Thai(ing) Sweets

Thai people have an insane tolerance for sugar.  Like INSANE.  Like they put sugar in everything – they add it to their soups at the dinner table, and it’s a regular condiment at any Thai food stall, right next to the salt.  Personally I don’t like salt, and I would never add sugar to something on purpose, but I’ve had friends often mistakenly salt their food with sugar.  At school I watch children pour heaps and heaps of sugar onto their lunches, but of course it’s insanely hot in Thailand so they’re all still tiny.  A lot of products at 7/11 are also extremely sweet- the yogurts, the sodas, and even the Thai rice rum.

Not that this is a bad thing – after observing common Thai habits(smoking, consuming a ton of sugar, reckless driving without helmets, etc.) I decided to google Thai life expectancy.  It’s about 74 on average compared to the US 78 on average.  When you take into consideration that Thailand is technically a third world country with a lot less resources than the US, that’s really not a huge difference.  So I don’t think their sugar consumption has a negative effect on their health.

Thai Desserts reflect this extreme immunity to sweet.  In the book “Salt, Sugar, Fat” (I’d highly recommend) the author discusses a threshold that science have found people have, a threshold wherein lies the perfect amount of sugar that people can tolerate.  Too much sugar and people won’t enjoy what they’re eating, and too little sugar they also won’t enjoy it.  In conclusion, there exists a scientific sweet spot for how much sugar makes food appealing before it overwhelms your tastebuds.  The threshold for Thai people must be WAYYYY different than American people.  Maybe it’s because they grow so much sugarcane here that over centuries they’ve become more used to sweet things?  Maybe they crave the calories to ward off the heat?  Who knows, but it’s insane to watch from my American standpoint.

I have a hugeeee sweet tooth in the US.  I bake all the time, and have a weak spot for anything chocolate.  Here, however, I’ve been laying off because I find Thai desserts far less than savory.  Even mango sticky rice, which is in the standard “OMG you have to try this!” food section of any travel blogger in Thailand.  A lot of Thai desserts are random unrecognizable gelatin products, and personally Jell-o like products also gross me out(shout out to 10th grade science class where I learned how it was made).  A lot of Thai desserts also randomly contain corn and beans, which fall into the “sweet” section in a Thai mind, which kind of makes sense when you consider their actual sugar content.

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A collage of my past creations, I miss my oven almost as much as I miss my dog.  Not-so-subtle brag with the cake batter macaróns on the bottom right.

Now just because they’re not for me does not mean they’re not for everyone.  Just personally, if I had my choice between a second serving of Pad Kra Pow Gai or Thai dessert, I’d pick the Pad Kra Pow without a moments hesitation.  Here’s a list of a few of the Thai desserts I’ve battled so far.

  1. Khanom Duang ขนมด้วง

Shout out to one of my favorite bloggers Mark Weins.  His travel/food blog Migrationology is my go-to when I’m trying to figure out what the hell I’m eating in this country.  So almost any Thai name you see in this post I figured out by sifting through his blog, including the translations into the Thai alphabet.

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On the right are grilled bananas drizzled with honey, another common Thai dessert.  Thai language day was very impressive, all of the older children put together little food booths and sold food during performances.

The translation of Khanom Duang literally means sticky morsels.  I could spot that this was a gelatin-concoction from a mile away, but I usually still try stuff even if I think I won’t like it because why not.  This was also given to me by students on Thai Language Day, so it would’ve been rude not to.  The particular variety that I was blessed with was coconut-flavored.

2) Khanom Thuay ขนมถ้วย (Thai Coconut Custard)

This one actually isn’t bad for being of the gelatin variety.  There’s a noodle shop chain in BKK with a couple stores near Victory Monument.  Whenever I’ve popped in for a quick, cheap meal while traveling these are included with your 12 baht bowl of noodles.  My friends & I have come to a consensus that they would be much better if served cold, at least for our western palettes.  They come in adorable little bowls that last about 3 bites, so they’re perfectly sized.  According to Mark Weins you can also find these at street vendors.

3) Khanom Buang ขนมเบื้อง

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My roommates and I saw these for several months at Monday market before actually giving them a go.  They’re crunchy little pancake things filled with a thick, sweet whipped-cream like substance and topped with different colored sugary stuff on them(clearly I’m an expert on what I’m talking about).  They’re also actually not bad, although my roommates thought they were a tad sweet for their tastes.  In my opinion the most edible Thai sweet I’ve tried so far, picture taken when we finally decided to actually try them at the carnival in town for the Queen’s Birthday.

Oh and the little strongly things on top – apparently they’re called Foi Tong, and they’re some kind of egg yolk-sugar mix, brought to Thailand by Portuguese influence back in the day.  Knowledge credit Migrationology blog.

4) Khanom Thungtag ขนมถังแตก

This is a sweet Thai crepe thing that like a softer, more cakey version of the Khanom Buang.  It’s a lot less sweeter, although it also has some sort of whipped cream filling.  The filling is usually dyed a random color for whatever reason.  AKA the taco-looking -things if you’re speaking foreign English teacher.

5) Roti Sai Mai โรตีสายไหม

I first bought this in Ayutthaya when I was a young Spring chicken 2 weeks into living in Thaialnd.  I had no idea what they were, I just saw signs for them and had read that you’re supposed to get them in Ayutthaya.  So after seeing bright colorful bags of floss labeled “roti” (tbh they looked a lot like human hair), I bought some right before leaving.  I was confused when the vendor handed me a bag of matching colored crepes to go with it.  I thought the roti was the floss, and she had just handed me an extra freebie.

