Khanom Khai Nok Krata ขนมไข่นกกระทา – Thai Fried Sweet Potato Balls

Thai fried sweet potato balls – another one in the GFB-inspired series of fried goods. Please note that the light sprinkling of powdered sugar is my own heathen touch which you would never see done to this old-fashioned snack in the motherland. My fellow Thais, please accept my apology for this sacrilege. For those readers who are related to me, please don’t leave chastising messages on my voicemail.

This is another incident wherein sweet potatoes are used to replicate something that is originally made with Thai yams. This has resulted in the texture being a bit different and, due to the slightly higher sugar content, the exterior taking on a darker shade of brown more quickly in the frying pan. But I think these are delicious and quite close to what you would find on the streets of Bangkok.

Khanom Khai Nok Krata (ขนมไข่นกกระทา) is what we call these fried dough balls in Thai. The khanom (ขนม)part is, for lack of a better way to explain, an identity marker alerting your attention to the fact that the ‘thing’ whose name this word precedes belongs in the dessert/snack category. (I’m sure there’s a clearer and better way to explain it, but it eludes me at this moment.) Khai nok krata (ไข่นกกระทา) means quail’s egg – a telling moniker indicating the size of these little cuties. Though it’s difficult to tell from the pictures, each of these fried balls is indeed the size of a quail’s egg.

However, the similarity between these fried sweet potato balls and actual quail’s eggs extends beyond size; the outer shells of these fried balls, when pressed, collapse and crack in a similar manner to eggshells. When the dough balls hit the oil, they puff up a little. The inside becomes light and airy (almost hollow) whereas the outside forms very thin and crispy shell. The flavor is only mildly sweet. They are not exactly dessert, but more of a snack — something you pop into your mouth while strolling in the park.

According to one of the Thai cookbooks which I have inherited from my mother, the crispiness of these fried balls is due to the use of limestone water (a common ingredient in Thai kitchens back in the day when betel nut chewing was in vogue). To mimic the alkalinity of this ingredient which would be hard to find these days in Bangkok let alone Chicago, I used baking soda. In my perhaps biased opinion, though the end results aren’t as spectacular as the original, they are most definitely more than acceptable.

[Note added 5-22-09: As pointed out by Sandy, one of my commenters, please note that these fried sweet potato balls need to be consumed fresh off the wok. Sandy is absolutely right; they don’t keep at all and cannot be reheated. Thanks, Sandy!]

Khanom Khai Nok Krata ขนมไข่นกกระทา – Thai Fried Sweet Potato Balls
Makes approximately 120 3/4-inch balls
Printable Version

1 1/4 pounds sweet potatoes
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups tapioca starch
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (Any gluten-free flour can also be used.)
2 teaspoons baking soda
Room temperature water
*For better results, omit baking soda and water and use limestone water instead.

  • Bake the sweet potatoes until cooked through. Peel off the skins, mash the potatoes, and leave the mashed potatoes to cool off completely and dry out a little. (You could boil or steam them, but I’ve found that baking is the best cooking method for this recipe. This is somewhat similar to how you prepare potatoes with which you make gnocchi. Dry, flaky riced potatoes require smaller amount of flour to form a smooth dough and result in lighter gnocchi.) You don’t want to skip the cooling and the drying as it would result in gummy, heavy, and sticky end results as opposed to crispy, light, and airy.
  • Once the mashed sweet potatoes have cooled, measure out exactly two cups and put it in a mixing bowl. Add in the flours, baking soda, salt, and sugar; mix lightly with a wooden spoon. Add water to the mixture a little at a time. You need just enough water to form a ball of dough. Mix as lightly as you can; do not knead.
  • Make 3/4-inch balls. You should end up with about 120.
  • Prepare the frying pan and oil. The oil shouldn’t be too hot. (If the dough balls become browned right away once they hit the oil, turn down the heat a couple of notches. You want to allow these balls at least 20-30 seconds in the oil for them to puff up properly and become light and crispy without being overly browned.)
  • Once the dough balls are in the oil, use a wired “spider” to squish them hard against the bottom of the pan and move them around constantly allow the surface to be evenly browned. Continue to do this for 2-3 minutes. After that, the dough balls should be evenly browned and hollow inside and ready to be fished out onto a rack or a paper towel-line plate.
  • Serve immediately. A sprinkling of powdered sugar is considered unorthodox and completely optional. If you have a cranky Thai purist in your immediate vicinity, powdered sugar may not be the brightest idea.
  • 40 Responses to Khanom Khai Nok Krata ขนมไข่นกกระทา – Thai Fried Sweet Potato Balls

    1. Jenn May 21, 2009 at 8:25 pm #

      Anyting with sweet potatoes is a plus in my book. I could snack on them all day, if I could!!

