In Thailand the weather is hotter, the smiles wider and the food spicier. And the sweets? Sweeter, of course! And more colourful! To understand them better, we spoke with an expert, Chef “Pete” Varasiri Thongtaem Na Ayuthaya of Trisara resort, who helped us gatecrash the world of Thai desserts
Sankaya Phak Tong
Those custard filled pumpkins originate in Malaysia as they are stuffed with Sankaya, a sweet egg custard which is a firmer, thicker version of the famous Malaysian Kaya dipping sauce. “In Thai cuisine, we always try to contrast flavours; in this case, pumpkin is pretty bland and starchy so we balance it with very sweet custard,” says Chef Pete. The result is a match made in heaven.
Soft balls of sticky dough filled with palm or coconut sugar and covered in coconut shavings – how about that for a knockout dessert? “The recipe was brought down south by the bureaucrats sent to govern Phuket from Bangkok,” says chef Pete. Which is maybe why the southern version is easily confused with Kanom Tom – coconut-filled dough balls popular in Central Thailand.
Chef Pete admits that this dessert looks better than it tastes. And it does look lovely! Luk Chup come in multiple shapes, often those of miniature fruits. It’s made of mung bean paste mixed with coconut milk and sugar, dipped in Agar Agar – a jelly made of seaweed, which has a firmer texture than normal jelly and is not affected by temperature. “Sometimes they are made in the shape of a chilly, to let kids try our favourite spice,” chef Pete laughs.
Those grilled rice cakes made with flour, coconut milk, grated coconut meat and sugar, are an ancient Thai dessert. Some say they are of Portuguese origin, while others claim that they were first made in a local sweet shop in Ayutthaya and their name translates to “Aunty Bin’s Snack”. It so happens that it’s also a play on words, as in Thai, “Ba” means…crazy. And you’d be crazy not to try!
This steamed layer cake made with tapioca and rice flour and coconut milk gets its green shade from pandan leaf juice. It has its origins in Portuguese cuisine as this is where Thais learned the techniques of steaming and baking. “Kanom Chan is often used in family celebrations as its layered structure represents continuous growth in life,” says chef Pete.
Kanom Met Khanoon
The name translates to jackfruit seed and the dessert itself is similar to Luk Chup – the difference is that instead of Agar Agar jelly this one uses the egg yolk. “The yellow-golden colour of Kanom Met Khanoon makes it suitable for family celebrations as it symbolizes wealth,” explains chef Pete. While not as pretty as Luk Chup, we think it tastes better.
Khao Niao Mamuang
If there is one dessert on our list that you knew already, it’s this one. A delicious local mango served with sticky rice, a hit as much with locals as it is with tourists. And as it is with some of the world’s most delicious dishes, it was born out of …poverty. “In the times of war and famine, when meat or fish were not easily available, Thais would eat their rice with fruits,” explains chef Pete. Even today, older people enjoy rice with watermelon and dry fish, while rice with durian is considered a royal dish. Royal or not, mango and sticky rice is a dessert to die for.
All photos by a Phuket-based photographer Mikołaj Krawczunas; stylization by Dorota Kossakowska. Learn more at foodandinterior.com