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Steamed Pumpkin Cakes (Wednesday Photo)

Michael Babcock, Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

Kanom Faktong – Steamed Pumpkin Cakes

Steamed Pumpkin Cakes

A delectable Thai treat

This is a picture of Kanom Faktong – Steamed Pumpkin Cakes in Banana Leaf Cups. I used to love it when Kasma had her advanced students make one of my favorite kanom from Thailand: it reminds me of being there. She taught this one in her Advanced Set F class. The banana leaf cups are essential: they add a distinct flavor that’s part of the snack. Kasma taught this recipe in Advanced Class F-3.

Readers of this blog know that I have a fondness for Thai kanom (or snacks). One of the pleasures of market walking is to see the huge variety of snacks that are available: every year I see things I’ve never seen before.

Check out my blog entry on Thai Sweet Snacks – Kanom Wahn.

Here’s a previous photo of Kasma making a Thai snack.

The Wednesday Photo is a new picture each week highlighting something of interest in Thailand. Click on the picture to see a larger version.

Ranong Buns (Wednesday Photo)

Michael Babcock, Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

Yummy Buns in Ranong

Ranong Buns

Ranong (province) Buns

When Thai people travel they usually have a specific destination on the itinerary that has to do with a food treat. We do the same thing whenever we travel in Thailand

On her Southern Thailand trip one stop I always looked forward to is what I think of as “Bun Ville.” It’s a section of the main highway on the Andaman Sea side of Thailand soon after Highway 4 coming from the turn-off at Chumpon curves south.

Keep an eye out to the left-hand side. You’ll know your at “Bun Ville” when you see all the stacked steamers – one stop after another.

What they are selling is a type of pork bun somewhat similar to the Chinese char siu bao and called, (I think this is accurate) in Thai sara bao. The buns where we stop are of several varieties, including pork (not the red pork of the Chinese buns, savory nonetheless), black bean, taro and custard. They are smaller in size than the Chinese bao and also less doughy.

Kasma found out about them from a Thai tourist magazine (they always list stops for food treats) and she’s been stopping there every since.

The Wednesday Photo is a new picture each week highlighting something of interest in Thailand. Click on the picture to see a larger version.

Grilled Bananas (Wednesday Photo)

Michael Babcock, Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

Grilled Bananas in Bangkok’s Chinatown

Grilled bananas

Grilled bananas in Bangkok's Chinatown

There are many more varieties of bananas in Thailand than we ever see in the San Francisco Bay Area. All of them taste better than what we’re used to. Some are used for frying, some for just plain eating and others for grilling.

You’ll see delicious grilled bananas such as these in nearly every open-air market you go to. These are from a vendor in Bangkok’s Chinatown. You get a sense of how easy it is to set up a street food stand: for this, all you need is a grill, some charcoal and bananas.

These are very delicious. It’s hard to pass them by, even when you’re very full from the last delicious Thai meal!

The Wednesday Photo is a new picture  each week highlighting something of interest in Thailand. Click on the picture to see a larger version.

Kabocha Squash

Kasma Loha-unchit, Thursday, November 5th, 2009

Golden Winter Squash Pairs with Coconut Milk to Make Colorful Sweet Treats

Kabocha Squash

Kabocha Squash

Numerous new varieties of colorful winter squashes are now available in the fall,  but I still favor the Japanese
kabocha (which means “little pumpkin”) for my cooking. It has a sweet and nutty flavor, smooth and creamy texture, low water content that does not dilute flavorings in my dishes and none of the stringiness characteristic of many kinds of western pumpkins. Because of these attributes, many of my cooking students have found it to be exquisite for making pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving.

With kabocha, I don’t have to wait until fall to make my favorite pumpkin dishes. It is available most of the year round, from all kinds of markets, including many chain supermarkets. This is because it is a dry squash that grows easily and stores extremely well, sometimes for up to six months in a cool, well-ventilated room.

(Click on an image to see a larger version.)

Cut Open Kabocha Squash

Cut Open Kabocha Squash

Smaller, flatter and more disc-shaped than the common pumpkin carved at Halloween, kabocha squashes average 2-5 pounds in size. They are eaten by Asians at various stages of maturity. Less-mature, deep green ones with light yellow flesh are cooked as vegetables in stir-fried dishes, curries and vegetable soups.(See Kasma’s recipe for Golden Pumpkin Coconut Soup.) As they ripen, the forest-green peel turns a paler grayish green, tinged with splotches of yellow and gold. Inside, the flesh becomes a brilliant shade of orange-gold, much more concentrated with flavor and natural sweetness. At this stage, these golden squashes make a perfect base for all kinds of irresistible and colorful desserts.

