Thai “Desserts”

Let’s start this out by addressing a Thai culinary distinction from most Western cuisines. The line between dinner and dessert is a blurry one, namely in levels of sweetness. Thai food… most Thai food that is, encompasses the full scope of a flavor pallet. As such, sugar is less thought of here as an ingredient, but more of a seasoning agent – not unlike salt.

A consequence of this chronic sugar seasoning throughout each meal of the day, is that there isn’t as much need for a sweet release. That’s to say, the desserts don’t need to over compensate in sweetness the way Western desserts tend to. A bit of a generalization for sure, but an easy way to wrap your head around what may be considered a “dessert” here, and why it may not be as sugary as what you may consider a dessert to be.

A good amount of Thai desserts fall into the “kanom” category. Kanoms are more or less what we refer to as a snack: something small, not considered a full meal, can generally be eaten on the go. The word kanom is often even in the snack’s name.

Thai desserts are kinda sold everywhere in this country. It’s not uncommon to have them at more tourist focused restaurants. They can be found at the neighborhood store run out of the owner’s house. But as I’ve said before, the best place to get them is markets.

Markets offer a few distinct advantages for finding good desserts. Being that, some are best when eaten fresh. The volume of customers at a busy market can assure good turnover. While some can be hard to find or are only worth making if there are enough people to buy the whole batch. But for me, the best reason to go to a market for Thai sweets is the variety. You just won’t find as big a selection anywhere else.

The two best markets in town for Thai desserts are Mae Hia Market and Siri Wattana Market. There are other good ones, but for me these two have the highest quality and best selection. They also offer cheap prices, but kanoms are almost always 20 baht or less per serving anywhere you buy them – except that touristy Thai restaurant.

So let’s get on with the “desserts” already.

Fried bananas

Fried bananas (kluai tot or kluai khaek in Thai) are a great example of what I was talking about earlier. Slices of banana dredged in a rice badder before being submerged in a wok filled with boiling oil. There is no sugar sprinkled on after. A glaze is not applied. not a drop of chocolate sauce or pandan custard around. The sweetest thing in this is a firm slightly under ripe banana.

That’s not to say it isn’t sweet at all. There is some sugar in the badder and the heat from the oil does well to make the sweetness of the banana come through. This is however a more sweet and savory affair than anything else.

This is a “get ‘em while they’re hot” kind of food. They do hold well for up to an hour or so after frying, but the contrast between a crispy grease laden outside and a hot gushy inside has a half life of 5 minutes or so. Fried fruit may sound a bit unusual, but I’ve yet to find a person who doesn’t like these.

Where to find

roadside carts and any big-ish market, but Kom Market does my favorite. Great after a bowl of khao soi at Khao Soi Lung Prakit Kaat Gorm nearby.

Bananas in Coconut Milk

I’ll follow one seemingly strange way to cook bananas with another. Kluai buat chi is essentially a sweet and salty hot banana soup. And while it only has two ingredients (outside salt and sugar) it doesn’t really taste like either of them. Somehow creating a new flavor altogether that is far from either components origin.

When cooked together the bananas and coconut milk turn an unappealing gray color. I’ve yet to learn about the science as to why this occurs, but I do know that the worse this dish looks the better it usually tastes.

Having said that, the one I eat most often has the ingredients separated until just before serving. This is because of the Steam Technology™ used in the little plastic cups at 7/11. Not as good as homemade, but available at 1 am when I need this proverbial Thai Oreos and milk.

Where to find

Mae Hia Market, Siri Wattana Market, 7/11 in the refrigerated section.

Sesame Ball

If I had to choose a favorite off this list this little golden ball would be in definite medal contention. There is nothing I don’t like about these. There indescribably greasy exterior. That pattern of sesame seeds adheaeing to the exterior. The mystery of how they get the sweet bean paste into the ball and how there is an air gap between it and the inside wall.

I affectionately refer to these as the only gluten free donut that doesn’t suck. I do this because I can never remember their Thai name and Google only gives me the Chinese or Vietnamese equivalents – as that’s where it comes from.

