Thai Fried Sweet Potatoes with Sweet Chilli Dipping Sauce

When I was in grade school, my grandfather (whose birthday is coming up – Happy Birthday, Khun Ta!) and I had our weekly ritual. The two of us would walk to the nearest newsstand, about a block away from our house, to buy the weekend edition of the Bangkok Post.

Back then, the main section included an English crossword puzzle for advanced English speakers (Grandpa) and a small insert that featured a dumbed-down crossword puzzle for novice English learners (me). We would then spend the rest of the afternoon working on our respective puzzles, talking, and snacking. Some very meaningful and loving conversations were had during those moments which I always fondly remember.

Part of the ritual was buying snacks on the way home. We would make a stop at a tiny stall where an old lady sold all sorts of delicious fried things. She made two kinds of Thai fried bananas (her flagship products), fried tofu, fried taro, fried corn fritters, fried curry puffs, etc. Yai Kluai Khaek or Grandma Fried Banana (GFB henceforth) – as she was called – was quite a character. She never smiled and appeared to be in a perpetual state of crankiness. Yet, despite the less than enthusiastic customer service, there was a constant stream of people lining up to buy her fried goodies from dawn to dusk. Everything she made was that good.

I suppose when you’re as good as GFB, you can get away with a bit of self-deification. It matters not how you think the universe should work; when you stand in the presence of GFB, it’s her way or the highway. The proper protocol would be 1. get in line, 2. approach the stall once the previous customer leaves, 3. since GFB was hard of hearing, make your wish known to her loudly but by no means should you be yelling (you’re entirely responsible for knowing where the line between speaking loudly and yelling is), 4. wait for her to bag your stuff, 5. pay, and 6. get the heck out. That’s it. No comments. No small talks. Grandpa and I had watched in a mix of horror and amusement some new customers who, and whose ancestors, got yelled at — cursed, really — for making a protocol gaffe of telling GFB which pieces of fried bananas on the cooling rack they preferred.

Sadly, when I entered high school, GFB disappeared. They got rid of her stall along with everything else in that area to erect an office building. And all I have left is the memories. In the past few years, I have tried, sometimes successfully and sometimes unsuccessfully, to create recipes based on my semi-faint memories of the tastes and textures of GFB’s goodies. Without the dark brown oil (from repeated uses), the toxin leached out from the newspaper bags, and GFB’s culinary mastery, my versions will definitely fall short. But in the next few weeks, I will be posting GFB-inspired recipes that I consider to be close enough to the originals.

We started off with fried sweet potatoes just because it was Grandpa’s favorite. Originally, the fries are made out of Thai yams (which are firmer, more starchy, and less sweet than sweet potatoes) or taro roots. But I’ve found sweet potatoes to be an acceptable substitute. The fries, featuring textural contrast between the crunchy exterior (a combination of rice and potato/corn starch makes for ‘light’ and crunchy coating) and the soft and creamy interior, are traditionally served with a dipping sauce similar to what I’ve included here but with an addition of tamarind paste. I like my no-fuss version better, though.


33 Responses to Thai Fried Sweet Potatoes with Sweet Chilli Dipping Sauce

  1. Hornsfan May 15, 2009 at 11:47 am #

    These sound wonderful – sweet potatoes are just delicious with a spicy dipping sauce or seasoning. Can’t wait to see what else GFB had at her stall!

  2. doggybloggy May 15, 2009 at 12:23 pm #

    I want to type in all caps….wow these look so absolutely fantastic….

  3. 5 Star Foodie May 15, 2009 at 12:54 pm #

    Awesome – I love the coating on those sweet potatoes with coconut flakes and sesame seeds and the dipping sauce is delicious!

  4. Manggy May 15, 2009 at 3:56 pm #

    That is the cutest ritual ever! And that is the most delicious I’ve ever seen a sweet potato 😉

  5. don May 15, 2009 at 4:51 pm #

    Your sweet potato fries look great…I had to stop myself from taking a bite out of my laptop screen. After too many potato fries, I substitute sweet potato whenever the menu permits.

    That dipping sauce sounds great too..I’m going to try this technique with a squash that remains from my winter stash.

  6. Kelly May 15, 2009 at 5:33 pm #

    What a wonderful story to share with us! It made me smile, and I love it. I also love that recipe of yours. Those sweet potato fries look so tasty with that coating, and your dipping sauce … well, let’s just say I may have drooled a little. 😉

  7. Jenn May 15, 2009 at 6:40 pm #

    Nice lookin’ fries you for there!

    I’m saving that sweet chilli dipping sauce for next time I make sweet potato fries

  8. Fuji Mama May 15, 2009 at 8:37 pm #

    Ooooh, I cannot wait to make these! I remember having these a few different times in Bangkok. I’m looking forward to the fried bananas (hopefully you’re doing them), because those were also one of my favorite treats!

  9. natalie May 15, 2009 at 8:43 pm #

    yum! those sweet potato fries look great! i never thought to make a chili dipping sauce for them though!!

  10. May 15, 2009 at 8:52 pm #

    The batter is great! Coconut and sesame seeds? Mmm mmm. Considering our love for sweet taters, nothing can make them go wrong.

  11. Justine May 15, 2009 at 10:12 pm #

    ooh this sounds addicting!!

