The bloggers at EatingAsia recently pointed out that northern Thais love their meat. This is certainly true, but I'd also add that they love their oil just as much. Deep-frying is something of a cult in northern Thailand, and Mae Hong Son is no exception. I've never eaten so many deep-fried foods as I have in the last month, in particular for breakfast, a meal for which I'd almost totally avoided deep-fried foods -- up to this point at least.
But let me start at dessert. The donuts above are called khanom wong ('round sweets'), and are deep-fried rings of sticky rice dough that are dipped in sugarcane syrup, the making of which can also be seen at this EatingAsia post. Unfortunately I've yet to find them served hot from the deep-fryer, and haven't really enjoyed them.
Deep-fried foods can be taken at lunch or dinner too. Sticky rice and nam phrik (chili-based 'dips') are the staple foods of northern Thailand, and are typically eaten with deep-fried meats:
These can range from deep-fried chicken heads, salted fish, fermented sausage, or my personal favourite, pork rinds:
Not surprisingly, deep-frying is also a popular way to prepare snacks in northern Thailand. Here in Mae Hong Son one of my favourite snacks is khang pong, a local dish of battered and deep-fried strips of green papaya and shallots:
The vendor above sells khang pong at Mae Hong Son's evening market and she seasons them with the perfect balance of salt, turmeric, lemongrass and chili. The result is equal parts spicy, salty, crispy and hot.
Which brings me to breakfast, as khang pong is also a popular way to start the day here:
In the mornings it's served with the local version of khanom jeen naam ngiaw, a pork and tomato-based noodle soup. Many of the vendors who sell this dish also sell thua oon, a type of noodle soup served with a thick gooey gram bean 'porridge'. The same gram bean stuff is also steamed into shallow cakes and yes, deep-fried:
The bane of my breakfast. They look and taste astonishingly like fast-food French fries and are served with a deliciously sour tamarind-based dipping sauce. The other deep-fried dishes are, at 2 o'clock, deep-fried tofu, and at 5 o'clock, fritters of 'black' soybeans. I enjoy all of these very much, and have adapted to eating them for breakfast, but only allow it every other day. Guess I could never be a real northern Thai.