Stir-Fried Chinese Water Morning Glory – Pad Pak Bung Fai Daeng (ผัดผักบุ้งไฟแดง)



Pak Bung* Fai Daeng (ผักบุ้งไฟแดง ) is one of a few Thai street foods that can be made at home very easily, quickly, and with great results. The ingredient list is short; so is the preparation time. Containing no meat and featuring only one main ingredient, the dish costs very little to make. You can’t say this about most of the famous items you find on the streets. When friends who have never cooked Asian food their whole lives ask me to teach them an easy dish to make, I show them how to make Pak Bung Fai Daeng. It’s that easy.

In fact, Pad Pak Bung Fai Daeng is so ordinary and so easy to make that brilliant marketing minds have figured out how to make it appear extraordinary and more complicated than it really is. How? They make the dish fly and give it a new moniker, “Flying Pak Bung” (ผักบุ้งลอยฟ้า).

It’s quite entertaining, though; I’ve got to admit. But, oh, what a waste of food it can be sometimes. Kids, don’t try this at home.


The Chinese influence of this spicy stir-fry is undeniable. In fact, most stir-fried dishes in the Thai repertoire have been influenced by the Chinese. The method of cooking (in a wok over extremely high heat**) is Chinese. The seasoning ingredients are commonly use in Chinese cuisine. Even the main ingredient itself, Ipomoea aquatica, is called in Thai, Pak Bung Jiin, which is literally “Chinese Pak Bung.” Most of the time, though, it’s labeled “Ong Choi” or “Ong Choy” (蕹菜) at your local Asian grocery store. The generic Thai name of this vegetable is Pak Bung, but the designation “jiin” (Thai for “China/Chinese”) is sometimes added to avoid confusion with Pak BungThai (Thai Water Morning Glory or Thai Water Convolvulus). This photograph shows Thai water morning glory in the middle and Chinese water morning glory right next to it (to the right). Notice that the (hollow) body of Thai Pak Bung is a bit larger than its Chinese cousin. The two are similar, but not entirely interchangeable. The kind used in this dish is the Chinese variety which also goes by Chinese morning glory, Chinese watercress, Chinese water morning glory, Chinese water spinach, etc. in addition to Ong Choy or Ong Choi, mentioned above.

I’ll always regard Pad Pak Bung Fai Daeng with fondness, because its main ingredient, Pak Bung Jiin is the first vegetable my hopelessly brown thumb and I have ever grown from seed successfully (5th grade), and it is the first farm (i.e. a small plot in my grandma’s back yard) -to-table dish I’ve ever made from scratch (also 5th grade). Don’t let the “aquatica” in Ipomoea aquatica or “water” in Chinese water spinach lead you into thinking that you need to grow this vegetable in a pond; you don’t. You can even grow it in a deep indoor plant pot provided that you allow them enough sunlight. This vegetable grows very easily and quickly.

Thai-Style Chinese Water Morning Glory Stir-Fry (ผัดผักบุ้งไฟแดง) Serves 4 (with steamed rice or plain rice porridge)
Printable Version

Garlic and chillies are smashed and left whole so as not to be too overpowering.

