Give Thai sweets a try
Thai food gets a lot of props overseas — it’s almost ubiquitous now in North America, Europe and Australasia, but what doesn’t get much play are Thai desserts, or khong wan (literally: sweet things) in Thai. A great place to do some sampling is the The Old Siam near Chinatown.
Thai desserts are not always immediately recognisable as dessert — strangely wobbling gelled cubes, green “noodles” floating in a bowl of white liquid, bright orange strips, threads, balls, and kneaded shapes of every kind are joined by tiny crisp pancakes folded like tacos around white fluff, shaved ice topped with corn, strips of fresh young coconut, flavoured syrups in technicolor hues, and coconut milk.
There’s a staggering amount of variation that can be achieved using the same base ingredients: coconut milk, palm or coconut sugar, eggs, rice and mung bean. Thai desserts are usually sweet, sweet, sweet, and texture is often a bigger variable than actual flavour (most stuff tastes like sweetened coconut or caramelised sugar, or caramelised sweetened coconut). While they might not have set the world on fire, they are fascinating, tasty and cheap.
Old Siam was one of Bangkok's original shopping malls. Despite its location near Chinatown and Little India, its little shops and first-floor congregation of vendor stalls focus on all things Thai. After Thai silks or old school Thai music? Bossa nova and big band sung in Thai? Look no further.
On the first floor is a clutch of stalls that specialise in sweet treats from central Thailand. Don’t know what it is? Who cares. It’s going to be sweet, and if you don’t like it, just move on and try another! Watch out for sticky rice with mango, khao nieow ma muang, the standard bearer of Thai desserts overseas, but don’t miss her cousins, including durian sticky rice and banana sticky rice (khao nieow thurian and khao nieow gluay, respectively). Khanom krok are like little pancakes baked in tiny round bottomed griddles, crispy in the outside but soft and creamy on the inside, often with a dashing of corn kernels. Khanom takoh looks a bit like jello squares, but there are two layers, one clear and pandan flavored, and the other a coconut milk jelly. You’ll be feeling the enamel slide off your teeth before you know it.
A great reference guide to Thai sweets can be found at www.eatingthaifood.com — print it off and use it as a road map (or just take pictures of what you end up finding and look up the names later!) Austin Bush, another excellent food blogger and photographer located in Bangkok, has a great guide to pronunciation in Thai to help you correctly ask for the specific sweet that will put you into a sugar coma. If you're truly devoted to sugar, make Nang Loeng your next stop, then stop by Sweet Time after dark.
Our top 10 places to eat and drink around Chinatown