Dong Daeng in Chiang Khan: Chiang Khan is a sleepy, historical Mekong river town popular for its timber houses and relaxed attitude. Most urbanites come here for a quick weekend getaway, but I camped out for four days, watching the river float past and enjoying a bit of the local flavor (including, mercifully, real coffee from actual coffee beans!).
The food scene in Chiang Khan isn’t exactly sophisticated, but I did manage to find one dish that’s indigenous to the town and nearly impossible to find elsewhere: dong daeng, thick, short fermented rice flour noodles extruded and boiled to-order by the chatty Miss Chi of Chi Kum Man Tong. The chewy noodles, named for the little dance they do while cooking, are then mixed in the ubiquitous mortar and pestle with a som tum [papaya salad] variant and a handful of fresh mountain greens. Served room temperature, it’s a light, refreshing lunch, with the familiar zigzag of sweet-hot-salty-sweet flavors.
The dish apparently comes from an old family recipe that called for bite-sized noodle balls—nicknamed “gai muah,” or chicken’s head—instead of the tubular noodles Chi makes today. When her shop started drawing crowds, it took too long to make the gai muah to order, so she developed the dong daeng, which are faster and more efficient to make. Today, the dong daeng are a Chiang Khan staple, but as far as we can tell, they’ve yet to make it beyond the tiny town. Pretty sure that if a restaurateur Stateside adapted the recipe, this dish would catch on like wildfire—please, someone in NYC, take me up on this.