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After the owner of my hostel laughed at my completely incorrect attempt to eat it, he explained that the roti was the pancake and the floss was supposed to go inside.  This made a lot more sense, especially now after I’ve seen signs for a million different types of roti, not just with the floss.  It’s not bad, it’s just not something I would choose to spend my calories on.

6) Itim Khanom Pang ไอติมขนมปัง

This is an ice-cream sandwich that’s literally just that, ice cream sandwiched on white bread.  This is served in the cafeteria at school, and was one of the things that stood out to me the most when I first arrived.  I don’t think I’ll ever try it, but the kids love it.

7) Look Choop ลูกชุบ (Mung Bean Candy)

This has been one of the more traumatizing desserts I’ve endured in Thailand, but again a student gave it to me so I had to.  I knew the bean paste inside the brightly colored little fruit was coming, as a friend had warned me, so at least I wasn’t caught off-guard.  But these pretty little candies are filled with beans, yes beans.  Not exactly pleasant, but to each their own.

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The little mung bean candies at a floating market in Ayutthaya.

8) Lod Chong Nam Kati ลอดช่องน้ำกะทิ

These are little green pieces of gelatin that come floating in a sea of coconut milk.  I first tried these at a catered lunch for teachers when the prime minister came, and the Thai teachers LOVED it, so maybe it’s more for Thai people.  Again, I’m not really into gelatin, so it wasn’t for me, but the coconut milk part was good enough.  I’ve probably seen this dessert the most out of all, I notice someone walking around with a bag of it almost every time I’m at the open market.

9) Corn Swimming in Carnation

I apologize, I could not find the Thai name for this one.  This I first observed on the streets of Chinatown, Bangkok; where it’s served in little cups in a fashion similar to ice cream.  As I’ve metioned before, Thai people LOVE their Carnation, and corn is often considered to be a sweet.  So people ear corn literally floating in Carnation.  Corn does have a high sugar content for a vegetable, so it kind of makes sense, I just think the combination would be way too sweet for me.

10) Itim Kati ไอติมกะทิ (Coconut Ice Cream)

This is the one Thai dessert that I LOVE.  Like I said in my favorite Thai foods post, the best I’ve had so far was at Chatuchak Weekend Market.  I’m not a big ice cream person in the US, but the coconut flavor in the ice cream here is sooooo good, and it’s a lot less heavy than ice cream at home.  I think it’s made with coconut milk, but to be honest I cannot confirm.

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11) Khanom Chun ขนมชั้น (Thai Jello)

This is just a very sweet gelatin product.  I’ve only tried it when it was served to us teachers(by our student servers nonetheless) at school assemblies.  I’ve seen it a lot at coffee shops and such, so I think it’s popular with Thai people.  It’s always very pretty, served with pretty different colored layers, and usually featuring a cartoon character of some sort.

12. Khao Tom Mud ข้าวต้มมัด (Banana Leaf Sticky Rice)

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Lately, my roommates Callie, Nicole, & I have been trying random stuff that we find at the market, inspired by finding the Mark Wein’s blog post that actually EXPLAINS what all these unidentified objects are.  This was exactly how the description sounds, sticky rice cooked in a banana leaf with beans and other random fruit.  We didn’t really like it too much, but people bring it in to the foreign language office all the time.  Some of the Thai teachers even make it.  So I think it’s more popular with Thai people.

13.Sang Kaya Fug Tong สังขยาฟักทอง (Pumpkin filled with Custard)

This one Callie snagged at the weekly Monday market held in Dan Chang after we spotted it on Mark Wein’s Blog.  We love pumpkin, which thankfully there is an abundance of in Thailand, so we were pumped to give this a go.

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This is a slice of pumpkin filled with custard.  And it was actually REALLY good.  The pumpkin is nice and soft, and the custard is super creamy, but not too sweet.  I’d actually recommend trying this one.

14.Khanom Tarn ขนมตาล (Palm Sugar Pudding)

To be honest I’m not really sure if that’s what this is, I’m just guessing from what I found on Migrationology.  These suckers Callie, Nicole, & I bought at a floating market in Ayutthaya.  They were kind of lacking in flavor and sort of had a cake-gelatin-y texture, but they weren’t terrible.  Surprisingly, the white ones were a little sweeter and tasted better than the yellow ones.

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15. Random Western-Style Cakes

So technically these aren’t a “Thai” dessert.  But Thai people take Western cakes and do them in their own way.  Most trendy Thai coffee shops that I’ve encountered have quite a selection of Western cakes, usually in bright color and dressed up in an Instagram-worthy fashion.

My favorite coffee shop in my town, Time to Sweet(mostly my favorite because they don’t stare at me or kick me out when I order 1 cup of coffee and post up for hours working on my blog) offers a few.  They have flavors from matcha, to Thai tea, to chocolate, and everything in between.  I’ve only tried their matcha cake, and it was pretty dank.  I’ve also noticed that pretty crepe cakes are popular in Thailand.

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So there you have it.  The takeaway from this?  Anything that is based in banana, coconut, coconut milk, or gelatin may possibly qualify as a Thai dessert.  Thai people also qualify certain things as desserts that we in the US would qualify as a “healthy” part of a meal – for example corn, beans, bananas with honey, etc.  Maybe that’s reason 500 that Thai people are way thinner than people in the US.

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