Sliced Kabocha Squash

Sliced Kabocha Squash

I am particularly fond of two sweet treats my mother frequently made while I was growing up in Southeast Asia. One recipe (Sweet Soup of Kabocha in Coconut Milk) is given below and the other Sangkaya is found on our recipe page. They are easy to make and delicious, combining the goodness of the “little pumpkins” with the rich flavors of coconut milk. Whenever I come across a beautiful ripe kabocha at the market, I couldn’t resist taking it home to turn into these tasty treats for friends and cooking students. They are delightful in cleaning the palate following a spicy meal.

Select a fully-ripened kabocha with good weight for its size – one splashed with golden hues on a grayish green exterior. But if you are not able to find a ripe one, substitute with any ripe golden winter squash, such as the tasty sweet dumpling, delicalata, kalabasa or buttercup.

See our website for more Thai recipes and more Thai ingredients. You might also enjoy our post on Thai (Sweet) Snacks – Kanom Wahn.

This recipe is also available on our website as Sweet Soup of Kabocha in Coconut Milk.

Sweet Soup of Kabocha in Coconut Milk Recipe (Gkaeng Buad Fak Tong)


Asian Pumpkin in Coconut Cream

Kabocha in Coconut Milk

  • 3 cups cut ripe kabocha squash
  • 2 cups or one can of unsweetened coconut milk (preferably Mae Ploy brand)
  • 2 Tbs. palm or coconut sugar (or substitute with brown sugar)
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 – 1/2 tsp. sea salt

Cut the kabocha squash in half, scoop out the seeds and peel off the greenish skin. Cut into strips about 2 inches long, 1/2 inch wide and 1/4 inch thick.

In a saucepan, heat the coconut milk with the two kinds of sugar and salt until well blended. (Salt brings out a rich, caramel flavor from coconut milk.) Bring to a boil, add the squash pieces and cook over low to medium heat until tender (about 7-10 minutes). Serve warm for best flavor.

Serves 6 to 8.

Another (sweet) recipe with coconut milk is Tapioca Black Bean Pudding.

Yummy Thai Snacks (Wednesday Photo)

Michael Babcock, Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

Yummy Thai Kanom

Six Sticky Rice Snacks

Four Sticky Rice Snacks

We seem to be blogging a lot about Thai (sweet) snacks (kanom wahn) lately so I’ll post one of my all-time favorite photos of snacks, this one taken at Bangkok’s Or Tor Kor Market back in 2004. I love the presentation (in banana leaf cups) of these artfully decorated sticky rice snacks with different toppings. The snacks on the top right and lower left have a custard (Sangkaya) on the sticky rice. The other ones are various sweet toppings. Too pretty to eat? Actually, too tasty to NOT eat!

The Wednesday Photo is a new picture  each week highlighting something of interest in Thailand. Click on the picture to see a larger version.

Thai (Sweet) Snacks – Kanom Wan

Michael Babcock, Sunday, October 25th, 2009

One of the joys of Thailand is the wide variety of snacks, or, in Thai, kanom, available in all the markets. A recent blog entry by Kasma that included a recipe for a very tasty Thai pudding, Tapioca Black Bean Pudding, got me thinking about Thai kanom. In the title above I’ve used kanom wan, wan being the word for “sweet,” since I’ll focus on sweet snacks here and there are savory snacks as well).

Tapioca black bean pudding

Tapioca Black Bean Pudding

Kasma tells me that Thai people traditionally didn’t eat sweets for desserts; if they had a dessert at all, it was fruit of some variety. Something sweet might be eaten an hour or so after eating or it might be eaten at any time during the day. This is not so different from how the Thai people treat food in general. For instance, they don’t really have any specific breakfast foods – breakfast is considered just another meal and anything that is eaten at any other time of the day will also be eaten for breakfast.

(Click on an image to see a larger version.)

