The first words you learn in any language are often the most important, at least for basic survival that is. Hello, thank you, bathroom, this grouping is the Swiss Army knife for all languages, but the words that come after are the real tools for decoding a new culture.
Shortly after I mastered sa wa ti krap and kob khun kob, the word “kanom” came across my radar. The closest English word to this is “snack”. While it’s not a direct translation, it does a good enough job getting across the heart of the word.
Kanoms are foods, usually small, that can easily be eaten out of hand, on the go, and require little more than a pointy wooden stick for consumption. They are not necessarily sweet or savory, and in Thai fashion often encompass a bit of both. There is no set list of what is a kanom and what isn’t (although the word kanom is usually in the name). Imagine herbs, cilantro and basil are obviously in this category, but things get a little fuzzy when you classify radish leaves.
Kanoms are found nearly everywhere in this country. It’s hard to walk down any busy street and not see someone hustling plastic bags filled with goodies for 20 baht. In my opinion, the best kanoms, both in selection and quality, are found at markets. Morning markets in particular. You’d be hard pressed to find a donut at peak freshness in the late afternoon, now wouldn’t you?
There are quite a few markets in Chaing Mai to find quality kanoms, but my favorite spot is Mae Hia Fresh Market just southwest of the airport. This is a very Thai market. That’s to say it’s open air, usually hot even in the shade, and English is in short supply. However, what they have in abundance is The Good Stuff.
As this is a bit far from my home and I’m far from what you’d call a “morning person” I really only come here when I’m headed to Mae Hong Son for a weekend village trip. Having said that, I ALWAYS stop here when headed up to the hills.
At Mae Hia, you could honestly blind fold yourself, throw a dart, and hit something worth eating. While this would be an… “entertaining” way to choose what to eat, I’ve narrowed the list to a few go-to’s.
At the top of this list is a small ball of fried dough, filled with sweet bean, and covered in sesame seeds. I struggle to call this a donut as it’s made with rice flour and not wheat, but it is sweet dough deep fried till golden so the description fits. This is my absolute favorite kanom and would be worth the trip if it was all you got here.
Next would have to be the Curry puffs sold in a little cart just past the food court. I’ve already done a review of these bad boys so I want beat that horse again, but I will say the ones here are my favorite in town.
Kanom Buang is kind of hard to explain. Imagine a small crepe that has the flavor and texture of a waffle cone, then fill it with a sort of marshmallow fluff and some sweet egg floss. The batter is spread thin on a flattop grill, cooked until crispy, and then topped. Just after releasing with a spackel knife, its folded slightly and creased to for a bit of a shell. I like to think of this as the Thai version of a Choco Taco, sans chocolate.
While sai ua may not have kanom in its name, I still very much think of it as such. If you’ve never had it before it’s basically the love child of coconut curry and grilled sausage. I don’t think I need to do any more convincing than that, but if you need some check out my older review about them.
While kanom krok isn’t my favorite kanom, I can’t stop myself from getting a bag whenever I see them cooking. They are made in a sort of dimpled black pan. Segregated so that they have room to reach peak potential, but all connected by a trail of crisped batter made from the continuous pour out of a spouted handle.
Kanom krok is maybe the best example of the sweet/savory nature of Thai kanoms. The batter is slightly sweet and gets a bit sweeter from the caramelized edges. However, they are most commonly filled with either corn or green onions. The texture is not for everyone, but if you like soft and a little squishy these will be right up your ally.
Kanoms may not be a substitute for a proper meal, but that’s not really there job. They are there to keep you going just long enough until it’s time for something more substantial. The Axe body spray to a hot shower if you will.
Mae Hia Fresh Market
Open: 4:00-24:00 but you should come before noon or so if you want to be sure to get all the kanoms at their best.
The Good Stuff Chiang Mai