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What’s for breakfast in Thailand?

Frying pan egg in Nong Khai

The signature way to stir a Nong Khai pan egg as it fries

In Nong Khai, the border town between Northeastern Thailand and Vientienne, Laos, their local breakfast specialty might remind readers of home. Nong Khai pan egg is two eggs cracked into a tiny round pan, with the whites carefully scrambled while the yolks are left whole. Pan egg is served inside the pan, topped with sliced Chinese sausage and a small Laos-style baguette. Fried in in margarine made from coconut oil, the corners of the egg have a slightly-sweet crunch, and the yolks of these local eggs are buttery and golden. Enjoy pan egg with a cup of hot, smokey Thai coffee and, of course, with a splash of naam prik.

Most Thai breakfasts, though, are not so familiar to foreigners. Learning to think of chilies, lime, curries, and pungent soups as breakfast foods challenges many first-time visitors to Thailand. Even some adventurous eaters still prefer to eat more familiar foods first thing in the morning that remind them of home. Watching locals linger over a steaming bowl of soup in the golden morning light, though, makes it worthwhile to pry yourself away from soggy toast and jam in a hotel lobby.

Like most of Asia, Thais do not have set breakfast dishes – at home, people are likely to eat leftovers from the night before. Breakfast is certainly not the “most important meal of the day” in Thailand, and many people eat light or skip it entirely. With that in mind, though, some foods do dependably show up in the morning markets, and so are good examples of typical “breakfast” foods. Many of these stands also open up in the evening as late-night snacks.

Jok, Thai rice porridge with shrimp and shredded ginger

Jok, Thai rice porridge with shrimp and shredded ginger

A bowl of filling, comforting jok is about 30 baht ($1)

One typical breakfast food is a thick rice porridge called jok. This is similar to the Chinese dish congee, which is a typical breakfast across much of Asia. Jok is made from broken rice boiled in water or broth, then enriched with minced pork balls, sliced chicken, or poached shrimp, and often a raw egg lightly cooked in the hot porridge. Diners flavor their jok with additions like sliced ginger, crispy noodles, chopped scallions, cilantro leaves, and condiments like fish sauce, chilies, and vinegar. A bowl of filling, comforting jok is about 30 baht. Jok also has a reputation as a hangover-cure, and many jok shops are open all night to serve people coming home from a night out. Stands in Thailand commonly serve khao dtohm, or boiled rice soup, alongside jok. Khao dtomh is made from whole, cooked grains of rice boiled in broth, rather than the smaller grains used to make jok.

Serving a bowl of jok

Serving a bowl of jok at the morning market

Since they are made from two pieces of dough, pathongko are associated with romantic love

The fried yeast donut patongco is another common breakfast food. Squeezing two slips of dough together before deep-frying them creates patongco’s distinctive x-shape. Since they are made from two pieces of dough, pathongko are associated with romantic love in Thailand. Fried dough like patongco are common across China and Southeast Asia, often served dipped into soup or rice porridge. In Thailand, patongco is served with a green pandan custard, alongside a cup of hot Thai coffee, Thai tea, sweetened soy milk, or sweet ginger tea. This mix lets you fry patongco at home.

These are just a few of my favorite breakfast foods, and there are a lot more to try. When you come to Thailand, do you try local breakfasts or stick with your standard from home? If you are adventurous, what is your favorite Thai breakfast?

Kaitlyn MooreAbout the Author, Kaitlyn Moore:
Kaitlyn is originally from North Carolina but moved to Chiang Mai, Thailand, so that she could eat more noodles and avoid snow. She’s been abroad for over a year, with occasional stops in other parts of South and South East Asia.

All Images © 2011 Kaitlyn Moore

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