Where to find

Mae Hia Market

Kanom Buang

The name kanom buang loosely translates to “tile snack”. I guess this is in reference to floor tiles, but I find floor tiles in this country to be much less flat than these guys.

There are three main components to kanom Buang. The first being a crispy yet slightly styrofoam-y (in a good way) shell – the taste of which is not unlike a sugar cone. The middle layer is essentially Thai Jet-Puffed and the topping is shreds of sweet egg yolks, or Thai yemas if you will.

This is another one of those “gets bad in a hurry” sweets. As such, you should be eating these while still in sight of the flattop that cooked them.

Where to find

Mae Hia Market, Siri Wattana Market

Thong Muan

Thong muan is similar to kanom buang, only more towards the waffle cone end of the spectrum, and without the fillings. It’s actually made in a very similar fashion to a waffle cone, a thin badder cooked in an ornate metal press and all.

The main difference between these two comes down to texture and flavor. The bulk of the taste of thong muan coming from the coconut milk and sesame seeds. It is also considerably thinner and more brittle – with that, it shattering into a million crumbs when bitten. As such you can file these into the “eaten over a garbage can or outside” category.

Where to find

Any big-ish market and often at side of the road stands. They do a particularly nice version at Warorot Market during the day.

Kanom Krok

I’ve written about kanom krok a few times before so I’ll spare you that whole gushy yet crispy, sweet with savory fillings, semi-set texture pitch. Just be sure to stop for a 20 baht bag, whenever you see that black dimpled pan being filled with a a teapot.

Where to find

Mae Hia Market, Siri Wattana Market, Chiang Mai Gate Night Market

Curry Puff

I’ve also already talked quite extensively about why the curry puff is so delicious: good things come in small packages, the absurd flakiness, it’s wrapper becoming translucent from latent grease, yadda yadda.

Just know that these fall into the “best when hot, still good when not” section of this list and let’s move on.

Where to find

Mae Hia Market, Siri Wattana Market

Pa Thong Ko

To me, pa thong ko, is the quintessential Thai snack. I mean it’s fried dough in the shape of a gruesomely deformed bow tie. It’s that little starchy grease bomb your body craves when either needing to jumpstart a day or recover from a bad one. As such pa thong ko is as commonly eaten in the morning as it is at night – maybe a slight edge to the evening hours.

In the morning pa thong ko is usually eaten with savory dishes. Most commonly, a bowl of jok or khao tom. At night you’ll find it paired with a plastic container of sweetened condensed milk or pandan custard. If you’re early and at the right cart, sometimes they even have ones filled with The Good Stuff – so you don’t have to deal with that whole “dipping” nonsense.

Where to find

You’ll be able to find these anywhere that at least 5 food carts gather.

Lava Bread

I really could go on and on about how good these are. It’s a Thanksgiving dinner roll, toasted, and inseminated with frosting. How the Hell is not supposed to be great. If the photo isn’t enough to convince you, read this stand alone post I did about this food.

Where to find

Santitham Circle

Roti

There isn’t an item on this list I’ve eaten as much as roti. This is partly to do with the fact that, maybe next to pa thong ko, roti is the most readily available Thai dessert. Go to any market or most neighborhood’s busiest 7/11 and you’ll find a woman with a covered head slinging these bad boys. Slinging being an appropriate word with all the dough theatrics going on.

Roti, along with pa thong ko, is a sweet and/or savory affair. The fact that the egg is the most standard filling attests to that. Or that if you order one with double cheese you’ll have to specify you don’t want condensed milk or sugar on it. They’ll give you a confused look, but the Thai quesadilla your about to eat is worth it.

Where to find

You’ll be able to find these anywhere that at least 5 food carts gather.

As there are way more Thai desserts than this I’ll be doing more posts on the subject in the future, and cut this list off here. To sum up what I’ve gone over here: 20 baht is the usual price, Markets are the best place to get these particularly Mae Hia Market and Siri Wattana Market, Thai desserts tend to be less sweet and more savory than Western desserts.

The Good Stuff Chiang Mai

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