard Dragon Fruit will ripen in a day or two.
To eat the Dragon Fruit, simply cut it in half lengthwise, separate the flesh from the skin by running a spoon around the circumference, trim away any excess skin and then cut it into bite-sized cubes. By the way, the skin is not edible!
If you want to ask, “Do you have some dragon fruit?” in Thai, say “Khun mi kaeo mang kon mai.” To convey politeness remember to use the word kha (for women) or krap (for men) at the end of the sentence.
Spicy Fried Pork with Basil Leaves or Phad Krapow Moo
Phad Krapow Moo (pronounced pad ka-pow moo) is probably my personal favorite Thai stir-fry dish. You can walk up to just about any Thai food stall that serves rice dishes and say, “Ow krapow moo,” which means, “I want spicy fried pork with holy basil leaves.”
One of the advantages of this ubiquitous and versatile Thai fast food dish is that it doesn’t have to be made exclusively with pork. It can be made with chicken (gai), beef (nua), shrimp (gung), fish (pla), or if you are a vegetarian, vegetables (pak; peut pak), that has been either minced or cut into bite-sized pieces.
Besides being really delicious, fried pork with basil leaves is fast and simple to make, and the spiciness can be dialed up or down to suit your individual taste. The ingredients used will vary from stall to stall, but they primarily consist of ground or diced pork, chopped garlic and chilies, sugar, fish and soy sauce, diced onions and Thai green beans and a handful of fresh Holy Basil leaves. All of this is stir fried in oil on a hot wok and served on top of a bed of steamed white, jasmine rice.
Traditionally this dish is served with an egg fried sunny side up, but with slightly crisp edges and a soft yolk. But you need to order the egg separate by adding the words “kai dao” to your original order.
I have been eating Phad Krapow Moo, Kai Dao almost everyday and I seem to never get tired of it. There is just something about the combination of salty, spicy, and savory flavors of the pork, red chilies, and seasoning when mixed with the fresh vegetables and the aromatic basil leaves and garlic, especially when it is topped off with a fluffy fried egg.
Like the ingredients, the price and portion size, as well as the amount of meat used will vary from food shack to food shack. The average cost is generally about 30 or 35 baht without the fried egg. For each fried egg or kai dao that is ordered, will set you back an additional 10 baht from most street vendors. Unless I am absolutely ravenous one order with the egg, usually fills me up. If you are really hungry order two fried eggs.
At 35 to 45 baht, spicy fried pork represents an excellent value for the money when purchased on the street. Most western style restaurants in Pattaya include Phad Krapow Moo on their menu, usually listed as Stir Fried Pork with Garlic and Basil or Fried Chili and Basil Leaf with Pork, or a variation thereof. However, if you order this dish inside of a restaurant, you will almost always pay from 100 baht to as much as 200 baht for virtually the same thing that can be had on the street for much less.