    2. Sweta May 21, 2009 at 8:33 pm #

      Yummy-these look great!! Kinda reminds me of gulab jamoons!!Maybe it’ll be okay to let them soak in sugar syrup like jamoons?

    3. doggybloggy May 21, 2009 at 8:58 pm #

      these looks o gobble-up-able…you know I would want at least 5….

    4. duodishes May 22, 2009 at 12:12 am #

      Our lovely sweet taters back in action. They are really doing what they need to do to get us hungry!

    5. Lorraine @NotQuiteNigella May 22, 2009 at 3:02 am #

      Leela, these look amazing! I love how crispy golden they look but how soft the inside is. That texture combination is my favourite. Thankyou so much! I think that these will help me get over my deep frying fear! 🙂

    6. Jorge May 22, 2009 at 3:13 am #

      Beautiful, really. Limestone is actually not that hard to find. Red limestone is, though. I found a website that may interest you

      The’re a similar dessert in nicaragua called “buñuelos”, and it sometimes includes mashed plantains in the batter. They’re always soaked in sugar cane syrup and are typically served in december during religious holidays. I can’t see why dusting these beauties with powdered sugar would be so sinful. Thanx a lot for the recipe!

    7. 5 Star Foodie May 22, 2009 at 3:45 am #

      Oh, these do sound wonderful! Can’t wait to try!

    8. dp May 22, 2009 at 3:46 am #

      Oh gosh! They look delicious. I so love Thai desserts, but do get to enjoy them as often as I like. They generally require more work than I have the patience for (although this seems much more manageable). I’m going to pass this onto my mom. Maybe she will make them for me when she comes to visit this summer 🙂

      You don’t happen to know how to make khanom chun?

    9. Leela May 22, 2009 at 4:06 am #

      Thanks, everybody.

      Sweta – You got me thinking. Except for the size, these would be very similar to Kulab Jamuns indeed, though perhaps not as spongy (which means they may not hold their shape in syrup the way Jamuns do …?).

      Jorge – Thanks!!! 🙂

      dp – You gave me a blogging idea. Khanom Chan would be fun to make. I see it as something most non-Thais wouldn’t enjoy, though. But I could be wrong.

    10. sandy May 22, 2009 at 9:50 am #

      *dies* my faaaaaaaavourite. i actually made them last week, but totally bastardised the recipe i think. used cornstarch in place of potato starch because i was too lazy. 🙂
      another thing to note is that these do not keep at all – so you have to eat the whole batch. ;D

    11. Hornsfan May 22, 2009 at 11:41 am #

      these sounds so amazingly delicious, sweet potato and fried!!! how could anyone chastise this?

    12. Su-Lin May 22, 2009 at 5:55 pm #

      These are so cute! Definitely going to try this!

    13. Kelly May 22, 2009 at 7:20 pm #

      Well, I have to say the way you describe these fried treats is making me really want them! Love the pic of them frying.

    14. helen May 22, 2009 at 8:41 pm #

      These bring back memories. My mother made these, with red bean paste in the center. This was back in the 80s, in Vancouver, and these treats were pretty exotic for all the neighbourhood kids. They loved them.

    15. Philomena May 22, 2009 at 11:11 pm #

      These look great – I’m excited to try them. The photo second from the top is particularly beautiful. Thanks!

    16. The Faux Gourmet May 22, 2009 at 11:32 pm #

      Aren’t these often grilled as well? Also with taro & corn variations? Or am I thinking of something entirely different?

      Mmmm. The memories.

    17. Leela May 22, 2009 at 11:39 pm #

      The Faux Gourmet – No, these are always deep-fried. You were probably thinking the grilled taro balls and yam balls. Those are very good too, though a lot heavier/more dense in texture. I love all street snacks. Can’t think of anything I won’t eat with the exception of fried bugs. By the way, what a great blog you’ve got! Will have to explore more.

    18. oysterculture May 23, 2009 at 1:11 am #

      I don’t care what you call them as long as I can try some – they look incredibly tantalizing. Thanks so much for all the information around these sweet orbs of goodness, I learned a lot!

    19. Darien May 23, 2009 at 1:36 am #

      Your blog is so amusing. I especially love the post where your anarchal blood rises in opposition to Ferran Adrià’s anal-retentive order. Vive la resistance.

