Vegetarian Street Food in Thailand Isn't Easy -- But It's Tasty!

Thailand is a mecca for street food aficionados. Even in sleepy Ranong, there exists a wide range of great, cheap, and often mystery foods available on just about any street. Sometimes it's served from a permanent "restaurant", with the kitchen moved as close to the sidewalk as possible. Sometimes it's a temporary stand literally on the sidewalk. Other times is available from food scooters. Yes. Food scooters. Just like a food truck. Only... scooter!

Being a fan of all things food, I love street food. And honestly, I really don't care what it is I'm eating. Which is great for me in Thailand, as I have no idea what to call any of these items. I just point and say "garoonah", which I think means please. And then I hold out a fist full of bahts, trusting them to not to gouge me. (Oddly enough, that hasn't happen to us in Thailand. They're just too damned nice here.)

While I'm fine with a little (OK, a lot) of mystery food in my diet, that doesn't work out so well for the vegetarian in my life. (Hint: She's my wife.) She tends to stick to the sit-down restaurants with menus and a full kitchen where she has options. Luckily, there's one type of street food that works for her every time: Roti prata telur. It looks like -- and kinda is -- a fried crêpe filled with banana and egg. But it's much more complex and delicious than that.

 Eggs, banana, and a tub of orange lard. Only tasty goodness shall come of this!

Eggs, banana, and a tub of orange lard. Only tasty goodness shall come of this!

It starts with a fist-sized wad of dough unceremoniously ripped from a large plastic tub and smushed out to the size of a coffee lid. It's slammed down -- repeatedly -- to make a larger and larger pizza-esque ultra-thin disk that's placed on a well-lubed flat metal surface headed by LPG-powered flame from below. 

 Ok, Ok... but few things made with dough look appetizing in the beginning.

Ok, Ok... but few things made with dough look appetizing in the beginning.

As the dough bubbles, a mix of banana chunks and a beaten egg are added on top, with the un-egged sides of the circle getting folded in envelope-like, resulting in a dough square filled with raw egg and banana. Hungry yet?

 Eggs usually go directly on the heat, right? But who am I to judge...

Eggs usually go directly on the heat, right? But who am I to judge...

With the dough crisping from the scorching hot metal, a tablespoon of the orangest-looking butter (I still say it's lard) you've ever seen is added to the top, side, and underneath. Oddly enough, this is about the time the excess oil is getting scooped up and put in the oil reserve, ready for the next order. That's right: oil and butter are included in this healthy Thai street treat!

After a few minutes of flipping and frying, the spatula is used to perforate the square on the fold-up side, usually with a three-line perpendicular pattern, like some fat-dripping demonic version of tic-tac-toe.  

 Flipping and cutting tool in one!

Flipping and cutting tool in one!

When the browning of the dough (which has probably cooked the eggs inside) is deemed sufficient, the omelette-looking item is place on paper and dropped into a shallow polystyrene container, where it receives liberal applications of sweetened condensed milk and so much sugar that in windy conditions drifts could form. The carton is sealed and a small hole cut into one of the corners to let the steam escape. Because no one wants a soggy roti, amirite? 

 The creature on her apron appears startled, as if to say "Hey, that's too much sugar, lady!"

The creature on her apron appears startled, as if to say "Hey, that's too much sugar, lady!"

Serve piping hot, because you've got no choice: Even after a 10 minute walk, the near-perfect insulator that is the roti still retains enough heat to make the roof of your mouth wish it was dealing with pizza.

 Sweet, delicious, and healthy roti. Two out of three ain't bad.

Sweet, delicious, and healthy roti. Two out of three ain't bad.

We get one about every other day (and at only 20 baht each less, it's not like we're splurging). Because we've heard Thai food is good for you. And who are we to buck conventional wisdom?

Hey... maybe that's what we should add to the postcards next month: Roti drippings! You've got a few more hours to get on the list if you want one! I want pictures of your people licking your postcards in August!