Sticky rice treats in jackfruit

Sticky rice treats in jackfruit

Thai markets are full of kanom – I’m actually fairly amazed by the variety of Thai desserts and snacks. On our market walks we’re always seeing something that I swear I’ve never seen before. They are part of what I think of as a “grazing culture” – a Thai will eat any time of the day or night. Sometimes these new snacks don’t last – the sticky rice treats in jack fruit pictured here appeared one year at Or Tor Kor Market in Bangkok but the next year they were not there. Too bad, they were tasty!

The Tapoica Black Bean Pudding is representative of Thai sweets in many ways. One, it includes a salty component. Two, it is coconut based. Three, it contains ingredients that are healthy for you (black beans, coconut milk).

Making Grilled Coconut Hotcakes

Making Grilled Coconut Hotcakes

Thai sweets and snacks are seldom just sweet and, as a rule, are less sweet than American Desserts. They often have a salty component to play off the sweet taste. Kasma was very amused a few years back when the New York Times ran an article about the “new” way of making desserts that included a salty component. She wrote a letter and pointed out that in Thailand and all over Asia they’ve combined sweet and salty  for hundreds of years.

A great many Thai kanom are coconut based. Although coconut can be used in any form, such as shredded meat as used in Kanom Paeng Jee – Grilled Coconut Cakes – use coconut milk. The Tapioca Black Pudding is one example and Kasma’s dessert recipes include three all time favorites: Coconut Flavored Sticky Rice with Mango (Kao Niow Mamuang), Grilled Coconut-Rice Hotcakes (Kanom Krok), and Coconut Egg Custard (Sangkaya). (The picture above of a vendor making Kanom Krok was taken at Sukhumvit Soi 55 (Thong Lo) in Bangkok.)

Steamed Pumpkin Cakes in Banana Leaf Cups

Steamed Pumpkin Cakes in Banana Leaf Cups

Another characteristic of Thai kanom wan the presence of healthy ingredients – coconut milk, taro, squash, corn, to name just a few. Coconut milk is actually a very healthy food indeed, despite the efforts of the American oil industry to convince us otherwise. I’ve written an article The Truth About Coconut Oil and perhaps the best article on the subject is Coconut: In Support of Good Health in the 21st Century by Mary Enig, Ph.D. We’ve also got a page with numerous links to information about coconut oil.

The quick story is that coconut oil does not clog your arteries or contribute to heart disease and it is full of healthy fats, such as Lauric Acid and Caprylic Acid, which have a beneficial effect in the body by helping you fight off bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungus. It is what is called a “functional food,” defined thus: “a functional food provides a health benefit over and beyond the basic nutrients.”

Ruam Mitr without the ice

Ruam Mitr without the ice

One of my very favorite Thai snacks is a coconut-milk based snack called ruam mitr. Kasma, in her classes, calls it “Iced Sweet Coconut Soup with a Mix of Various Tidbits.” It’s basically a sweet coconut soup to which up to a dozen or so various tidbits such as jackfruit, green noodles, young coconut meat, water chestnut  and corn have been added. The picture above, before the ice is added, gives an idea of the variety of ingredients. It is topped with shaved ice and on a warm day is a delightful combination of coolness, taste and textures. It is very cooling and refreshing. (Picture is from Kasma’s class.)

Asian Pumpkin in Coconut Cream

Asian Pumpkin in Coconut Cream

There are numerous examples of kanom that contain something served in a “coconut soup,” such as Taro Cubes in Coconut Milk, Asian Pumpkin Simmered in Pandan-Leaf-Scented Sweet Coconut Cream Sauce (Gkaeng Buad Fak Tong) (picture from Kasma’s class), and the “Ordained Bananas” – Bananas Simmered in Jasmine-Scented Coconut Milk (Gkluey Buad Chi). (So-called, because nuns, in Thailand, wear white: the bananas have been “ordained”  in the white coconut milk.)

Coconut milk is also used in other desserts, such as Kanom Tuay – Steamed Coconut-Rice Cakes in Small Dishes and Sticky Rice and Corn Pudding (Kao Niow Bpiak Kao Pohd). And of course the kanom krok mentioned above.

