Artisanal Pa Tong Go
In the world of so-called ‘foodie’, among numerous words that have always been repeated and slapped until well-bruised, is ‘artisan.’ Not that I have anything against the word per se, what I feel is that it is now getting much more difficult to impossible to discern. When everything is labelled ‘artisan’ so liberally, how can we discern one from another.
For me, overusing a word for a marketing gain harms the source, and then the whole industry. Take ‘organic,’ for example, that used to be the ‘it’ word of the food industry. It was up until everyone — and I mean everyone — is entitled to the status that things started to change. Consumers became wiser, or too tired and no longer care to differentiate, that the hype, the edge of the word began to blunt, and now it doesn’t hold any measurable weight at all.
Artisan used to be natural. Out of necessity, and due to the fact that one needed to do everything in house to feed the herds. But then, like everything else, we came full circle. After a lengthy period of industrialised everything, we came back to cherishing the simplest things in life. Making your own food, the time to spend thoroughly cleaning the green leaves you are about to eat. The satisfaction, the pride you feel, the warmth in your heart when you managed — out of both necessity and love — a good, healthy and tasty meal to your loved ones.
Pa Tong Go or Chinese dough (or Youtiao, or Youzhaguo) has always been a staple in Thailand. The deep-fried golden brown goodies are sinful. But like all other sinful things in life, they are greasy, mouthful, hearty and delicious. Pa Tong Go had a bad name recently after its characters and circumstances. Fried dough for one, and repeated usage of the frying oil for two. Nothing good, apparently, came out of eating a piece or two.
But then life is just too short to be to nitpick about everything – especially when we found a great Pa Tong Go place, where all goodies are made in house and deep-fried fresh with fresh oil.
Khun Chaipun (Noom) Limsakun, is the second-generation artisanal Pa Tong Go maker who runs his own shop out of the charming Mahannop Road near the Giant Swing in Bangkok Old Town. Before he goes to bed each night, he cultures a new batch of fresh yeast. The night’s temperatures and humidity dictate his action towards his beloved starter. “If it gets too hot downstairs, I bring my yeast to bed with me in my air-conditioned bedroom. But if it gets too cold, then, a warming towel is called for.”
Fresh yeast, flour, salt and water are all it takes to make a good Pa Tong Go. What you don’t see are patience, skill and dedication. Pa Tong Go comes in a good variety here, too. The salty original one, the round sweet one (called salapao), the kliew one (twine) and the four-legged (sweet, original from Phuket). Pa Tong Go made with fresh yeast is heartier, meatier. Baking soda – which is not used in an artisanal recipe – hollows out the texture, hence lighter, more porous dough.
Unlike sourdough starter, or yeast, that can be perpetuated forever, fresh yeast used in Pa Tong Go is made for a daily usage only. “The ready yeast lasts only for a couple of hours The timing needs to be right so we can assemble everything at the right moment,” explains Khun Chaipun.
Pa Tong Go is a morning ritual. Fans expect the shop to be ready at the crack of dawn. They expect the fresh batch to be steaming hot, out of the frying wok. The hotter, the better. They munch through it with a good cup of coffee, or tea, and perhaps a portion of poached eggs for good measure. And that means the Pa Tong Go maker needs to get up earlier — hours before the shop opens.
“During my dad’s time, he woke up at 2am so he could get all things ready by 3-4am when people who came here for a midnight boiled rice were going home. But now, we don’t see much of that lifestyle, and I got it easier. Now I woke up at 4am, so we can open the shop at 6am.”