One Salad, Four Names
Tao Kua is a regionally ubiquitous dish of the Thai deep south. It is a salad. A hearty snack, something locals there eat between meals. While Hat Yai and Songkhla people call it ‘Tao Kua,’ people in Surat Thani call it ‘Pak Bung Tai Rao,’ while Muslim folks know it as Ro Yor. This is one interesting dish that beckons you to travel more and explore the native dishes of Thailand.
Oftentimes, the name makes a dish. Case in point, this particular salad dish from the deep south of Thailand. The first name of this dish, at least in Hat Yai, is ‘Tao Kua.’
I first heard about this unique salad while doing a food research prior to our trip to the deep south. The so-called region is the furthest south of Thailand and it encompasses places like Hat Yai which is the major trading district of Songkhla province, the province of Satun, Trang, and Phattalung – all are as far as one thousand kilometres away from the capital of Bangkok.
I am an avid eater who considers herself quite well-versed in regional cuisines of my own country. But when it comes to Tao Kua, I was at lost. I never had one. Never saw one. And the name of it inspired me to click further for researching.
Tao Kua means ‘deep-fried tofu,’ a hearty snack and a salad that can be eaten all day between meals in Hat Yai and Songkhla areas. While Songkhla people call it ‘Tao Kua,’ people in Surat Thani call it ‘Pak Bung Tai Rao,’ and in Muslim kitchen, the name became ‘Ro Yor.’ I have also learnt that in Phuket, they have something quite similar and it is called ‘Hu Sae.’
One salad, four different names. I great dish to explore while down there.
In Hat Yai, though, we delved deeper into the dish. Tao Kua is a ubiquitous dish that is sold off the street. In fresh market, in pre-packed, ready to be bought for the hunger time later in the day. Tao Kua can also be included in the regular menu of a restaurant, but it still is a pre-meal. A snack, something hearty to eat before the main event.
A plate of Tao Kua is an assemble of textures. While deep-fried tofu is the main ingredients, the crunchy textures from fresh cucumber, flash-blanched morning glory and bean sprouts, plus the chewiness of rice noodle make up for a wholesome bite. Also, optional are stewed pork head, sliced, and a seven-minute boiled duck egg. Just awesome.
The flavours of the dish is enhanced by the dressing. Sweet, sour and slightly salty. Again, the tangy tamarind juice provides the base, thickened with palm sugar and flavoured with fish sauce or salt. The tangy crushed chilli in vinegar is also provided to taste.
In Bangkok, though, I found no place with a decent Tao Kua, even when we have so much southern restaurants around. May be this dish is deep in the local culture. Something you will need to travel all the way for. A new reason to hit the road, just to find the originality of the place in a dish.
P.S. Hat Yai is a great place for gourmands. Apart from Tao Kua, they are known for many delicacies – of Chinese and Muslim origins. As well as the southern Thai cuisine. This is a major trading district that should be on top of the list of any avid eaters.