  • Make sure you have a woklarge enough to give you room to move the vegetable around.
  • Wash 1 1/2 pounds*** Chinese water morning glory, cut it into 3-inch long pieces, spun bone-dryor drain it very well, and place it in a large bowl.
  • Pile on top of the water morning glory the following ingredients:
  • 1 tablespoon salted soybean paste 1 tablespoon fish sauce 1 tablespoon oyster sauce 1 teaspoon sugar 1/4 cup chicken broth, preferably unsalted 4 large cloves garlic, smashed and left whole 4-5 red bird’s eye chillies, smashed and left whole [You can use green chillies. But using red chillies makes it less likely that you will accidentally eat whole chillies whose color blends into the green background. The chillies as well as the garlic are there to flavor the sauce, not so much to be eaten, although that doesn't mean you can't eat them.]
  • Set the wok over high heat***. Once the wok is hot, add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil.
  • Once the oil begins to smoke, dump the vegetable and the seasonings into the wok.
  • Stir quickly to coat the vegetable with the oil and the sauce; it should take less than a minute for the vegetable to be tender-crisp and thoroughly coated with the sauce.
  • Once that happens, transfer the stir-fry from the wok to serving plate immediately. Do not allow the stir-fry to stay in the wok beyond that point as the residual heat will continue to cook the vegetable beyond the tender-crisp stage thereby killing both the perfect texture and the beautiful, vibrant green color.
  • You can toss the stir-fry across the room, if you want. I don’t recommend it.
  • [Note: You can also replace Chinese morning glory with the same amount of other green vegetables the most suitable of which include: broccoli florets, sliced savoy cabbage, Chinese broccoli/kale, and water mimosa (if you're lucky enough to find it). Curly leaf or baby spinach, in my opinion, is nota good substute; its texture is too fragile and it releases too much moisture into the sauce diluting the flavor.]

*Or Pak Boong. I’m just not a fan of using “oo” to represent a short u vowel.

**The “Fai Daeng” (literally “red fire”) in Pak Bung Fai Daeng indicates the (red-hot) blazing flame over which the dish is cooked.

***This may look like a lot of vegetable, but it cooks down by a lot. What starts off almost spilling over your wok will end up barely filling your serving platter.

23 Responses to Stir-Fried Chinese Water Morning Glory – Pad Pak Bung Fai Daeng (ผัดผักบุ้งไฟแดง)

  1. Anonymous October 29, 2010 at 6:53 pm #

    THANK YOU!!! This was one of my favorite dishes while traveling through Thailand and you confirmed my Ong Choi guess when I tried to make it at home.

  2. apostcardfromthailand October 30, 2010 at 7:29 am #

    I’m curious why you call this “flying”? Surely ลอยฟ้า is more like “floating in the sky” – rather like ลอยเมฆ

  3. Leela October 30, 2010 at 3:06 pm #

    postcard – As you can see, the dish travels rapidly through the air; it doesn’t merely stay suspended or move slowly in the air, cf. Superman flies; he doesn’t float (though he can).

    So I use “flying,” because it’s a more accurate description. The Thai moniker “ผักบุ้งลอยฟ้า” is a misnomer which becomes apparent only upon closer scrutiny. To render it literally would be convenient, but not very helpful.

    Interestingly, a variant “ผักบุ้งเหิรฟ้า” exists. “เหิรฟ้า” unequivocally indicates “flying,” making this variant much better than the other. Unfortunately, it’s nowhere near as commonly recognized as “ผักบุ้งลอยฟ้า.”

    [Regarding "ลอยเมฆ," the term is very archaic and literary that I doubt it's even used in the current vernacular. Doesn't mean you won't see it listed in some English-Thai dictionaries, though.]

  4. OysterCulture October 31, 2010 at 2:25 am #

    What a wonderful sounding dish. I’m going to have to seek out where I can source that green. You’ve shown me another recipe that I must try sooner than later. I have some serious catching up to do on your blog. I am behind but do not want to miss anything, but savor instead.

  5. lisaiscooking October 31, 2010 at 8:17 pm #

    I’ve never tasted Chinese water morning glory, but I know I’ll like this! Greens cooked with garlic and chiles are a great thing. Great to know it’s easy to grow too. Easy to grow vegetables are the only types I even attempt in my garden!

  6. Chow and Chatter October 31, 2010 at 8:59 pm #

    looks amazing love your site I came from twitter need to come here more often Rebecca

  7. apostcardfromthailand November 2, 2010 at 5:28 am #

    Thank you, Leela, for the explanation. I’m almost as interested in the Thai language as I am in Thai food. Incidentally, Colonel Ian Khuntilanont-Philpott gave a variant of this recipe a few years ago which included a little meat. He also called it “flying”. His account of the “flying” aspect is quite entertaining. It’s available at http://www.chetbacon.com/thai-html/Pak_bung_loy_fa.htm

  8. Arwen from Hoglet K November 4, 2010 at 12:23 pm #

    Wow, those flames look quite amazing! I’m glad to hear you don’t need to throw it across the room to achieve a good flavour.