Steamed Banana Cakes

Steamed Banana Cakes

Bananas are another common and well-loved ingredient. Of course, in Thailand there are many different varieties of bananas, all of which make the kind we find in United States supermarkets taste very bland indeed. In addition to Ordained Bananas, here are just a few banana-based desserts Kasma used to teach in her Thai cooking classes:

  • Grilled Plantain Bananas, Glazed with Sweet & Savory Coconut Cream Sauce,
  • Fried Bananas (Gkluay Tawd)
  • Stewed Bananas Topped with Coconut Cream Sauce (Gkluay Kai Cheum)
  • Steamed or Grilled Banana Leaf-Wrapped Sticky Rice Stuffed with Banana and Black Beans (Kao Dtom Pad)
  • Southern Thai Muslim Banana-Ginger Griddle Cakes (Gkalabpaeng)
  • Steamed Banana Cake Wrapped in Banana Leaf Packages or in Banana Leaf Cups (Kao Dtom Pad) (picture from Kasma’s class)
Sticky Rice Balls in Ginger Broth

Sticky Rice Balls in Ginger Broth

Other snacks have more of a Chinese influence – indeed, they are found on Chinese menus all over the world as well as in restaurants and markets in Thailand:

  • Sticky Rice Balls Stuffed with Black Sesame Paste in Warm Sweet Ginger Broth (Bua Loy Nahm King) (picture from the Krua Andaman in Nakhon Si Thammarat)
  • Sweet Potatoes in Ginger Broth (Man Dtom Nahm King)
  • Young Coconut Agar Jelly (Woon Maprao Awn)

Cassava, or yucca, is another ingredient often seen, as in these snacks:

  • Steamed Cassava Strips Rolled in Shredded Coconut (Kanom Man)
  • Caramelized Stewed Cassava (Yucca) in Syrup, Topped with Coconut Cream Sauce (Man Cheuam)
  • Cassava Custard Topped with Coconut Cream (Dtakoh Man Sambpalang)
Crispy Peppery Sweet Glazed Shells

Crispy Peppery Sweet Glazed Shells

Here are just a few other snacks you may come across:

  • Crispy Peppery Sweet Glazed Shells (Krawng Kraeng Gkrawb) (picture from Kasma’s class)
  • Chewy Sticky Rice Balls Stuffed with Smoked Sweet Shredded Coconut (Kanom Dtom Kao)
  • Southern Thai-Style Sweet Roti (Muslim Fried Bread) sprinkled with sugar and condensed milk and/or stuffed with sliced banana). Although these originated in the south, you’ll find roti vendors all over Thailand.
  • Steamed Pumpkin Cakes in Banana Leaf Cups (Kanom Faktong)
Kanom Buang Thai

Kanom Buang Thai

Another type of sweet you may encounter has a bright orange appearance, the color coming from egg yolks. One example of this is Kanom Buang Thai, a Thai crepe whose filling includes meringue and sweetened egg yolks. These particuler snacks can be traced to the influence of Marie Guimar, the half-Japanese, half-Portuguese wife of a Greek minister (Constantine Phaulkon) to the Siamese royal court in the 17th century. Marie worked her way to the position of head of the royal kitchen and introduced the use of eggs in making desserts and other sweets.

Bakery cakes in Nakhon Panom

Bakery cakes in Nakhon Panom

One trend that I’ve noticed over the years is an increase in western-style desserts in Thailand. It is fairly common to see bakeries that have decorated cakes and there’s one restaurant chain, S & P, that is famous for their cakes. In markets and malls you’ll find cookies, cakes and donuts.

And there are the exceptions to Thai snacks being less sweet than western desserts. On one memorable evening, a Thai friend took us to a trendy kanom shop that served nothing but extremely sweet, multi-colored syrups on white, puffy bread. I suppose the western-style bread makes this a fusion dessert. The place was absolutely packed.

Cassava cakes from Mithapheap Market

Cassava cakes from Mithapheap Market

In the United States, I’ve not seen much of a variety of Thai snacks at Thai restaurants: you’re lucky if they have sticky rice or fried bananas. Where I’ve seen a greater variety of snacks, somewhat more representative of what you find in Thailand, are at some of the Asian markets we frequent, such as Mithapheap market on International Boulevard an 14th Street in Oakland. You’ll find the snacks by the check-out counters. If you’re not in the Bay Area, make a trip to some of the Southeast Asian markets in your area. (See Shopping at Asian Markets (for Thai Ingredients).

Chiang Mai Snack Vendor

Chiang Mai Snack Vendor

We’ll finish with this picture of a young woman vendor outside of Worarat Market in Chiang Mai. She’s making Grilled Coconut Cakes (Kanom Paeng Jee), Fried Yam Balls and Fried Bananas (Gluay Tawd).

Written by Michael Babcock, October 2009.