Thai food is, without a doubt, among one of the most famous cuisines in the world. Most people are well acquainted with signature dishes like 'tom yum goong', 'pad thai', 'som tum' and so on. However, not many are familiar with look 'choob', 'thong yib', 'thong yod', 'foi thong' or 'khanom chun' - all of them very common, very traditional and very yummy Thai desserts. In fact, you may have seen them, smelled them, or even tried them before - but never quite knew what they are, or what they're made of.
Unfortunately, Thai desserts have often been overlooked or left out of the menu in most Thai restaurants because of very intricate preparation methods. And since a great deal of fresh and quality ingredients such as palm sugar, rice flour and coconut milk are required, it's become increasingly difficult to find great Thai desserts.
Popular Thai Desserts
Some of the most common Thai desserts include the egg-yolk varieties; 'thong yib' (pinched gold), 'thong yod' (drop of gold) and 'foi thong' (golden threads). Like other traditional Thai desserts, these 'three musketeers' have symbolic meaning. The colour gold, acquired from the yolk, signifies auspiciousness and prosperity. Accordingly, they are used in auspicious ceremonies like weddings, commemoration of a new house, and ordainment. There's also 'khanom chun' (layered dessert), a name derived from the fact that this dessert has nine layers. The number nine is believed by Thais to be an auspicious number which represents advancement and progress. It is often used in important ceremonies such as weddings and job promotions. You may see other colour variations available along side the traditional shade of green acquired from the pandanus leaf.
Probably the most outstanding in shapes and colours of all, 'look choob' (miniature fruits) are glossy and colourful miniature fruits and vegetables made from mung bean paste, cooked in coconut milk and dunked in gelatin. Quite appropriately, 'look choob' represents adorability.
Thai desserts, however, are not all about yolks and rice flour, tropical fruits also find their way into the world of Thai sweets. Perhaps the most well-known of all is 'khao niew ma muang' (sticky rice garnished with sweet coconut cream and a few roasted sesame seeds and ripe mango). For those with a liking for fruit, the same sticky rice is also served with bits of durian in season. Bananas can be made into 'gluay buad chee' (banana in coconut cream), 'gluay tord' (deep-fried banana fritters), and the pandanus-wrapped 'khanom gluay' (steamed banana with rice flour and coconut).
The origin of Thai desserts started when the Portuguese, the first Westerners to reach Ayutthaya, introduced the use of eggs, which were to become another important ingredient in Thai desserts on top of flour, sugar and coconut products. Mung beans, rice flour, glutenous rice, lotus seeds, palm sugar, cassava root are also common ingredients of Thai sweets. Besides the sweet taste, another unique characteristic of Thai desserts is the fragrance. Thai people soak jasmine and other aromatic flowers in water and use resultant scented water to make syrup. Aromatic candles are often burned next to the desserts or coconut milk in closed containers, or sometimes the desserts are placed next to fragrant flowers overnight.
It's not a surprise that a lot of people find Thai desserts too sweet and heavy because, almost as diverse as the desserts themselves, the cooking methods vary from a simple deep frying (deep fried banana), steaming ('sangkayaa fak thong' - a whole pumpkin filled with a coconut cream and egg custard), to the more complex process of cooking egg yolks in syrup. This is why people prefer something lighter like 'khanom waan' (pieces of fruit, grass jelly, sticky rice and the likes in a bowl of syrup, coconut cream and a scoop of crushed ice). Of course, sliced up tropical fruit makes for great dessert too.