  9. mycookinghut November 21, 2010 at 8:09 pm #

    Hello there! Stumbled upon your blog and really love what I saw! I like this recipe and it’s always my favourite!

  10. Anonymous November 23, 2010 at 5:51 pm #

    Wow! I’ve NEVER seen anything like this! What a treat to not only watch this chef and his assistant do their magic but to also enjoy the culinary result!

  11. Anonymous November 24, 2010 at 6:41 am #

    Looks like what we call in Malaysia, kang kong. Can’t wait to try this when it becomes available again where I live in the USA. It’s so seasonal.

  12. Anonymous January 11, 2011 at 5:00 am #

    I was told by a Thai friend that the secret ingredient that makes this dish delicious is a little bit of oyster sauce. Have you seen this before? Regional, or just personal?

  13. Leela January 11, 2011 at 6:58 pm #

    Anon – Thanks for bringing this up for I would not have noticed the accidental omission of oyster sauce in the recipe otherwise. Indeed, oyster sauce is a essential ingredient in this dish. One of the photographs shows oyster sauce and it’s also included in the video clip; I simply left it out of the instructions by mistake.

    Thanks a ton!

  14. Joel April 10, 2011 at 2:50 am #

    Leela – I have a relatively large (supermarket-sized) Asian market in my town (Amarillo, TX), but despite a surprisingly large number of Thai restaurants, the actual population leans more Vietnamese than Thai, which means the vegetable labels are not things I recognize. Can you point towards a resource to translate all the common Thai vegetables into Vietnamese (and perhaps Cambodian, Burmese and Lao, also?)

    Thanks!

  15. Leela April 10, 2011 at 3:30 am #

    Joel – Translate or transliterate? I think you meant the latter, but I just wanted to be sure.

  16. Joel April 19, 2011 at 5:04 am #

    Well, technically I guess it would be both. The labels are in English script, but the names are – I assume – Vietnamese.

  17. Leela April 19, 2011 at 7:03 pm #

    Joel – I don’t know of any such resources. Sorry. Wiki is pretty good with listing out the names of a vegetable in different languages, though.

    For this particular vegetable:
    Vietnames: rau muống
    Lao: ຜັກບົ້ງ
    Thai: ผักบุ้ง
    Chinese: 空心菜, or more commonly, 蕹菜
    Tagalog: kangkóng

  18. Leela April 19, 2011 at 7:04 pm #

    Joel – But, really, ong choy or ong choi would be the most common name this vegetable goes by in the US.

  19. Michelle January 21, 2014 at 5:53 pm #

    Hi, Do you have a source for buying seeds of the Chinese water morning glory? I’d love to have my kids grow and then cook this. That would be great. Thanks so much.
    Michelle

    • Leela January 22, 2014 at 5:23 pm #

      Michelle – Sorry, I don’t. Does anyone have any info that would help Michelle?

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Chinese Broccoli and Crispy Pork Belly Stir-fry (ผัดคะน้าหมูกรอบ) | SheSimmers - October 30, 2012

    [...] one of those minimum-effort-maximum-satisfaction things.You already know how to make it.Remember stir-fried Chinese water morning glory (ผัดผักบุ้งไฟแดง)? Replace the Chinese water morning glory with [...]

  2. Chinese Broccoli and Crispy Pork Belly Stir-fry (ผัดคะน้าหมูกรอบ) | SheSimmers - October 30, 2012

    [...] one of those minimum-effort-maximum-satisfaction things.You already know how to make it.Remember stir-fried Chinese water morning glory (ผัดผักบุ้งไฟแดง)? The process is pretty much the same for that dish [...]

  3. Phad Phak Bung Fai Daeng (Stir-fried Morning Glory with Fermented Soy Beans) | FEED YOU WITH A KISS - December 3, 2013

    […] She Simmers has some good background on the origin of the vegetable and its preparation – Use Real Butter has a […]