Friday 20 October 2017
Thai cuisine is world renowned. Spicy, sweet, sour, and bitter, Thai restaurants serving up this punchy cuisine are found in almost every city in the world. Most will be familiar with the likes of pad Thai and tom yum soup, but less are in the know about the South East Asian country's kaleidoscope of colourful, sticky desserts, other than perhaps kluay tod, the deep-fried bananas which sit at the bottom of most Thai restaurant menus. If you plan to visit Thailand, be sure to look out for these sugary treats.
Let's kick off with khao lam. White or black sticky rice is stuffed into hollow bamboo tubes along with coconut milk, a little sugar and salt, and red beans, then plugged on both sides with banana leaves. These tubes of coconuty goodness are grilled over a barbecue, allowing the rice to become gelatinous as it steams in the milk, before being prised open to reveal an almost cake like dessert. They're tricky to find in Bangkok, but common on the streets of Chiang Mai and Issan province.
Arguably the most famous dessert on our rundown, khao niao mamuang is another sticky rice dessert. Slices of sweet ripe mango sit next to a mound of sticky rice cooked topped with luscious creamy hot coconut milk sweetened with a little sugar and balanced with a pinch of salt. It's popular, so you won't have difficulty finding it, but the quality varies immensely. Look out for an alternative which uses durian instead of mango. If you're going to try one dessert in Thailand, make it this one.
Khanom sot sai is an ancient Siam dessert once solely eaten at wedding ceremonies and festivities. Now, the dessert made from flour, coconut cream, coconut flesh, and palm sugar steamed in a banana leaf, is eaten all year round. It's the nearest thing to a cake, albeit stickier and more squidgy. Look out for little wrapped banana leaves on street stalls.
One of our favs, khanom buang are crispy little pancakes made from mungbean and rice flour folded over a filling of uncooked meringue and shreds of sweetened duck yolk. That might seem like a strange combo, but trust me, it works. The recipe dates back hundreds of years, at least since the 17th century. It's impossible to buy just one of these little morsels, they're just too cheap and too good. Found on almost every street corner across the land.
Ah, where would Thai desserts be without these crispy flat breads. A staple of backpackers, the Thai roti is a Muslim treat made from wheat flour dough which is impressively hand pulled until wafer thin and then fried in butter before being topped with condensed milk, slices of banana, and even egg. Queue up with the rest of the travelers, you're not going to want to miss this one.
To try this one, you're going to have to get yourself down to Bangkok's Chinatown. It's essentially a peppery ginger soup served with floating dumplings stuffed with black sesame paste. Like many Thai dishes, its roots lie in China and was brought over my immigrants in the early 20th century. There are other versions which include silky tofu curd instead of dumplings. Equally as delicious.
Poke your head into any market and you'll spot little bags of orange tong yord balls. Thailand rarely uses egg in their desserts, but this is an exception to the rule. The yolks of chicken or duck eggs are mixed with sugar and flower water, before being cooked in palm sugar syrup. Be warned, they are as sweet as they are addictive.
To the uninitiated, mamuang nam pla wan seem a little terrifying. Tart unripe mango slices served with a dip made from sweetened fish sauce, chilies, and dry shrimps is enough to put even the most hardened of street food veterans off. The brave who do try it are never disappointed.
Lastly, we couldn't make a list of Thai desserts without mentioning khanom krok. Coconut milk, rice flour, and a little palm sugar are mixed cook in a hot metal dimpled pan until crispy on the outside and squidgy and unctuous in the middle. It may seem strange to those from the West, but the addition of corn, spring onions, or coriander makes this dessert. Every local has their favourite stand, and you'll have no problem finding these in Bangkok's markets.
Heading to Thailand soon? Want to discover what Thai desserts are all about? Why not join us on our epic nightly food tours in Bangkok or Chiang Mai.
Khao Lam – Bamboo Sticky Rice
Flickr: Jon Ward
Khao Niao Mamuang – Mango and Sticky Rice
Flickr: lin Judy
Khanom Sot Sai – Coconut Cake
Khanom Buang – Thai Crispy Pancakes
Flickr: Jonathan Ooi
Thai Rotis – Sweet Flat Bread
Flickr: Kent Wang
Bua Loy Nam King – Sesame Dumplings in Ginger Soup
Flickr: Phundit Watanakasivish
Tong Yord – Sweet Egg Yolks
Flickr: Naruemon Buengmoon
Mamuang Nam Pla Wan – Green Mango and Sweet Fish Sauce
Flickr: Takahiro Yamagiwa
Khanon Krok – Coconut Custard Pudding