A well-made cruller is a thing of beauty. Which is why, should you find yourself in Chiang Mai, you should make your way to a lane alongside Don Lam Yai market called Soi Udompon, in the city's old Gat Luang neighborhood, where Ko Ning and his wife Daeng have been frying up some of the city's best for more than a decade. On busy days daughter Kwan helps out behind the fryer.
Everyday from 6am the pair, sometimes with the help of their daughter Kwan, roll and cut dough for bpa tong ko -- crispy and lightly salty double-sided "chromosome" crullers (so-called for their shape, by our English-speaking Chiang Mai friends) -- and sarapao tawt, slightly sweet puffs studded with black sesame seeds. Both make for a brilliant breakfast, taken alongside a glass of cold soy milk (warm soy milk is served in a small bowl), or a bowl of song kryang, warm soy milk with strips of fresh bean curd skin, barley and red beans. For sweet tooths, there's sankayaa, a lurid green pandan-and-coconut milk and egg spread that Malaysians know as kaya.
It's a busy spot, this stretch of pavement fronting weathered timber-doored shop houses next to Chiang Mai's oldest market.
"Eight years ago I took my son to the zoo. He liked the crocodile so much that when we went home I made one from clay for him," he told us. "Then I wondered if I could do that with dough. My first try wasn't good. It wasn't a crocodile. It was more like a gecko."
Ko Ning's deep-fried crocodiles, dragons and dinosaurs are, predictably, popular with kids. Even big kids.
And they're big sellers. Ko Ning holds a Master's degree in managment and teaches at a vocational college in Nong Khai. That job is "for respect," he says, patting the rectangle of dough on his work table. "This is the real income!"
Like any born innovator Ko Ning isn't resting on his laurels. When we were last in Chiang Mai he was experimenting with deep-fried dough-swaddled hot dogs.
Early reception for the dough weenies was looking positive, and Ko Ning was posed to add his newest creation to the menu. All he needed a catchy name. Our suggestion: Twisty Dogs.
The man looked doubtful. "I'll have to think about it," he said.
For more images -- some food, some not -- of Don Lamyai Market and the rest of Gat Luang, visit Dave's recently uploaded gallery, here.
Find what is surely one of Chiang Mai's tastiest, least greasy cruller -- and deep-fried animals -- every morning from 6am to about 10am, on the alley alongside Don Lam Yai market.