Ice cream in Thailand? Readers of this blog know our love of street food. I’d like to talk a bit today about one of my favorites – coconut ice cream.
We do get excellent coconut ice cream in several restaurants: My Choice in Bangkok has a particularly good one. A. Mallika (see Favorite Bangkok Restaurants about mid-page) has a good one as well, served in a young coconut, if you desire.
Aside from restaurants, though, you quite often see street vendors with ice cream carts, and there’s some very delicious ice cream to be found here.
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Typically what they serve is coconut ice cream, though occasionally you’ll find other flavors, such as mango. On rare occasions you’ll find a commercial product but more typically the carts are selling home-made coconut ice cream, probably made by the vendor himself (or herself). I’ve seen these carts nearly everywhere – on busy Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok right at Soi 55 (Thong Lo), in national park areas, in sleepy country villages and on the street next to major markets (such as a particularly tasty and memorable coconut ice cream vendor outside of Worarat market in Chiang Mai) or in the market itself (as at Don Wai market, in Nakhan Pathom). The cost is usually 10 baht for a cup of ice cream, so about 35 cents U.S.
Usually the ice cream tastes dairy free to me, so made completely with coconut milk. The texture is usually not the same as a milk/cream-based ice cream and not quite that of a sorbet – it’s a refreshing cross between the two. Sometimes what is sold as plain coconut ice cream will have little bits of fruit or coconut in it.
There does arise the question: “Is it safe to eat this ice cream.” My rule of thumb is to make sure that the cart and the vendor look clean. By all means, if you are nervous about eating street food, be careful. Personally, I’ve tried these ice creams all over Thailand and never suffered any un-desirable effects.
All of these pictures were taken from a single vendor who happened to walk past the door of my sister-in-law’s townhouse in Samut Prakan in February of this year (2010). It’s a quite typical operation. One option is ice cream in a cup, as seen in one picture. Another, not always available, is in a cone. The third option is an ice-cream sandwich, Thai-style. This, in fact, is a real sandwich, with the ice cream being placed directly on a puffy, white bun or roll. In both instances you have the option of getting the ice cream plain (as in these pictures) or with toppings. The toppings include: sticky rice, candy sprinkles, palm kernel fruit and peanuts. Hopefully in a future Wednesday Photo I can post a picture of the Thai ice-cream sandwich in all it’s glory rather than the plain version shown here.
After I finished writing this post, Kasma made a trip to Thailand to visit her mom (in June 2010); here are some pictures she took of the same vendor.
I like that photography can let us focus in on details to let us see things in a different way. This is Kasma’s picture of a detail on a Buddha statue at Wat Phra Boram That in Chaiya, Thailand. You can see a slightly more expansive detail in Michael’s photo in an earlier Wednesday Photo blog: Another Chaiya Buddha.
The Wednesday Photo is a new picture each week highlighting something of interest in Thailand. Click on the picture to see a larger version.
Saturday Farmer’s Market in Berkeley, on Center Street at Martin Luther King (MLK) Way, is one of our two favorite local farmer’s markets; the other is the the Friday Old Oakland Farmer’s Market. We are frequent visitors to this Saturday Berkeley Farmer’s Market. Although the market is scheduled to open at 10:00 a.m., we usually get there somewhat early in order to get good parking and make sure we get some of our favorite items before they sell out.
I love local farmer’s markets. They are as close as I can get to the street markets in Thailand. I love knowing who is growing my food and that the producer gets all the money from my purchase. By going weekly, I get to know what is in season and what is not: in California where the seasons are often similar, it’s a way to be in touch with the changing year.
Here are the stalls where we shop at the Saturday morning Berkeley Farmer’s Market. We prefer the Saturday market (Berkeley also has markets on Tuesday and Thursday) because that’s the only day that all of our favorite vendors are there. You can get a full listing of all the vendors at the Berkeley Ecology Center website (opens in new window). One advantage to the Berkeley Farmer’s Market is that nearly every stall is organic and the few that are not are often pesticide-free or transitional.
Pictures for this blog are from both Michael and Kasma. They were all taken in July of 2010 and reflect what is available at this time of year. I have updated the blog in May of 2020, mainly to remove several vendors no longer at the market.
Click on an image to see a larger version.
Riverdog Farms (opens in new window) is one of the first places I look for produce at the Berkeley Farmer’s market. Everything always looks so fresh and eatable! Green beans, cherry tomatoes, asparagus (in season), snap peas, carrots (orange and red) are things I buy here. They also have delicious pastured chickens that are very tasty indeed and their pork is fabulous. Their almond butter is absolutely fabulous! Don’t overlook their eggs.
Catalan Family Farm
I always check out the vegetables at Catalan Family Farms, often buying onions, green beans or cauliflower there. This year (2010) I think they’ve had the best strawberries at the Berkeley Farmer’s Market; week after week we tasted as many strawberries as we could (I love tasting fruit before I buy, a definite plus for farmer’s markets) and we usually bought them here.
