Here I’m filling another request for a rare item that you won’t find anywhere in any restaurant outside Thailand. (Well I can’t find it myself. If you know of any restaurant serving this item, please let me know so I can keep the list.)
There are two reasons that you won’t find this item in “foreign” restaurants. First, not many people know about this delicious snack; it is pretty region-specific. I posted a picture of these on my Facebook page and instagram and even my Thai friends asked me what they are! That should be enough proof about their rare existence.
Second, this is more of a street food item. They are very simple to make, and so restaurants don’t normally serve them.
GraBong is a Thai tempura. It’s made of vegetables deep fried in flour batter. The difference from Japanese tempura is these are gluten free! The Thai don’t make the batter from wheat flour, but instead use rice flour. Also, the liquid to wet the batter is coconut milk, not plain water. There are also two other unique ingredients: shredded coconut and curry paste to add flavor.
Also, the way we cut the vegetables is very different, too. The Thais don’t fry big pieces of vegetables, but instead shred them into small pieces. And we haven’t even talked about the “type” of vegetables yet.
This is a regional Thai dish, as I mentioned earlier. It’s from the Northern cuisine. Originally this snack was of the “Shan” people, who called it “Khang Pong”, which in Shan language translates literally this way: Khang=pan, and Pong=golden. So Khang Pong simply means “golden fried in a pan.”
The Northern Thai people adopted the recipe and also “simplified” the name from Khang Pong to…Gra Bong! As I dug into the history of the dish, I was nearly on the floor when I found out how “gra bong” originated. Not because it was from the Shan people, but the way the Thais had morphed the name. This is because Gra Bong has a different meaning in Thai. It means a club or a stick. Yes, things like the nightstick that policemen use, or what you use to bat a baseball are called “Gra-bong” in Thai. Absolutely has nothing to do with “golden fried” as in the Shan language! But it’s sounds similar to Khang Pong, doesn’t it?
The reason I laughed is because I’ve been wondering about this for such a long time. I went to high school in the northern province of Chiang Mai, and Gra Bong was one of my most favorite items that I could get in the cafeteria at lunch. I never understood why this harmless little fritter would carry such an intimidating name like Gra Bong.
The vegetables used to make GraBong are Kobocha squash (Thai people call this pumpkin, or FuckThong ฟักทอง, meaning golden squash, Fuck=squash, Thong=golden. I know it sounded funny but hey…at least it’s golden), banana blossom, green papaya, bamboo shoots, taro root, sweet potato root, and I’m sure there could be much more. This time, for example, I tried it with carrots and it came out fine.
This is how I make my Gra Bong.
Rice flour 1 cup
Coconut milk 1 cup
Salt 1 teaspoon
Sugar 1 teaspoon
Shredded coconut 1/2 cup (You can use the dry one, but soak it in water before use. I used the frozen one.)
2-3 cups of oil, unless you want to do it as a pan fry, then you only need one cup or less of oil
Vegetables of your choice, cut in small pieces; this amount of batter would be enough for 2-3 cups of shredded vegetables.
I used all of these vegetables:
1 cup cut-up kubocha squash
1 cup banana blossom
1/2 cup of shredded green papaya
1/2 cup of shredded carrots
1) Cut or shred your chosen vegetables. Soak all the vegetables in water, separately of course. Note that banana blossom has to be kept in water mixed with vinegar after cutting to prevent it from turning dark.
2) Mix all the batter ingredients: flour, coconut milk, salt, sugar, curry paste and shredded coconut all together. Make sure that there are no dry lumps of the rice flour left in the batter. The batter will look very, very thick, like this.
This should yield about 1-1/2 cups of batter.
NOTE: As much as I like organic everything, in this case I don’t recommend using Bob’s Red Mill rice flour. It not ground fine enough, the way I like it. So go to an Asian market and get the rice flour that has been shipped from Asia; from Thailand or Vietnam is the most preferable.
3) Take the vegetables out of the water.
You will need about half a cup of batter per each cup of vegetables.
Mix them well. You want to see the batter coating all the vegetables nicely, like this. (Sorry my pictures aren’t so clear this time.)
4) Put oil in a wok and set it over medium to slightly high heat. Wait until the oil is hot before you drop the vegetables in. Try to clump the vegetables together before you drop them in the oil.
5) Flip each wad of vegetables once or twice, until they’re crispy but not dark.
How easy is that?
As a child I was under strict orders from my aunt not to eat Gra Bong after 3pm. You should follow that rule, too, because you will be so full you can’t eat dinner, that’s why!
Thanks to Nok Nittayaporn and Guzzie Ang for providing the original recipe. This recipe was developed from their recipes.