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Stir-fried water spinach, called pad pak boong, is one of the most common dishes in Thailand. Since water spinach is really cheap it's known as a poor man's dish, although this may not be the case in expensive tourist destinations like Phuket.

Pak boong or water spinach is also called river spinach, Chinese spinach, water morning glory, swamp cabbage, ong choy and kangkong. In Thailand, there are two main types of pak boong: Thai water spinach pak boong Thai also referred to as pak boong naa and Chinese water spinach pak boong jin. Thai water spinach has green leafs and purplish stems, while Chinese water spinach is bigger and all green.

Thais eat two types of water spinach.

Water spinach is a semi-aquatic tropical plant that grows well in damp soil and swampy areas. The hollow stem allows the plant to float on the water surface. Thai water spinach grows wild along the edge of ponds, while Chinese water spinach is cultivated on farms.

Thais like to eat fresh Thai water spinach with northeastern dishes, like papaya salad which is som tum in Thai. On the other hand, Chinese water spinach is usually stir-fried to make pad pak boong. Well, some Thais prefer a crispier texture and stir fry Thai water spinach at home.

You can order stir-fried Chinese water spinach in most made-to-order food and rice soup restaurants. The main ingredients are garlic, soybean paste and oyster sauce. Many garlic lovers enjoy this dish.

Stir-fried water spinach is called pad pak boong in Thai.

Stir-fried water spinach is not only delicious, but nutritious. Water spinach is rich in vitamin A, C, iron, calcium and dietary fiber. Since vitamin A is good for the eyes, Thai parents encourage their kids to eat pad pak boong.

When you order pad phak boong, don't forget to watch the chef cook which can be quite entertaining. By using very high heat, certain cooks set the water spinach on fire when putting it in the hot oil. This is why it's also called pad pak boong fai dang. Fai means fire and dang means red.

Cooking water spinach on very high heat in Thailand.

The vendors normally add fresh chilies in this dish since Thais like a zesty touch. If you don't eat spicy food, make sure you tell the cook by saying, "mai sai prik". Mai sai means don't add, while prik means chilies. Otherwise, pad pak boong fai daeng may set your mouth on fire...

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