The sum of my past travel experiences infuse every aspect of my life, like the echoes of memories I have written about in the past, my food journey is ingrained in me now as well. Much of my traveling centered on Asia over the years, and my taste-buds craved the fusion of flavors, sour lime mixed with a sweet sauce and the kick of spicy chili gently burning over your palate—Thailand. Or the toasted bread, tart yogurt and aromatic curries—India. The Indian food I sampled over the years still calls to me and is one of the single strongest reasons returning to India is on my shortlist for future travels.
But I find myself in Mexico now, and this was quite by design. After years of spicy flavors and pungent scents permeating my days in Southeast Asia, I wanted the fresh vegetables, tortillas, and tastes of Mexico. And it is this love the range of flavors that has me now choosing my taco stands based on the range of salsas offered on their toppings table—if I can artfully combine a mild but chunky pico with the thin, red, and incredibly hot salsa, top it off with diced onions and frijoles, well then life is good here in Mexico.
But as is always the case, those echoes pull to the surface cravings of the flavors of Asia, and when my friends here in San Pancho hosted a Thai food potluck night I dutifully took to my kitchen (I am endlessly happy to have a full kitchen, something my apartments in Southeast Asia never came with!) to make one of my favorite Thai dishes, yum kai dao, a spicy fried egg salad.
The dish is tasty, pretty (hey, presentation matters), and easy to prepare and once I successfully pulled it off, I thought it behooved me to share it. I am not a good cook (I get regular flashbacks to my cooking failure that was moutabel, an eggplant dish I loved in my Jordan travels), so if I can make this dish I give you a firm promise you can too. Now, no promises on the state of your kitchen afterwards (I had oil splatters on every surface—floor, stove, sink, coffee pot) but it was hit, everyone at the potluck was in love, so I share in the hopes that you too can enjoy a little Thai flavor in your life.
I chose this dish because it contains each of the key areas of the palate Thai foods are supposed to hit on—sweet, salty, spicy, and sour—and it’s simple to prepare. I have to keep stressing that because a complicated curry is beyond me, but this is perfect. The four areas of taste in Thai food really intrigues me a lot, and I made a study of them while I lived there because the food-travelers surrounding me often talked about the history and development of these foods within the context of Thai culture. The complex blending of flavors in many Thai dishes is not arbitrary, and I think that’s why those of us who like finding ethnic restaurants seek them out—other cultures have cultivated their taste-buds differently, and so sampling their dishes is truly like travel itself. It’s immersive. You can’t escape the range of flavors and they speak to a country’s history as much as the temples and language. Though I love Mexico, I welcomed a chance to travel back to Thailand for the evening. And so …
An Easy Recipe for Vegetarian Yum Kai Dao
I am no master chef here, but I adapted a few recipes I found on the internets, substituted to make it vegetarian, and then made a bit up as I cooked to make it similar to what I ate while I lived in Thailand!
4 large eggs
1 red or white onion (sliced super thin)
2-3 tomatoes (wedged, see photo)
coriander/parsley (a small bunch, chopped up)
oil for deep frying
optional: rice if you’re serving as a meal
Ingredients for Dressing:
3 tbsp soy sauce (calls for fish sauce but then it’s not vegetarian, so I substitute)
4 tbsp lime juice (squeeze it fresh!)
4 tbsp sugar (I successfully used a bit less, but sweet is a cornerstone of Thai food, so don’t skip it entirely!)
1 small garlic clove (crushed finely—this is not in the traditional recipe but helps enhance since no fish sauce)
chili to taste (calls for fresh but I used dried and it was tasty)
Add all the dressing ingredients together into one bowl, I added a lot of chili to the mix and let it sit and soak in the dressing while I chopped and cooked the rest of the ingredients and then took out half the chili’s so I didn’t blow the socks off of the potluck guests. Add chili to your taste—sadly, the first time Ana ate this dish in Thailand it came out as it is traditionally preparation, incredibly hot, and she would never go near it again. So when you’re cooking, spice it up to your own tastes, but know that it’s supposed to be a very spicy dish. And for the soy sauce, there are better workarounds for this if you have access to them (some Asian stores sell a tamarind paste mixture to sub for fish sauce), but my improvised version worked well enough for me.
Slice and dice your tomatoes, onions, and greens while your dressing is sitting (and soaking if you too added chilies).
Deep fry the eggs in very hot oil. You must have enough oil in the pan (an inch at least) to submerge the entire egg. Cook until the eggs are crispy on the edges, fluffy, and the yolk is fully cooked (a great tip I read online that worked is to constantly spoon the hot oil over the top of the egg so it cooks quickly and evenly on both sides). Let the eggs cool a bit and then cut them into large chunks (I also used paper towels to wipe off the oil, but the recipe definitely doesn’t call for that).
Toss everything together and serve. When I ordered this in Thai restaurants, it is served with a bowl of white rice, which I always desperately needed to cut the spice, but I have seen it served sans rice too.
And that’s it!
I brought this dish (I doubled the recipe) to a potluck last week here in Mexico and my friends gave me rave reviews (and not just flattery because they cleaned the bowl down to the last wedged tomato).
Have you tried this dish before or will you give it a go?! If you’re keen to try it, I promise that if I can manage to pull it off, you can too :)