Seattle's Essential Dishes: Moo Dade Deaw at Bai Tong

Photo courtesy Peter Mumford

Moo Dade Deaw from Bai Tong:

I don't know what that guy has on that service tray he's hauling, but I love that picture (mostly for the pants), and in my mind what he's carrying will always be another plate of Bai Tong's moo dade deaw--a dish I will forever associate with Bai Tong, with Seattle, and with my first mind-altering taste of it from the original(ish) location in Tukwila.

So what is moo dade deaw? I'm so glad you asked. Here's how I described it in my review back in March:

"What it is is thin strips of pork, marinated for what tastes like a week in a slurry of cane sugar, carrots, burning tires, wet pretzels, soy sauce, peat, Pixy Stix, and salt. I'm guessing the meat was then lifted from the marinade, beaten with a hammer, lost by the cook tasked with its keeping, left to air-dry for a few months like a fine salami, found again, trimmed of excess fat, delicately floured, and then fried to order in a hot wok filled with rendered heroin tar. Moo dade deaw tastes, at first blush, oddly of Philadelphia soft pretzels just out of the oven--fresh and yeasty and salty and warm all at the same time. But that flavor fades fast, evaporating behind the taste of sugar and salt, of char and chiles. There is a crunch to the first bite that gives way to chewiness, like pork chewing gum or jerky improperly dried. And on top of all this is a sauce that tastes like nothing so much as a 50/50 mix of cheap, generic ketchup and Vietnamese sriracha: a perfect shot of sweetness and heat to complement the sweetness and salt of the fried pig bits."

It is a singularly incredible flavor experience, my favorite thing at a restaurant full of my favorite things. And after all the writing about the place I've done this week (what with the news of a second location opening and then my trip there the very next day), it occurred to me what a travesty it was that I hadn't yet listed the moo dade deaw among the city's essential dishes.

And it isn't just my own egotistical love of this plate that makes it worthy of inclusion, either. Bai Tong itself (in various incarnations) has a long history in the suburban food scene, beginning its life as a small, out-of-the-way joint attached to a motel near SeaTac built for the express purpose of selling crews and pilots from Thai Airways little tastes of home when they were far away and growing into one of the best and most beloved Thai restaurants in the entire city.

Still, I'll always love it for introducing me to the joys of moo dade deaw. That's what makes it essential to me. Seattle can have it for its history, its oddity, its devotion to the true flavors of Thai cuisine and for (eventually) bringing those flavors to a big audience. But really, I'm just in it for the fried pig bits.

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