Unravelling Street Food Egg Omelet or Kài Jieow
During my ten or so years in the Land of Smiles, I’ve always had a keen interest in staying nourished for a reasonable fee. To accomplish this, I waded into the arcane world of Thai street food, often with delicious, disastrous and unexpected results. The byproduct of one of my more successful Siamese food forays was an unassuming egg dish or more precisely…an omelet, known to the Thai people as Kài Jieow. When translated into the English language, those two Thai words will read, “Egg Omelet”.
If you’ve ever eaten at a Thai street-side food stall or inside one of the Thai-style food courts found in the basement of most shopping centres, then this Thai-style omelet made from just a few simple ingredients may have caught your eye. The kài jieow is a staple in the Thai diet. It can be consumed alone as a snack or light lunch, or as a meal when placed on a bed of steamed Jasmine rice. It can also be employed as a side dish and served along with other Thai stir-fries, curries and soups. Regardless of how it’s served, the plain egg omelet seems to taste best with a liberal dose of chili sauce which, despite the name, really isn’t spicy at all. In actuality, chili sauce is more like a less sweetand more savory ketchup or tomato sauce.
In its simplest form, the kài jieow is comprised of a couple of beaten eggs, fish sauce (nam bpla), finely cut green onions, a crack or two of white or black pepper and a splash of fresh lime juice. Depending on the venue or the cook, the egg omelet may also include minced coriander and a sprinkling of flour. All of the minced, chopped and diced ingredients are mixed with the raw beaten eggs and the whole concoction is poured into a heavily-oiled and extremely hot wok. For lack of a better term, the omelet is flash-fried and the overall cooking process in the hot oil takes less than thirty seconds per side.
Taste-wise, a kài jieow is bursting with flavor. The acidity provided by the lime juice helps to keep the eggs nice and tender and it adds just a hint of sourness.
Before you tuck into a Thai egg omelet, you should be aware that a kài jieow in any form is drastically different from its more familiar French or Western counterpart. Besides the fact that the Eastern and Western omelets are both made from eggs, they have little in common with each other in regard to how they are prepared or served. If you’re expecting a Western-style omelet, which is light in color and soft and creamy through the middle, don’t be surprised by the appearance of the kài jieow. When a Thai omelet is made and cooked properly, the egg mixture turns a golden brown on the outside and the inside puffs up all light and fluffy, while the entire omelet looks like a big, thick and round egg pancake. If flour has been incorporated into the raw egg mixture, then the edges will become slightly crispy, which is one of the hallmarks of a well-made kài jieow.
Part of the beauty of this simple Thai dish is that it goes with just about everything. Although a Thai onlooker might be horrified, you can dress it up with any other ingredient you fancy just like any Western-style omelet. Think tomatoes, mushrooms, crab meat, cheese or bacon to name but a few. In fact, the Thais have devised a similar yet dissimilar omelet based on this principle. They call the upgraded omelet Kài Jieow Moo Sap, which roughly translates into “Egg Omelet with Minced Pork”. As hard as it is to believe, the kài jieow moo sap is even more delicious than its cousin, the plain Thai egg omelet. The Thai egg omelet with minced pork is identical in every way to the plain Thai egg omelet, except for the fact that it contains the added flavor from about half a cup of minced pork.
On a final note, I should add that there is another very common Thai omelet called Kài Yat Sai (stuffed omelet) which is vastly different from either the kài jieow or the kài jieow moo sap. Therefore, to ensure that you receive the correct omelet, you need to be careful and precise in the language you use when ordering any Thai style omelet from a limited or non-English speaking server or cook.