We all have our own little stories that we choose to believe, and this one is mine: We have Vietnam War-era American GIs to thank for two of the more beloved dishes in our culinary lexicon. One is a hastily-stirfried hodge-podge of sliced processed hotdog, ham, raisins, peas, and rice, lubricated with a generous dollop of ketchup and topped with a fried egg, sunnyside-up. This dish, a big ol’ smile on a plate, is generally known as “American fried rice” and can be found just about anywhere you can find a wok and a cook, and sometimes not even the cook. Just bring your two hands and a bottle of oil.
The other, because of its Vietnamese roots, is more prevalent in the Isaan region and known as “kai gata” (or “kai kata” or “kai gataa” or “kai kataa” … sometimes, you just have to close your eyes and point a finger and hope that it’s darn near close enough). Eggs are broken into a small metal pan and baked or cooked gently atop a grill, accompanied by sliced gun chieng (sweet Chinese sausage), veggies and moo yaw (which, according to Chef McDang, was born as a Chinese cook’s approximation of European pate at the court of King Rama IV). And don’t forget the “bread” — usually a disarmingly sweet white bun, cleaved into two, buttered thickly and stuffed with ham, moo yaw and/or sausage. The story is that this dish was the closest an American GI could get to an American breakfast. What I see it as is 1960s-70s Asian-American fusion (just like me!): hearty and welcoming, pragmatic and resourceful, just what is needed sometimes to start what once threatened to be a deadly dull day.
Happily, you can find this dish in Bangkok. You just need to know where to look or, barring that, know who to pester. In my case, it’s my friend Winner, who knows the culinary ins-and-outs of Banglamphu like no one else. Gopi Hia Gai Gi (37 Siripong Rd., 02-621-0828. There is another one at the Wisut Kasat intersection), alongside stuff like Chinese-style flat stuffed noodles, dim sum and, uh, steak, serves up a mean kai gata, drizzled with minced pork and peas and, of course, accompanied by the mini white bread bun stuffed with moo yaw. Best of all, it’s open from 7 am to 8:30 at night — a chance at kai gata at any time you think you might need to restart your day.