    20. Leela May 24, 2009 at 9:19 pm #

      Sandy – Thanks for the reminder that these don’t keep. I’ve added the note to the text. Don’t you just love it when you know certain foods don’t keep and cannot be reheated? That’s a perfect reason to eat the whole batch in one sitting.

    21. pigpigscorner May 24, 2009 at 10:54 pm #

      oo I miss this snack! yum yum!

    22. Justin May 25, 2009 at 3:26 am #

      these look so good

    23. Kevin May 26, 2009 at 1:49 am #

      Those look really good! Great way to enjoy some sweet potatoes!

    24. Kamran Siddiqi May 26, 2009 at 2:36 am #

      These look sooo good! I can’t wait to try this recipe. Thanks for sharing!

    25. Mel @ May 27, 2009 at 6:34 am #

      These look to die for! I’m so glad I found your blog. I’ve always wanted to learn more about cooking Thai food. 🙂

    26. Guide to Bangkok Hotels September 25, 2009 at 9:44 am #

      It’s look like Donut, your picture make me want to test it after i go to Thailand next year…Thank you for your food post…

    27. shaz November 9, 2009 at 5:19 am #

      Hi there, I just found you while on a recipe hunt for this sweet potato snack. Had some from a market stall while on holiday in Thailand – been craving it since! Thanks for the recipe! Cheers from Sydney.

    28. Melissa December 17, 2009 at 6:07 pm #

      Living in Thailand for 10 years or so, I actually prefer them a little on the gummy chewy side. At least that’s how most street vendors make them.

    29. Simonne March 15, 2010 at 11:02 am #

      wow this sounds easy..
      I’m goin to try it.. let me get hold of this tapioca starch 1st 😛
      Thanks for sharing the recipe n the detailed instruction

    30. Erica April 6, 2010 at 5:22 am #

      Just got back from Thailand and have been looking for this recipe! Can’t wait to try it…I could have eaten these for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

    31. R.McCord October 25, 2010 at 6:56 pm #

      I recently had these in BKK near Wat Pho. The old lady making them had a serious line building up. We had no idea if we would like them but the line told me that I HAD to at least try them. She had plain, pandan coconut, and peanut butter. OMG they were delicious. Hot out of the oil..WOW!! my mouth is watering at the thought.
      I will definitely be playing around with this recipe. I have my Red lime paste in front of my right now.

      Thanks Leela, this is my favorite blog EVER!!!

    32. Leela October 25, 2010 at 7:05 pm #

      R.McCord – Peanut butter!!!!! I’ve got to visit Wat Pho next time I’m home. Thanks for the heads-up. 🙂

      The kind of yam they use in Thailand is different from the yam/sweet potato that’s commonly found in the US, so the texture will be slightly different. This is close enough for me, though. Hope you like it. With the lime solution, you’re more than good to go!

    33. radite November 10, 2011 at 6:56 am #

      It used to be my favorite Sunday snack during my stay in Bangkok. I used to get two bags from a hawker below BTS Siam, on my way to an afternoon movie at Scala theater nearby.

      Thank you for posting the recipe. I miss these little guys 🙂

    34. Vika February 4, 2012 at 2:22 am #

      I wanted to make those, but am a little confused. The ingredients say “potato starch”, but the picture shows the tapioca starch. Which one should I use? Thanks

    35. Admin February 4, 2012 at 2:30 am #

      Vika – Can’t believe nobody had caught that until now. It’s indeed tapioca starch. Thanks for pointing that out. Fixed now.

    36. Anonymous May 12, 2012 at 8:31 am #

      Is there a big difference in texture if I use potato starch instead of tapioca starch?

    37. Admin May 12, 2012 at 1:34 pm #

      Anon – I doubt it as potato starch is not as high in mucilage as tapioca flour.

    38. Anonymous July 5, 2012 at 8:13 pm #

      Hi – what kind of oil do you use to fry these? They look delish. And your site is very interesting and well written. I’m sending my friends your way.

    39. Admin July 5, 2012 at 9:14 pm #

      Anon – Thank you! Any plain vegetable oil will do: corn, safflower, sunflower, etc.

    40. Freddy July 23, 2012 at 9:50 pm #

      Oh my god! I have been looking for a recipe for these forEVER! Having lived in Bangkok for 5 years, these were one of my most favourite treats from the street vendors. Thank you for helping me snag a little piece of home. 🙂