My first pa tong go, or Thai cruller, experience was a tad disappointing. While walking through Bangkok's old town, I spotted a street stall with cheerful blobs of dough floating in a cauldron of bubbling oil. A woman monitored their shift from pale white to golden brown. She then lowered the long wooden handle of a spider strainer into the oil and fished the freshly fried doughnuts out.
A common Bangkok street food, these smooth and crusty grease bombs are borrowed from the Chinese. The pa tong go I tried that day were texturally pleasing yet flavorless carriers for the superior sangkhaya that's commonly served with the doughnuts for dipping. Sangkhaya is a coconut custard dip with a green color derived from pandan leaves. It imparts a distinctly floral and nutty flavor to a variety of Thai sweets.
I gave the treat another chance at a cafe fittingly named Pa Tong Go. It was nothing fancy—just simple tables and chairs with open access to the street, but at least there was a place to sit. The real draw, besides the Thai iced coffee, was the ice cream case facing the sidewalk. It was hard to choose between flavors like coconut, coffee, and the odd-sounding berryhoney, but I ultimately choose lychee.
The staff lightly grilled the doughnut in plain view, coaxing out the dough's natural sweetness and adding a little extra flavor and snap. It arrived topped with a scoop of lychee ice cream that slowly melted down the sides. The crusty pa tong go did an admirable job of staying intact and not getting soggy. Best of all, it only cost about $1.00.
The lychee flavor reminded me of a sour strawberry with hints of citrus, and the tartness paired well with the greasy doughnut. Of course the creation was drizzled with sweetened condensed milk like most Southeast Asian desserts, but they also added some chocolate syrup to the mix. Yes, every culture seems to have their own variety of fried dough, but I'm starting to think they could all be improved by the addition of ice cream.
About the author: Meredith Bethune is a writer who of course likes feeling hip and cool at the latest trendy restaurant, but she feels most comfortable tracking down the best tacos, pizza, and barbecue. Follow her on Twitter (@MeredithBethune).