Almost too pretty to eat
Arun Ammarin Rd (near Soi 39), Thonburi, Bangkok
T: (02) 434 3834, (02) 433 8841, (02) 424 8606
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From both a visual and figurative standpoint, Thailand could very well boast the world’s most colourful cuisine. There are the deep greens, reds and yellows of endless curries, the bursting brightness of spicy salads, and the multi-hued sauces that accompany any good seafood meal. Yet nothing outshines the bouquets of adorable mini treats known as khanom luk chup. We spent some time with the experts at Baan Luk Chup in Thonburi to find out just what goes in to these edible works of art.
Luk chup originated in the Ayutthaya era when the Portuguese lived in Thailand. These foreign adventurers probably introduced Thais to European-style baking — the Thai word for bread, pang, is derived from the Portuguese pyo. Among the goodies that Thais developed a liking for was a sweet, soft, rich candy, which would have been made by the Portuguese with peanut or the widely available mung bean in place of the almonds found in their homeland.
In time, Thais created their own version of the snack, leaving out the egg and adding coconut milk along with palm sugar. Natural dyes were also added by the Thais as a finishing touch, rendering the khanom (snack) not only pleasant to the tongue but also the eye. Thus, the khanom luk chup was born.
In modern times, crafting luk chup starts by soaking and boiling mung beans with coconut milk until a cream coloured pulp is formed, which is then stirred for hours under the watchful eye of an expert as palm sugar is added gradually. Some luk chup can be overly sweet, but at Baan Luk Chup the amount of sugar is carefully monitored so as to add just a hint of sweetness that doesn’t overpower the coconut undertones.
Sweet bean is tossed in to some luk chup batters for a thicker texture and earthier flavour, and Baan Luk Chup momentarily places a blown-out candle under a lid with some of their batters, capturing a smoky background essence. Once the batter possesses the sought after flavour and consistency, it’s kneaded for some time before being cooled for a few hours.
Then comes the real artistry. The batter is crafted into the shape of bite-size pears, peaches, cherries, apples, slices of watermelon, as well as less traditional objects like eggs, chilli peppers, hearts and even little piglets. A thin stick is then placed in each luk chup before it’s dipped in a carefully heated jelly, which lends a firm outer coating.
Next, the paint brushes come out as kitchen artists use food colouring (Baan Luk Chup uses a safe variety imported from the US) to turn the tan, dumpling-looking objects into bright, colourful, squishy candies. Finally, small leaves and stems are delicately cut and placed in such a way that they really do look like tiny fruits. The cherries, in particular, are uncanny.
According to mother and daughter co-owners, Zupranee and Zineena Prasertpukdee, there’s still one more key ingredient that makes or breaks a luk chup. The Thai word for this is khanom maitree, which is a figure of speech meaning that kindness and goodwill must be mixed into the batter to produce a genuinely good khanom. To Westernise this, one might say a good luk chup must be “made with love”. The folks at Baan Luk Chup have been perfecting their famous sweets since 1977, and both their expertise and care are clearly evident both in spirit and in taste.
While Baan Luk Chup’s bright arrays are often sent off to lend some extra colour and sweetness to this or that birthday or wedding celebration, you can try everything from a dozen luk chup eggs to a basket of luk chup mini mangoes at the cafe just past Arun Ammarin Soi 39 in the Bangkok Noi part of Thonburi, not far from where you can catch trains to Kanchanaburi. The cafe also serves up savoury dumplings, fried crispy roti, coffee and a range of juices.
The easiest way to get here is to take the Chao Phraya Express Boat to Wang Lang (aka Phran Nok) pier, not far from Phra Athit pier and Khao San Road but on the west side of the river. Walk straight from the pier on Phran Nok Road, then hang a right on to Arun Ammarin Road just past Siriraj Hospital. Follow Arun Ammarin over the bridge spanning the Bangkok Noi canal, then take the stairs and cross to the other side of the road beneath the bridge. Continue straight past the Royal Barge Museum for a couple of hundred metres, and Baan Luk Chup is on the left a short way past Arun Ammarin Soi 39. Look for a large glass-fronted shop beaming with a whole bunch of very bright colours.
By David Luekens
Last updated on 31st January, 2015.