Say hello to the ultimate Thai comfort food – a simple fried omelette, Kai Jeow, served with Sriracha, the ‘real’ one . A classic go-to dish, so under-rated, so obscure (on the international Thai food scene), so simply delicious.
The widely beloved Kai Jeow is the Thai equivalent to meatloaf and mash potatoes in terms of comfort food and to peanut butter and jelly sandwich as the go-to meal that everyone knows how to make.
The key to good Kai Jeow is a hot wok and a generous amount of oil. No worries, just use decent-for-you oil such as canola. The other key is a good condiment – real Sriracha sauce. Yes, that’s right. Real Sriracha sauce to me is the one called Sriracha Panich (arguably the original sauce from the seaside town of Sriracha in Chon Buri province). It’s the one my father grew up with and still considers the ultimate chili sauce.
Best Chili Sauce Debate
An ongoing debate between my father and brother centers around which is the best brand of chili sauce, my father’s nostalgic favorite Sriracha Panich or my brother’s preferred Gold Label brand. Gold Label is a solidly good chili sauce but not a dominant brand in Thailand. In our hometown province, only one store carries this brand, and my brother would literally empty out the store of his favorite sauce every time he visits. Needless to say, our childhood home is stocked with at least two brands of chili sauce to appease both my father and brother.
As for me, I side with my father’s chosen brand, for taste and for sentimental value.
Will the real Sriracha please stand up?
Sriracha sauce (pronounced “See-Rah-Cha”) is named after the Thai seaside town of Sriracha in Chon Buri province. It was concocted as a dipping sauce, mostly for different kinds of meats. The brand become widely popular and has taken on the meaning of chili sauce itself (think Kleenex and Xerox, and in the U.K., Hoover). Nowadays, there are numerous competing brands of chili sauce, but Thais will still refer to them collectively as “Sriracha.”
Consistent with the original intent, Sriracha (and chili sauce in general) is still used almost exclusively as a dipping sauce for meats and, of course, Kai Jeow. It is rarely ever used merely to add heat to a dish (a la noodles, stir-fry, etc). Condiments for adding heat are typically bird chili in fish sauce (Prik Nam Pla), hot pepper in vinegar (Prik Nam Som), or crushed red peppers.
The American version of Sriracha (the omnipresent plastic bottle with the green top produced by Huy Fong) has taken on an all-purpose role of condiment and cooking sauce. U.S. cooks and chefs incorporate Sriracha in their recipes, a practice not common among Thai cooks – save the occasional use in some versions of fried rice.
*Note: The original Sriracha Panich ศรีราชาพาณิชย์ (panich means commerce) now markets the product under the name Sriraja Panich (with a “j”) since “Sriracha” was trademarked in the U.S. by Huy Fong.
But I digress.
Let’s talk about Kai Jeow.
There are many versions of Kai Jeow, from the plain Kai Jeow to one with scallions, with ground pork (kai jeow moo sub), “stuffed” (kai jeow yud sai) with a saute of ground pork, tomatoes and onions. The possibilities are endless, and endlessly delicious.
My favorite is the plain Kai Jeow. I also like my father’s version – adding a little chopped scallions to the wok a few seconds before the egg.
Kai Jeow is typically served with white jasmine rice. In Northern Thailand, where I am from, sticky rice rules, so I happen to love my Kai Jeow with sticky rice, eating with my hands like a true Northerner. (I always give my Bangkokian friends a hard time for using utensils to eat sticky rice. Sacrilege, I say!) There is something about the glutinous texture and slight sweetness of sticky rice that goes perfectly well with the savory golden crusted Kai Jeow. Bliss.
Kai Jeow in the simplest form has only two ingredients – egg and fish sauce. Different cooks have their different variations. I like to add a couple dashes of soy sauce to mine.
Here’s my version:
- Egg, 1
- Fish sauce, few dashes (say 1/2 teaspoon worth)
- Soy sauce, fewer dashes than the fish sauce (maybe 1/4 tsp). Golden Mountain Seasoning Sauce (a soy-based sauce) works great here.
- Break the egg into a bowl.
- Add fish sauce and soy sauce.
- Heat up the wok and add enough oil to coat bottom of the wok.
- While waiting for the oil to heat up, beat the egg with a fork (this is how we do it in Thailand, but a whisk is cool too) until frothy – we want lots of air bubbles.
- When the oil is hot (test it by adding a tiny drop of egg – it should really sizzle), slowly pour in the egg. It will sizzle and bubble away. Spread it around so it cooks evenly.
- When one side is golden brown, flip it, and cook the other side till done.
- Serve with rice (either regular rice or sticky rice) and ‘real’ Sriracha.
An ode to the beloved Kai Jeow, by the equally beloved Thai band Chaliang.