Visitors to Thailand will notice that many familiar Western and Eastern vegetables are available here in one form or another. Altogether, Thai vegetables are not as exotic as the fruits are. However some do stand out distinctly from the rest and should be sought after.
Popular Thai vegetables
Chinese Kale: also known as morning glory, the dexterous vegetable ‘pak kannah’ is used in innumerable Thai dishes for colour, flavour and texture. It is the star of some stirfry dishes like hmu tawt krob pat pak kannah – crispy pork with kale in oyster sauce.
Eggplants: Thailand is a country that uses all kinds of different ‘makrua’ in their dishes. Curries often have a couple varieties in them at once; there are small pea–sized eggplants that pop in your mouth, as well as medium, round, egg–shaped ones. Long eggplants are roasted for a spicy dip with sticky rice.
Thai Pumpkins: the Thai are crazy about their pumpkins, called ‘fak tong’. They are used in main courses as well as desserts. In main dishes expect to see them fried in chunks with egg and garlic. For dessert the Thais like them steamed with sweat egg custard in the middle.
Fak Kiow: another Thai vine vegetable is this hard green gourd, whose peeled inner flesh cooks up like firm zucchini. They are not so common in restaurants, but their long shelf life makes them a key ingredient in numerous regional dishes throughout the country. It is another essential Thai ingredient the people definitely love. Seek out the spicy, red soup called ‘gaeng fak kiow’, and try not to giggle when you say it either.
Buap: this is an odd vegetable that when peeled is like a zucchini in texture and flavour, but more closely resembles a cucumber.Buap is stir fried with scrambled eggs and usually a few bits of pork, making a great mild dish served over rice.
Pak Bung: this is a Thai green that is often poorly translated as ‘swamp vegetable’ instead of the more appealing ‘water spinach’. Visitors to Thailand are missing out if they don’t try pak bung fai daeng a delicious stirfry of pak bung, garlic, chilies and soy bean sauce that makes a giant flame as the cook tosses it in the air.
Bitter melon: called ‘maraa’, this is indeed a bitter melon. Soups and stirfries take on the sourness which is said to be medicinal. Many dishes actually balance out the taste with the addition of salty and savoury ingredients.
Daikon Radish: this large root called ‘hua chai tao’ (good luck saying that one!) is used in a variety of dishes in Thailand. It is used fresh to flavour light soups, and also preserved for use as a soup garnish once again. The tuber is also sliced and or mashed before being added to many other dishes.