Blue Heron Farms
We are eternally grateful to Blue Heron for being the one place where, week after week, we can be certain of getting cilantro roots. Cilantro roots are a critical ingredient in many Thai curries, soups and stir-fries. In Kasma’s advanced classes she often needs cilantro roots for various dishes: thankfully we can get them at Blue Heron. I’ve also bought their carrots and other greens. This summer they also have had a beautiful selection of flowers. Unfortunately, they take a break in the winter months: we miss them.
Happy Boy Farms
Happy Boy Farms (opens in new window) is another produce stand we like. This year (2010) they were the first to have heirloom tomatoes and they have been very, very good indeed. If I’m going to get a salad mix, I get it here.
Lucero Organic Farm
Lucero Organic Farms has excellent produce. Their summer squashes are great and they often have okra, including some varieties I never see elsewhere. Their heirloom tomatoes are also outstanding.
It should come as no surprise that Solano Mushroom sells mushrooms; mushrooms of all kinds, in fact. Here we see Royal Trumpet (Eryngii) mushrooms, our favorite for a snap-pea with oyster sauce stir fry. They have many varieties such as chanterelle, porcini and oyster, all very fresh indeed.
For stone fruits, it’s usually hard to beat Frog Hollow (opens in new window). This is where I often buy my peaches, apricots, nectarines and pluots. Their Flavor King pluots are the best I’ve ever tasted. They are always very generous with their tastings. This year we depended on them for cherries.
I think Kashiwase has the best tasting at the market; they usually have eight to ten varieties of stone fruit (in season) and have a tasting table with samples of all of them. Nectarines are the one fruit I find myself buying over and over here. They also have excellent raw organic almonds at a reasonable price.
Smit Farms (opens in new window) is my go-to stall for Gala and Pink Lady apples, which become available in the fall. They are at the market year-round with other organic fruits, such as cherries and yummy grapes.
Meat & Fish
Although everything here is fresh and wonderful looking, I rely on Hudson Fish (opens in new window) mainly for the black cod (AKA butterfish). Butterfish is a good name for it: it melts in your mouth like butter. For a drunken stir-fry or a pad gkaprow (holy basil stir-fry), there is no better fish.
Eduardo Morell’s breads are my favorite breads anywhere: they are true artisan breads. Naturally leavened by whole wheat starters (no commercial yeast or chemical leavening are used in any of the products), they are dense, chewy and full-flavored delicious. My favorite loaves are the Multigrain and the Raisin Rye bread. I’ll also get the 100% Spelt bread for variety and occasionally a loaf made with an heirloom variety of wheat from the local Full Belly Farm. Toasted and with butter, they are satisfying and filling. Eduardo also makes delicious scones, both multi-grain raisin scones and fruit scones using seasonal fruits from vendors in the market. Anything here is highly recommended! The only places these breads and scones are available anywhere are the Saturday and Thursday Berkeley Farmer’s Markets. (Morell’s Bread Website (opens in new window))
Naturally fermented foods are some of the healthiest foods you can eat: the natural fermentation creates beneficial gut bacteria that helps with digestion and helps boost the immune system. Cultured (opens in new window) is another reason to attend the Saturday market (they’re also at the Tuesday Berkeley market). In addition to sauerkraut (I like the Traditional, the Nutra Kraut and the Lemon Garlic Dill), Cultured offers seasonal specialties, which change from week to week. My absolute favorite product here is the Beets with Fennel. They also sell kombucha. (My favorite article on the importance of bacteria is Garry Hamilton’s Why We Need Germs.)
Bariani Olive Oil
Although we eat mainly Thai food at home, when I make a salad I’ll often use olive oil from Bariani Olive Oil (opens in new window). It’s a family-run operation that oversees every step of the process themselves. It’s organic and very tasty, with a slight grassy taste that I find enjoyable. They also make a very nice balsamic vinegar.
Everyone should visit Damneon Saduak Floating Market south of Bangkok at least once. I recommend doing what Kasma used to do on her trips: hire a car, get up at the crack of dawn and arrive at the market around 7:00 a.m. in the morning. Then rent a boat and enjoy being paddled around on the klong (canals). At that time in the morning it’s a true local market: the tourists and tourist buses haven’t yet arrived and you can enjoy the market in relative peace and quiet.
I have te believe that images such as this are among the most widely known images of Thailand: a vendor on a boat with a straw hat. I love this picture of Kasma’s, taken on an old 35-mm Olympus camera in 1999. The first time I went to the market I was amazed to see vendors cooking everything right on the boat.
Floating markets are largely a remnant from the past, when much of the country lived along the canals (klong). Recently many other floating markets have opened, many of them much more strictly local than Damneon Saduak, perhaps the best known of the Thai floating markets.
The Cambodian market formerly called Sontepheap is now called Mithapheap and is found in Oakland, on International Avenue at 14th Avenue, is a great Southeast Asian market.
(Note: this blog was updated on 12 June 2012 to reflect the name change from Sontepheap to Mithapheap Market.)
