breaking news

FOLLOW LIVE: Texas football hosts Orange-White Spring Game

Thai food truck Dee Dee isn’t just good; it’s great


Our senses of taste and smell dull as we grow older. That may be why the pungent food we found difficult to stomach as children has greater appeal as we slog into adulthood. The cured anchovies I devour in middle-age would have made me crawl under the bed at the ringing of the dinner bell in my youth.

Or maybe we just grow accustomed to flavors and smells as we get older, making us more easily adaptable to them. “It’s an acquired taste,” I heard so often in my youth about so many things. (I’m still waiting to acquire a love for olives.)

Whether it’s my age or my adaptability, over the past decade Thai food has become one of my great joys in dining. Even when you don’t understand precisely what’s going on in a dish, you can still appreciate the flavors and smells that come on in a psychedelic rush. I don’t need to understand physics or geometry to enjoy staring into a kaleidoscope, just like I don’t need someone to break down every ingredient of a Thai dish to marvel at the abundance of flavors. Sweet, sour, salty, bitter, spicy, savory, toasty, floral, herbaceous … a joyful culinary racket that finds harmony. Turn on, dip in and rock out.

That’s what I did recently at the Thai food truck Dee Dee with a dish of om gai ($10), tender hunks of chicken swimming in an herbaceous broth fragrant with lemongrass, spring onion and fish sauce and livened with Thai chili, dill and basil. It’s the dish that most reminds trailer co-owner Lakana Trubiana of home. And it’s exactly the kind of cooking Austin could use more of: dishes rooted in family and tradition from a chef with a story to share.

While I may have been a little late to the culinary party, Trubiana has spent her entire life immersed in Thai traditions. She was born and raised in the Nong Khai province of northeastern Thailand (an area known as Issan) along the Mekong River and started helping family with culinary prep work in the dark hours of morning before school at the age of 5. The food would feed the family and be sold at market later that day.

Her husband, Justin Trubiana, an Austin native who met Lakana while volunteering in Thailand after a period in New York City’s financial industry, knew when the couple moved to the United States several years ago that his wife’s cooking, which he had been spoiled by for years, should be shared with people outside of their house.

They opened Dee Dee in March 2016, with Justin working the window and Lakana tending to the food. The truck’s moniker, which is a nod to the couple’s favorite restaurant in Thailand, translates from Thai to “good good.” The name is apt.

Lakana Trubiana prepares all the dishes from scratch inside the impressive kitchen of the handsome black trailer that sits on a lot with La Barbecue, and she cooks the food she’s known since birth. That means wonderful laab moo ($10), a dish full of minced pork that hits you with a sour blast of lime juice and fish sauce before the late arrival of smoky chili powder. You fold the traditional sticky rice around the mixture to ensnare bites and reach for the abundant herbs and cucumber slices for cooling. As with several dishes, you can order the laab moo at one of three levels of spice (I opted for the middle tier).

The heat in Issan cuisine even creeps into dishes that may seem benign, as with the colorful som tom ($9), a jumble of firm shredded papaya, green beans and carrots sweetened with palm sugar and dotted with roasted peanuts and bright cherry tomatoes. The dish comes as a “two-chili baseline,” but the bold can eat it with ten chilies, like Lakana does, and gird themselves for the fiery assault. Even a seemingly tame vegetarian stir fry ($9) that features a bed of perfumed jasmine rice studded with mushrooms and cherry tomatoes and laced with zucchini, snow peas and tender tofu will jump on you with its hidden heat.

Two of my favorite dishes are different plays on pork. The grill caramelizes the glistening edges of the sweet and salty moo ping ($5 for two skewers) that are sadly only served Wednesday through Friday, though I think the Trubianas could make a mint with a downtown street cart serving only moo ping. And the homemade chili paste of the pad ka pow ($10) lends toasty sweetness to a dish colored and calmed with Thai basil and topped with a fried egg. The dish offers layers of complexity that warm your soul even as you go about the cold calculus of discerning all of the varying flavor components.

The good news is I’m only going to get older, so I can expect this mysterious love affair to last a lifetime.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Austin360 Eats

Setting the highest standards for the Art Dinner at Laguna Gloria
Setting the highest standards for the Art Dinner at Laguna Gloria

Etherial location. Elegant crowd. Exquisite cuisine. Excellent art. Scene from the Art Dinner at Laguna Gloria. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman For the past five years, the  Art Dinner at  Laguna Gloria has benefitted the  Contemporary Austin. Hosts expertly employ the arboreal setting...
Grand music, and big bubbles, drift on the air as Old Settler’s welcomes new digs
Grand music, and big bubbles, drift on the air as Old Settler’s welcomes new digs

The first big day of Old Settler’s Music Festival at its new site near Lockhart promised lots of good music from the likes of Calexico, Billy Strings, Jamestown Revival, Donna the Buffalo and many more. Under a welcome layer of clouds with mid-60s temperatures and a cool breeze, it delivered all that. Plus, bubbles. Kids...
I have come here to praise cassettes, not bury them.
I have come here to praise cassettes, not bury them.

It’s Record Store Day, and that means a rush on local haunts such as Waterloo Records and End of an Ear. Hundreds of collectibles were issued specifically for this annual event designed to help keep brick-and-mortar shops afloat in the streaming age. The resurgence of vinyl means most special RSD releases are in that...
Austin360Cooks: A reader tip on getting a discount on Sur La Table’s cooking classes
Austin360Cooks: A reader tip on getting a discount on Sur La Table’s cooking classes

The owner of Teddy V. Pâtisserie, who sells chocolate chip cookies at the Texas Farmers’ Market at Mueller on Sundays, is a huge fan of the cooking classes at Sur La Table at the Domain Northside. The cooking classes at Sur La Table cover a range of subjects, including lamb. Contributed by @teddyvblog She recently...
Kraft Heinz embraces Momofuku Sauce in bid for foodie cachet

Kraft Heinz Co., struggling with sliding sales and a falling stock price, is partnering with celebrity chef David Chang to generate some buzz. The ketchup maker will use its expertise in food production and distribution to help Chang take his Momofuku Ssam sauce national for the first time. The condiment, which has been served across the chef's restaurant...
More Stories