Nong Khai: Can't-Miss Issan Salads at DD Restaurant25 Jul 2014
Nong Khai, a small town in Northeastern Thailand on the banks of the Mekong river just across the border from Laos is not on the top of most tourists' must-visit lists. Being a border town, it gets a fair share of backpacker traffic, mostly just from folks passing through to Vientiane on the Lao side.
Those folks are making a mistake.
Some people do stop in town for a night or two, and most of them end up hitting the mosquito-addled river-side restaurants that serve up mediocre Issan and Vietnamese food.
Those folks are also making a mistake.
Here's what they should be doing: walking just a few meters away from the river to the center of town, right at the intersection of Prajak Sillapakhom Alley and Janjobtit Road and grabbing one of the plastic seats at DD Restaurant.
You can't miss it. It's the place that's packed with locals day and night. Over the course of our two-night stay in Nong Khai, we ended up eating there four times, and it was this that first got us hooked:
The word "salad" takes on a pretty broad meaning in Thailand. Everybody knows laap, the salad of cooked ground meat dressed with fish sauce, palm sugar, and lime juice, flavored with chilies, garlic, herbs, and ground roasted rice. It's everywhere in its native Issan, but you'll find it with no problem in the streets of Bangkok or Southern Thailand. But in Issan, laap is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to meaty dishes served cold.
The menu at DD is long, but the salads are where you want to start, and this salad of grilled sausage flavored with julienned young ginger, sliced shallots, chilies, fish sauce, and peanuts, is a great place to take off from.
The sausages are the same fatty, coarse, mildly fermented Lao sausages that you find served grilled from vendors on the street. They're mildly seasoned, without any of the herbs or grilled rhizomes you get in the Lao-influenced sausages of Northern Thailand. When grilled, they get a nicely crisp exterior and an interior brimming with juicy chunks of pork that soak up the sweet, hot, and tart dressing.
That young ginger is the real key to the salad, with its mildly hot bite and crunchy texture.
The sliced beef salad is even spicier, with a dressing made with roasted dried chilies, fish sauce, and lime juice. The beef is tossed with crispy slices of apple eggplant and mild Thai shallots. The kicker here is the slices of deep fried lemongrass. I've always loved the flavor of sliced lemongrass in dishes, but the texture can be a little fibrous or tough. Deep frying it solves that issue (and is a trick I'm going to adopt for home use in the future!).
We had a similarly delicious and porky experience with their crispy pork belly salad (we ordered it late at night and I didn't have my camera on me—sorry!), which was packed with Thai basil and mint.
Like I said, DD Restaurant has a pretty huge menu, mostly consisting of Thai and Chinese staples. We sampled a couple of the other dishes. Most of them were solid—this pork omelette with Sriracha was particularly tasty—but it was the salads that brought us back each time. I'd put'em up there among the best dishes we had in the country.
The sausage salad alone would put Nong Khai back on my must-return list.