Thai people love their sweets, and if you rely on the options that your local take-out place offers, you’re missing out. Usually, ending a meal with a plate of seasonal fruit like papaya, watermelon and pomelo is standard in the average Thai diet, but it’s just as easy for one to indulge in the array of intricate and coconut-rich desserts that Thailand has to offer.
One of the reasons why most Thai restaurants don’t offer these desserts is because they take forever to make. A handful of Thai desserts originated in the palace, where servants spent their days preparing precious sweets for the royal family. Soon enough, however, the desserts found their way to the streets for the rest of the country to enjoy. Here are a few to know.
1. Khanom Krok
These creamy and fragrant bite-sized desserts are cooked in a charcoal-heated pan with small craters, which result in little, rich coconut cups. They are a favorite among Thai people and are widely eaten in the mornings at street vendors around Bangkok. Common toppings are green onions, sweet corn and taro and these treats are best eaten piping hot off the pan.
Thai ice cream, or itim, is lighter, less creamy and sweeter than its American counterpart. You’ll find flavors like coconut cream, Thai tea and jackfruit. Thai ice cream is often served in creative ways, sometimes in empty coconut shells or in between toasted sweet rolls. We even found a place in Bangkok’s Chinatown that serves ice cream in hot pots that would normally be used to serve tom yum soup with liquid nitrogen in the middle for a dramatic effect.
3. Luk Chub
These pretty little desserts are shaped into mini Thai fruits and vegetables like mangos, chilis and mangosteens. The process of making them is uncommonly labor-intensive and it requires grinding steamed mung beans into a sweet paste, shaping them, dipping them in food coloring, and glazing them in gelatin. No wonder this dessert was only available for the royals back in the day.
4. Woon Bai Toey
Thai people eat gelatin in many forms. This one is made out of the fragrant pandan leaf and layered with coconut cream jelly. Thai jellies are usually a little more “al dente” than your average Jell-O treat, which is why they hold their shapes so well.
5. Tup Tim Krob
This dessert is made of water chestnuts dipped in red food coloring, then tossed in cassava flour which gives it a soft, chewy exterior. The water chestnuts are then served in ice and coconut milk, which is lightly seasoned with salt. It’s perfect for a hot day. Tup tim krob is a good example of how Thai desserts typically balance sweet and salty flavors.
6. Luem Gluen
The direct translation of this dessert is, “I forgot I swallowed.” These little cups have a custard-like consistency and are topped with fluffy, salty coconut cream. They’re infused with pandan leaves and then smoked with a special Thai incense used only for desserts. Yes, you read that correctly: smoking the dessert adds a floral jasmine scent and a complex layer of flavors to the dessert. Pop it in your mouth and it immediately melts, hence the name.
7. Bua Loy
This is a popular after dinner treat. It calls for mashed, steamed taro mixed with sticky rice flour and shaped into small balls, which are then boiled in water until they float to the top and served in warm coconut milk. The name of this Thai dessert means “floating lotus” and it comes in different colors created from infusions of pandan leaves and mashed pumpkin. The texture of bua loy is smooth and soft, which makes it very comforting to eat. Sometimes, a poached egg is served with it, because…why not?
Cat Lau is a Bangkok-born and raised food writer and author of blog Fat Cat Eats as well as producer for Boston University’s The Hungry Terrier.
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