  12. Arwen from Hoglet K May 16, 2009 at 1:42 am #

    It’s funny how the grumpiest people often make the best food. I guess they can get away with a bad temper because of their talent. Sweet potato chips sounds good, and it’s handy for me that the batter doesn’t have wheat flour.

  13. sandy May 16, 2009 at 3:50 am #

    I am so excited about the fried food snacks – my mum is Thai and I’m constantly begging her to make me banana fritters or those sweet potato balls “kai noak garta” yummm! I’m definitely going to have to keep checking in on your blog 🙂

  14. Zita May 16, 2009 at 11:02 am #

    O…o.. my perfect snacks, sweet and fried…yum… gonna buy some sweet potato soon 🙂

  15. Cucinista May 16, 2009 at 11:26 am #

    I love sweet potatoes in all forms, but your mixture of hot sweet potato and sweet chilli sauce is making my mouth water already. And great story about GFB…

  16. Lorraine @NotQuiteNigella May 16, 2009 at 1:58 pm #

    Hehe isn’t it funny how every country has their own version of Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi? The fried sweet potatoes do sound lovely though and chili is such a good match for it!

    I wonder what happened to GFB!

  17. Kevin May 16, 2009 at 8:34 pm #

    Sweet potato fries are so good but then to coat them in coconut sounds even better. The dipping sauce just kicks it up another notch.

  18. Gloria May 16, 2009 at 9:31 pm #

    I found this on the FoodPhotoBlog and couldn’t resist printin the recipe. I love sweet potato fries but this one adds a whole new twist and interesting change. Thanks for posting it.

  19. oysterculture May 17, 2009 at 2:25 am #

    What a great story and what a special time to share with your grandfather. Memories like that are so special and what better way to refresh those memories these absolutely divine looking sweet potatoes. They look off the charts good.

  20. Tangled Noodle May 17, 2009 at 2:53 pm #

    It can be difficult to recreate something from wonderful memories because so many intangible variables were involved that can’t be recaptured. But perhaps the point isn’t in achieving the exact dish but enjoying the precious remembrances as you try to achieve it! It’s such shame that a local icon like GFB was supplanted for an office building.

    I love sweet potato fries and served with a sweet chili dipping sauce sounds great!

  21. Jorge May 17, 2009 at 11:55 pm #

    Would you marry me?!

    Anyway, I’m mexican, the local tamarind paste is always sweetened and has large chunks of seeds and pulp, since it’s eaten mostly as candy for children. Could you share some tips on how to make a thai tamarind paste at home?

  22. Leela May 18, 2009 at 1:14 am #

    Haha. That’s funny, Jorge.

    No. 🙂

    But yes on the tamarind paste request, though. A post on that is coming soon.

  23. Angry Asian May 18, 2009 at 4:58 pm #

    oh i adore this post! i heart all stories that center around grandpas and faint memories of yummy food.

    street vendor food is always so good in taste but also in just the whole process of ordering, walking the streets (in a non-hooker kinda way, of course) and lunching. <3!

    looking forward to see what other GFB concoctions you remember up! 🙂

  24. Sweta May 19, 2009 at 12:17 am #

    I love this-looks so good! BTW,is that you in the header?and is that a sari that you are wearing??

  25. Leela May 19, 2009 at 12:33 am #

    Sweta – Thanks. As for your questions, yes and yes. 🙂

  26. Jude May 19, 2009 at 5:00 am #

    If one were to add tamarind paste because someone bought the entire stock at PNA and need to use it up, how much should one add?

  27. the wicked noodle May 19, 2009 at 11:44 am #

    These look delicious! Sweet potatoes in any form are my husband’s favorite – can’t wait to try this!

  28. Leela May 19, 2009 at 4:00 pm #

    Jude – I would replace half of the sweet chilli sauce with the puree of tamarind pulp which I assume is what you got. The sauce will end up being more acidic. You may want to add some sugar and/or salt (for some reason, fish sauce just tastes weird to me in this particular dipping sauce). Just keep tasting and adjusting until it satisfies your refined Asian palate.

  29. Carrie May 20, 2009 at 1:13 pm #

    I’ve been really into sweet potato fries lately, but I can’t quite get them right at home. I never thought to add a coating…I’m going to try this out next time!

  30. lisaiscooking May 20, 2009 at 7:04 pm #

    The coconut flakes on the sweet potato sounds fantastic! The dipping sauce sounds amazing too.

  31. Steph May 21, 2009 at 2:25 am #

    We had our neighbors over for dinner and made these fried sweet potatoes for appetizer. They were gone in five minutes. SO GOOD!! Can’t wait to try more of your Thai recipes.

  32. Kara The Midgie July 3, 2009 at 7:29 pm #

    Wow. These look amazing. Since I can’t have regular potatoes, these will be perfect for me! :O

  33. Marilyn August 6, 2013 at 10:19 am #

    Made these last night with a Teriyaki Salmon with sriracha cream. My sweet chilli sauce disappeared so I used sriracha cream for a dipping sauce. It is 1/2 cup may0, 1 1/2 T. sweetened condensed milk and 1-2 tsp. sriacha. I put the chopped peanuts and cilantro on top and it was delicious! Thanks for a great sweet potatoe recipe. Everyone loved it!!!!