Today I recreated a food experience from last summer in Bangkok, when my sisters-in-law took me out for a Chinese-style brunch at a place that specialized in “meat bone tea” (肉骨茶), or as locals in Thailand/Malaysia/Singapore/Indonesia refer to as bakuteh บะกุ๊ดเต๋. The meat and mushroom stew was savory and delicious, and interestingly, it was served together with deep fried dough known as batonggo ปาท่องโก๋, which I’ve only ever eaten with a sweet accompaniment of soymilk or sweetened condensed milk. I preferred it with the savory stew!
Here are a few images from that experience:
A story about Batonggo ปาท่องโก๋
Deep-fried dough is a classic breakfast item among Chinese communities all throughout Southeast Asia (and also China of course). I referenced these cousins of batonggo (the Chinese youtiao and the Indonesian cakwe) last year in my post on the incredibly indulgent Javanese-style chicken and rice porridge. Like the name of that item, in most other Southeast Asian communities this is referred to as “oil-fried devil” in Chinese dialects, sounding something like “yaujagwai” เหยาจากวั๋ย 油炸鬼. This is supposedly a reference to a traitor to the Song Dynasty. Apparently Chinese patriots revel in eating effigies of that person. In Thailand, these do often look strangely people-like…
In Mandarin Chinese and in mainland China, it is now generally referred to as youtiao 油条 (i.e. oil-fried strip).
Strangely, in Thailand the name of this food was originally meant for another food altogether. Supposedly (wiki reference–FYI) vendors used to sell youtiao and another sweet fluffy cake, baitangguo 白糖糕 together. Their shouts advertising their products ended up making the name for the fluffy cake equal to the name of the fried cruller. So now the name batonggo is widely understood to be the youtiao or cakwe cruller.
While I was in Thailand last summer I found a cookbook specializing in batonggo (left). I’ve long been planning to test out some recipes (freshly fried crullers are light years better than the ones in the freezer section), but there was one ingredient in recipes that I had some trouble finding: ammonia bicarbonate. This is a type of baking powder that has a pretty strong odor out of the jar, but that odor dissipates and the chemical helps to make a crispy texture for the fried dough. I ended up accidentally stumbling upon this ingredient while I was browsing for Lebanese spices at Makkah Market in West Philly last week.
Batonggo dough has three leaveners: baking powder, yeast, and ammonia bicarbonate. The other kind of unusual thing in batonggo recipes is after the preliminary mixing and kneading, dough needs to rest for at least three hours. As batonggo is generally a breakfast thing, I decided it would be good to mix and rest the dough the night before, and then chill it in the refrigerator until it was time to shape and fry.
As usual for specialty Thai meals/dishes, the YouTube series MrFoodTravelTV had great instructional videos on both of these foods: batonggo and bakuteh. These programs are in Thai, but they should be pretty easy to follow if you recognize the ingredients (which are usually posted on their page in Thai and English).
After I prepared my batonggo dough, I decided I should also do the “meat bone tea” the night before too. It was late and I was lazy–so I cheated and used a pre-mixed set of spices that La brought back from Malaysia (see right). To mix your own spices, see that MrFoodTravelTV video above for suggestions. Key flavors of the broth include garlic, white peppercorn, and “Chinese medicinals” (most commonly including dried sliced roots and barks–similar to my lushui recipe for guilin mifen stock). If you prefer to try the instant route, Southeast Asian markets may have a pouch of spices marked with the characters 肉骨茶. You still need at least one whole head of garlic, meat with bones (I used pork short ribs), mushrooms/vegetables, dark and light soy sauces, sugar, and oyster sauce (these create that dark broth that is well-known in Klang, Malaysia (and is similar to my restaurant memory from Bangkok).
This fried dough is not rocket science. To get perfect shapes though, you’ll need to play with it a bit. ANY shape dough will taste the same though, and keep in mind that for serving with something like bakuteh, even the ugliest of these “oil fried devils” can be sliced into a bowl and be made quite attractive.
The traditional “X” shape is done by pinching two flat strips of dough together in the center with a dab of water. I found that dough strips of one inch became two inches when I pulled them off the counter. Approximately two inch-long is what you are shooting for.
I have to say, about half of my effort did not look as nice as the ones above. They did well enough to sliced in a bowl next to the finished set (top image) though.
Measurements: 3 cups of flour (I ended up with at least 3 1/2 cups due to an extremely sticky dough), 1.5 tsp sugar, 3/4 tsp yeast, 3/5 tsp baking soda, 1/2 tsp ammonia bicarbonate (or carbonate), 1 tsp salt, 1 3/4 cups water.
The steps were simple. Add all leaveners, salt and sugar to the water. Dissolve well. Mix in the flour until you have a consistent dough that can be rested. Mine was stickier than typical bread or noodle dough, for example. Let rest for 3-4 hours (or overnight in the fridge). Flour the counter and form into a flat strip about 1/4 inch thick that you can slice into smaller strips. Again, shoot for 2″ pieces to go into the hot oil. Fry until golden–pieces will need to be flipped (I use chopsticks for that).
By morning my stew was perfect for preparing an individual portion. I put some of the stewed ribs into a shaguo 砂锅 clay pot with reconstituted shiitake mushrooms and bone broth. I topped that off with enoki mushrooms and cilantro and sliced batonggo to serve.
A classic food of the Chinese emigre communities of Southeast Asia! Hope you try it and enjoy it!