Here’s what you can expect for breakfast in Thailand.
Breakfast. What springs to mind? If you’re a Westerner, most likely you’ll have a few staple breakfast dishes – foods that you wouldn’t usually eat for your evening meal, but have the exclusive honour of being your first meal of the day. On a weekend, or when you have a little more time, you might go for the ‘Full Monty’, which will include eggs done the way you like them, bacon, sausages, grilled tomatoes, mushrooms, baked beans and toast. If you’re in a rush, you’ll probably chuck back a bowl of cereal or a yoghurt, or perhaps some toast and jam. If you’re not watching your carbs, you may enjoy a continental breakfast with some muffins, croissants and other pastries, and if you’re on a health kick, fresh fruit and muesli may be your kick-start to the day.
Most of us wouldn’t think to have cereal for dinner, or a roast for breakfast, and in the West, dishes are confined to their designated meal times. Now while there are dishes that are popular for breakfast in Thailand, a local would think nothing of having a spicy curry for their morning meal. But, here are some of the most popular dishes a Thai would enjoy to start their day.
If there’s one food that immediately pops into mind as a Thai breakfast, it’s the thick rice porridge known as joke. It’s made of short-grain rice that’s boiled until it turns into a thick oatmeal-like porridge. It’s served piping hot with an egg cracked in the middle, some pieces of pork for flavouring, and garnished with slices of ginger and parsley. Joke would be the equivalent of a Western-style morning bowl of cereal, and you’ll see vendors setting up early to sell it, catching those on their way to work.
KhaotTom (rice soup) is closely related to joke, but instead of short-grain rice, normal long-grain Thai rice is used. The grains are boiled in water with flavourings, until they’re soft and floating in a ricey soup. Khao tom includes similar Thai breakfast toppings as joke, such as pork, eggs, ginger and parsley, and even seafood.
If joke is the on-the-dash cereal of Thai breakfasts, then khao neow moo ping is the energy and protein equivalent of ‘sausages and eggs’. A few satays of fatty grilled pork with a little packet of sticky rice is easy to eat on the go, and is a great way to start off a busy day in Thailand.
Those that enjoy a sugar boost for breakfast should keep their eyes and noses open for a vendor selling the Thai doughnuts called patongo. This slightly sweet blob of dough is deep-fried, forming a crunchy outside and a soft, fluffy centre. It’s served with a sweet custard dipping sauce or sweetened condensed milk. Breaded deep-fried sliced banana is also a great morning snack, and cheap too, at only about 20 baht for six big pieces. Little backed goods such as waffles with various fillings, are popular too.
Thailand has a strong Chinese heritage, so no doubt, the food has been influenced by Chinese ancestors. Dim sum dumplings are a popular breakfast food, including the steamed buns and the greasy pork dumplings.
Little banana-leaf packages of sweet, sticky rice are great on-the-go morning snacks. The rice, with a smoky flavour from being cooked on the open grill, sometimes encases banana or sweet red beans. You’ll find many different variations of this, and sometimes, the rice is cooked in bamboo too.
Eggs are served in so many ways in Thailand and very popular is an omelette, often filled with minced pork or seafood. But for a muscle-building breakfast, try kai luak, which is basically a soft-boiled egg served in a shot glass, and accompanied by a fresh cup of coffee.
From early in the morning, you’ll find vendors standing over hot coals preparing little chicken or pork satays, or various types of sausages and meat or seafood on a stick – food on a stick is the best Asian invention; no cutlery required.
If you’re after a healthy breakfast, there’s no shortage of fresh fruit vendors, who’ll present your purchase neatly chopped and in a bag with a wooden skewer used to pierce the fruit for eating. Usually only around 15 to 20 baht a portion, there’s no reason not to get your daily fruit dose.
Like the rest of the world, Thailand has fallen into the fast-food trap, and every Family Mart and 7-Eleven will sell a selection of off-the-shelf-and-into-the-microwave breakfast meals. There’ll always be an urn of boiling water so you can buy your pot of instant noodles, rice soup or joke, fill it up and walk away eating your breakfast on the go. You’ll also find grilled sandwiches that the friendly teller will pop into the toaster for you, as well as over-processed filled sandwiches, cakes and muffins. But with so many great fresh options available, such as homemade joke or some fresh fruit, there’s no need to go the fast food route, as the fresh options are equally as fast to be served.
Of course, if you’re staying at one of Samui’s many beautiful upmarket resorts, chances are that a buffet breakfast is included in your rate. Here you’ll get a spread of both Western and Asian breakfast dishes, so you can really mix it up and try a bit of everything.
No matter what you have for breakfast, remember that it’s the most important meal of the day, so having a nourishing meal in the morning can start your day on a good note. Thais will seldom skip breakfast (or any meal for that matter), and they’re one of the happiest nations in the world. Is it because they have a hearty breakfast? Who knows. Could be. But it seems to work for them, so grab a bowl of joke, some Thai doughnuts or a couple of satays and start your day on a delicious note.
Rosanne Turner (As written for the Samui