During our one-year stay in Thailand, we fell in love with a delicious stir-fried vegetable dish made with pak boong, aka morning glory or water spinach. It's one of the easiest and quickest Thai foods you can prepare, yet packed with flavour. Let us show you how!
Morning glory is a tropical vegetable with long, tender, hollow stems and thin, elongated leaves. It's very common in Southeast Asia, where it's widely known as kangkong.
In Thailand, morning glory is called pak boong or phak bung (ผักบุ้ง), and Thai people really love a good heap of this stir-fried vegetable with their lunch or dinner, as a side dish or all by itself.
Stir-fried morning glory, called pad pak boong fai daeng (ผัดผักบุ้งไฟแดง) in Thai, is one of the most popular Thai foods. Almost every restaurant in Thailand would serve you this, and it's like a must-eat food for first-time visitors.
Fried morning glory tastes salty, sweet, and spicy — the three key flavours in Thai cuisine. We really like the contrast between the soft leaves and crunchy stems!
To make pad pak boong, simply fry chopped morning glory with garlic and fresh red chillies in a very hot wok, and season all with a mix of fermented soybean sauce, oyster sauce, and fish sauce.
What's the secret to a perfect thai-style fried morning glory?
Acing the sauce and cooking the morning glory until the leaves are just wilted and the stems are still crunchy and bright green. We'll tell you all about this in the recipe steps below.
To learn more about the morning glory, the ingredients and the tools you need for this recipe, read the FAQ section below. There, we'll also suggest some substitutions if you can't find local Thai ingredients.
What is the Thai food called morning glory?
Called pak boong or phak bung (ผักบุ้ง) in Thai, morning glory is a green leafy vegetable with long, hollow stalks and thin leaves, very popular in Thai stir-fried dishes.
Morning glory is a semi-aquatic, tropical plant grown as a vegetable in Southeast Asia for its delicious shoots. It looks a bit like a cross between spinach and swiss chard.
It goes by different names depending on the region, but it's widely known as kangkong or kangkung.
Other names for it are river spinach, swamp cabbage, water convolvulus, or water morning glory.
Is Thai morning glory like spinach?
Morning glory is a green leafy vegetable also known as "water spinach" because it's similar to spinach and grows near waterways.
But compared to spinach, morning glory has crunchier shoots, which are hollow inside and look like long straws. Moreover, morning glory leaves are thinner and more elongated than those of spinach.
Where can I find morning glory?
Because morning glory is a tropical plant mostly grown in Southeast Asia, it's somewhat hard to source in the West.
Still, you should be able to find it at your local Asian grocery markets.
Can't find it? don't get discouraged! Try asking the vendor, as you may have missed their weekly delivery, and they may be able to order the morning glory for you.
Alternatively, you can look for an online supplier of Asian ingredients which may sell morning glory.
Which is a good alternative to morning glory?
If you can't find Thai pak boong, you can opt for other leafy and stalky green vegetables.
Here are some great alternatives to morning glory you can try:
Chinese kale/Chinese broccoli;
Which ingredients do I need for Thai stir-fried morning glory?
The main 7 ingredients of stir-fried morning glory include:
Morning glory — green vegetables with long, hollow stalks and thing leaves, usually sold in bunches (about 300g/10.5 oz each) at Asian food markets;
Garlic — lots of fresh garlic cloves are an essential ingredient in this Thai dish, but you can use less if you prefer;
Chillies — fresh red chillies are a must. Thai bird eye chillies would be ideal, or any spicy chilli you like;
Fish sauce — a thin and savoury sauce that you can replace with soy sauce for a vegan alternative;
Oyster sauce — a thick, dark, and glossy sauce for extra colour and flavour; Skip this to make vegan morning glory.
Fermented soybean paste — also known as yellow bean sauce — is a salty, light brown sauce with bits of soybeans inside. It's a mix of fermented soybeans, soy sauce, and sugar. If you can't find it, you can swap it with Japanese miso paste following our instructions in the recipe below;
Sugar — just a teaspoon or two for a sweet finish. You can replace it with a sugar-free sweetener like erythritol for a healthier dish.
You'll also need a good-sized wok or skillet to stir fry the morning glory, plus a mortar and pestle if you want to pound the chillies and garlic as in the classic recipe — but that's optional.
- Morning Glory (water spinach)
- Fresh Red Chillies (Thai bird's eye)
- Garlic Cloves
- Fish Sauce
- Oyster Sauce
- Fermented Soybean Sauce
- Caster Sugar
- Vegetable Oil
Also called water spinach, morning glory is known as phak bung or pak boong (ผักบุ้ง) in Thai.
This tropical vegetable has long and tender stems and leaves (1).
You can find it at your local Asian food and vegetable market.
If you can't find water spinach and would like to use another vegetable similar to morning glory, check our substitution tips in the FAQ section.
To prepare the morning glory for this stir-fry, cut the whole vegetable (stems and leaves) into 6 cm (2.5 inches) long pieces, about the size of your palm (2).
Peel the garlic cloves and slice them in half.
Cut a slit in the red chillies lengthwise without slicing through them, and then slightly pry them open without letting the seeds out.
If you have a mortar, you can briefly pound these two ingredients to release more flavour as it's done in the traditional recipe — but this is optional.
Then, mix fish sauce, oyster sauce, fermented soybean sauce, water, and sugar in a cup.
If you can't find fermented soybean sauce, you can swap it with a mix of 1/2 tablespoon of Japanese miso paste, 1/2 tablespoon of soy sauce, and a pinch of sugar.
For a vegan option instead, you can replace fish sauce and oyster sauce with an equivalent amount of soy sauce, plus an extra pinch of sugar.
Now, let's get ready to fry the morning glory.
Heat the oil in a skillet over high heat.
When very hot, add the prepared garlic and chillies and sizzle them for a few seconds until fragrant.
This will help release all the delicious chilli and garlic flavour if you didn't pound them with a mortar and pestle in the previous step.
Then, add the chopped morning glory to the pan, followed by the sauce mix.
Stir-fry all over high heat for no more than a minute.
You want to cook the morning glory just long enough for the leaves to wilt. But you want the stems to stay crunchy and bright green.
Once ready, transfer the fried water spinach to a plate and pour in the watery sauce leftover in the pan.
Your delicious Thai pad pak boong is ready!
Once ready, serve the fried morning glory immediately, or the residual heat will make the leaves and shoots soft, soggy, and dull. Instead, you want to enjoy the vegetables when they're still crunchy and bright green!