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Thai Treats

Unusual sweets, exotic chips, and a secret congee menu at Ravenswood's Me Dee Cafe


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Open since August, the Ravenswood BYO Me Dee Cafe is a mere six tables squeezed in amid a wall of Thai snacks, a freezer full of mochi, and walls decorated with squabbling cartoon brats and wide-eyed, troubled-looking cows. (A herd of bipedal, urinating cows graces the wall in the loo.) The main dishes are inexpensive but decorously presented Ameri-Thai standards with hints of fusiony gimmickry—a noodle dish tossed with fat disks of Polish sausage, or grilled mushrooms with chihuahua cheese, or entrees garnished with raspberry and blackberry gumdrops.

But Me Dee has far more to offer than that.First, there's an unusually wide assortment of sweets—in addition to jellies and teas, there are cheesecakes and mochi; a tangle of deep-fried banana, taro, and sweet potato slices; and a trio of warm pandan-flavored Singapore cupcakes. From the freezer, a smooth, creamy lemongrass-green tea ice cream was about as good as it got: most of the other cold treats we tried were freezer burned.

Until we paid up, though, I was most excited about the half-dozen varieties of ruffled and flat Lay's brand Thai potato chips for sale. I've been munching my way through them ever since. Lay's rolls out culturally specific chips all over the world (try the roast chicken next time you're in Canada). Thailand gets flavors like nori seaweed, hot chile squid, and Mexican barbecue, and Me Dee seems to carry them all, with the exception of the unappealing-sounding mayonnaise. Extra barbecue and Mexican barbecue don't taste radically different from their U.S. counterparts, and nori seaweed doesn't really distinguish itself. But the two seafood flavors are a bit sweet and not unpleasantly fishy, and my favorite, sweet basil, builds to an incendiary burn.

As we discovered upon leaving, Me Dee also offers a late-night (till 1:30 AM daily) congee menu written exclusively in Thai. The owner, Nasha Suwannasak, hesitantly handed one over, explaining that we probably wouldn't like it. (We'll see about that.) Local linguist, cook, and world traveler Leela, who writes the beautiful and fascinating blog She Simmers, was kind enough to translate the menu, which she says is a typical late-night/post-boozing restorative selection.

She writes, "The way it works is, they give you plain rice porridge as the main dish and you can pick 4-5 sides to go with your plain congee." A large plain congee is $3; a small is $1.50. Leela translated the sides as follows:

* Slivers of dried sweet pickled turnips stir-fried with eggs $4.50

* Thin strips of pickled bok choy stir-fried with eggs $4.50

* Yam (rhymes with "some"—a Thai word referring to a melange of things tossed together in a dressing that comprises the salty, sour, sweet flavors with some heat, of course) salted duck eggs $4.50

* Ong choy, aka water spinach, stir-fried with fresh garlic, chile, and sometimes fermented black bean sauce $4.50

* Deep-fried (the word is not present in Thai, but understood) plaa salid (that has been salted and dried) $5

* Crabmeat Khai Jiaw (Thai omelet) $5

* Yam Chinese Sausage (aka Lap Cheong) $5

* Gai Lan stir-fried with flakes of salted fish (mostly cod or halibut) $5

* Stir-fry of minced Chinese olives and ground chicken $5

* (Homemade?) "Sweet Fish"—fish fillets pounded thin, candied, dried, deep-fried, and cut into strips $5

*Spicy clam stir-fry (I guess with holy basil leaves?) $5

*Yam dried shrimp $5

*Deep-fried seasoned dried pork $5

Thanks, Leela.


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