“Khaw pad gai,” Ja, my Thai friend I had met at UNC, said to me. I repeated it, hoping my tones were right, but as soon as I the words came out of my mouth, the Thai name for chicken fried rice escaped my memory as well.
Thankfully she wrote it on a slip of paper so I could look at it right before I ordered. Ja had guided me around Bangkok my first few days there, but now I was on my own.
I had walked by a street vendor near my apartment a few times, and quite a few people were always sitting in the red metal chairs to prove that this vendor was doing something right. I decided that this would be the spot where I would order my first Thai dish by speaking Thai, all by myself.
I quickly read the now crumpled piece of paper with the magic words before approaching the cute, skinny, older Thai cook. I said, “Khaw pad gai,” to her as clearly as a week-old ex-pat living in Bangkok could, and sat down.
I wasn’t too worried about maybe saying it wrong and getting the wrong dish, since I hadn’t found a Thai dish I didn’t like yet. But I wanted to feel like maybe I was fitting in to my new life by ordering lunch all by myself like a big girl.
After a few minutes, she brought me a white plastic flowered plate heaped with rice, chicken, tomatoes, green onion and egg bits all mixed together and held in a tight embrace with cilantro, lime, fish sauce, a bit of sugar and some Thai peppers I sprinkled on top. Cucumber slices decorated the edge along with a metal fork and spoon.
Just what I ordered.
I smiled with contentment and ate every spoonful very slowly just to savor my first score in Bangkok street food.
Then when I got up to leave I asked the woman, “How much?” I expected her to say 30 baht ($1-ish) because that was what I usually paid for street food.
“20 baht,” she said in broken English and gave me a huge smile like she thought I was the cutest, clueless foreigner ever and wanted to give me a break. I smiled back, dropped her the 20 baht and became a regular from that day on.
And today not only can I say khaw pad gai without thinking, but I can cook it too.
Khaw pad gai is simple, and perfect if you have leftover rice from the night before and want to revitalize it. I love to add some spice to it through naam plaa prick (read about it in the recipe), but you can have it spice free as well.