The most versatile dish
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The most versatile dish

One reason for khao phad's enduring popularity is it can be made with just about anything

The most versatile dish
Fried rice with Chinese sausage.

Fried rice, one of the single most popular dishes in Thailand, has something incredible hidden inside. It has blended into all culinary cultures for a long time. Its form is very flexible, with no strict format, which allows chefs to design and change the dish the way they like. It is yummy and inexpensive. Everyone can make a fried-rice dish.

It is hard to pinpoint when exactly fried rice was made for the first time in Thailand. But 60 years ago, it was widely popular because it's convenient to eat and prepare, especially for train passengers.

At train stations in the provinces, vendors usually sold fried rice to passengers while the train was stopped. Fried rice with pork was wrapped with banana leaf and then wrapped again with a piece of paper. All were tied up together with a rope to which a cheap aluminium spoon was attached.

In the food-and-beverage car, hungry passengers could get ready-to-eat food there. Among the most popular was fried rice. The rice was mixed with pork, onion, tomato, egg and seasoning such as tomato or fish sauce. It was served with cucumber and a slice of lemon. Unfortunately, the taste was not very delicious. The fried rice was served on all train routes countrywide, and was finally regarded as the signature food for Thai train services.

Fried rice at restaurants is prepared with a method similar to the trains'. Start with frying garlic in oil, followed by onion, tomato and rice, in a pan. Ketchup, fish sauce and sugar can be added to make it more flavourful. The final stage is to put eggs and chopped onion leaf there. It is served with sliced lemon and onion.

Later, ketchup was replaced with soy sauce due to a belief that the tomato sauce contained fewer nutrients. Sugar, fish sauce and Chinese kale can also be added.

Fried rice with chilli paste and mackerel. Photos: Suthon Sukphisit

Fired rice is also a favourite among prisoners. It is common when relatives or friends visit criminals in a police station's prison. They take fried rice and iced black coffee to the wrongdoers. It is a normal practice from the old days.

It is believed that fried rice is a product of Chinese cooking culture. It is the kind of food used to test a chef's talent. Many documentaries show the skill of making fried rice in restaurants in China, where chefs throw rice into an extremely hot pan and shake it high above their body.

In a Chinese banquet, the must-have dish is fried rice served at the end regardless of the price.

Fried rice is made in Chinese restaurants with many techniques. Kale is cut in a square and put in hot water for only a few seconds. Salted fish cut in a square is fried together with Chinese sausage. Later, stirred egg is added into a hot pan with oil (duck eggs give redder and stickier texture), followed by rice so that the egg can perfectly cover the rice. Everything is put into a pan and stirred, then seasoned with salt, sugar, black soy bean sauce and chopped onion.

That is the traditional way to prepare a dish of fried rice. But fried rice can also be made with leftover food, such as with khao phad American.

Many stories have been told of how American fried rice was invented. Some said that one restaurant manager at Don Mueang airport fried some rice with ketchup, dried raisin and green beans, serving it with fried egg, sausage and a fried chicken wing. Others said it was made by a chef from the US army who was based in Thailand during the Vietnam War. He took all the leftover food such as fried egg, sausage and fried chicken wing and fried it together with rice.

Other popular variations are fried rice with shrimp paste and fried rice with green curry. Moreover, fried rice can be made with mackerel, pineapple, garlic and butter, spicy pork with holy basil and more. These are leftover foods in Thai kitchens that are adapted to become various new dishes, freely created with no rules. The development of fried rice has no end.

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