Oakland doesn’t have a Thai Town like L.A. Neither does it have any Thai market. Whenever I need the the hard-to-grow and hard-to-find fresh herbs and vegetables I am used to eating and cooking with back in Thailand, I head for Mithapheap (renamed from Sontepheap in early 2012). The store is small but packed with many interesting things. It is run by a friendly couple – Yun (short for Yunita) and Sam, – who both speak fluent English. Usually one of them is there behind the check-out stand and they are more than happy to help new customers find things in the store.
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During the summer and early fall, when the weather is warm, Mithapheap is a great place to visit for people missing the exotic flavors they’ve experienced in Southeast Asia. Sam makes frequent trips to growers he knows in Modesto and brings back a truckload each time of fresh produce seldom seen in other Southeast Asian markets in the area, such as pea eggplants, winged beans, the beloved cha-om (which always sells out within a day or two!), lemon basil, holy basil, ivy gourd leaves (bai dtam leung in Thai) and the very nutritious drumstick tree leaves (moringa or marum, in Thai). The store also carries numerous frozen and bottled herbs and vegetables imported from Thailand, as well as precious items such as salted crab needed for making a delicious som dtam(green papaya salad), the bitter sadao (neem) flower buds that are so good with nahm bplah wahn sauce and grilled catfish, the yummy sun-dried mudfish (blah chon daed diow) and pilot fish (bplah salit daed diow), and one of my favorite ready to cook preserved fish – bplah som – a sour fish made similarly as sour sausages.
Moreover, the store sells many freshly made snacks similar to ones found in markets in Thailand, which I love to buy for my students to sample. Below are pictures taken during a recent visit to the store, showing a vast array of exotic Southeast Asian produce and other food items one can acquire there. But because some of the rarer items are sometimes hard to come by, if you are searching for something particular, call ahead and ask if they have it in stock before you make a trip there. It may be there one day but gone the next.
If you are out that direction, there are two other markets worth visiting: the Lao International Market and Maykong Market. Both are smaller than Mithapheap and just two blocks further down on International Ave between 16th and 17th Aves. The latter is a tiny store, but sometimes I find very fresh herbs and produce there that are particular to Cambodian and Thai cooking.
From International Ave (which is the old East 14th Street), take a jog a street over to East 12th Street and head on to Sun Hop Fat at 5th Ave. Unlike the three small markets mentioned earlier, it is a supermarket-size Vietnamese store that we recommend to students because it carries a large number of fresh produce and packaged food products used in Thai cooking. It also has large freezers carrying a large variety of seafood products and frozen snacks from Southeast Asia.
(Note: I took all the pictures in this article except the first one.)
Sam (to left) and Yun (above right) are the owners of Mithapheap. The produce in the picture to the right includes, from front to back: galanga, turmeric, ginger, Thai eggplants, Thai chillies and home-made coarse-ground toasted rice in the shadows in the back.
To the left we see banana blossoms (for salads and dips) and packaged kaffir lime leaves. to the right we see baby watermelon (used as a squash in some sour curries), bagged cha-om and bitter melon.
Winged beans are a treat to find: Thais use them in wing bean salads, often of the yum (a type of spicy and sour salad) variety. Kaffir lime leaves, critical in many Thai dishes, are always a challenge to find in the U.S.
Holy basil is another hard-to-find Thai ingredient. It is used in many dishes, particularly dishes such as Spicy Basil Pork (Moo Pad Gkaprow) (see my recipe for Spicy Basil Chicken(Gkai Pad Gkaprow)). Some dishes, such as Pad Kee Mao (Drunken Stir-fry) just are not the same without holy basil. And Lemon Basil is a real find if you are making a soup such as Golden Pumpkin Coconut Soup with Lemon Basil (Gkaeng Liang Fak Tawng) that requires it.
Two more hard-to-find items. Sawtooth coriander is a great accompaniment to the northeastern salads called lahb (or larb), such as my Northeastern-style Spicy Minced Chicken Salad(Lahb Gkai). Ivy gourd vine (pak dtam leung) is used in salads and stir-frys.
Canned baby corn is just no substitute for recipes that call for baby corn!
To the left are dried, sliced areca nuts and betel leaves for wrapping the nut and chewing as a stimulant. To the right are home-made pickles in the refrigerator at the market.
Here are two different types of fermented products. To the left is bplah som – sour fish from Thailand (found in the freezers). To the right are sour Cambodian meat sausages.
To the left is another type of sour sausage (naem) from northern Thailand. To the right are some refrigerated sweet treats (kanom wahn). (See Michael’s blog on Thai Sweet Snacks – Kanom Wahn.)
To the left is Yun behind the counter with an assortment of fresh-made sweet snacks in front. The ready-made meals on the right include kanom jeen rice noodles with salads and curry sauce, and grilled spicy fish wrapped in banana leaves.
To the left are fresh mangosteens in net bags on top of cylindrical packages of durian cakes on the checkout counter. To the right are shelves packed with a large assortment of bottled herbs, vegetables and fruits, such as banana blossoms, tamarind leaves, young green peppercorns, cassia leaves, water mimosa, lotus stems, turmeric, galanga, star gooseberries and more.