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Donuts in Thailand, An Informal Survey

Michael Babcock, Friday, February 15th, 2013

This is a blog about donuts in Thailand. Over the years, I’ve observed donuts in a number of locations, from chain stores to open-air markets. This blog shows some of the donuts I’ve seen over the years.

Colorful Donuts

From a Bangkok open-air market

As I’ve observed before, there has been a proliferation of western carbohydrates in Thailand over the 21 years I’ve been coming here. (See my blog, in a new window, Western Carbs in Thailand.) Although Thai kanom (snacks) are relatively healthy (they nearly all contain a healthy ingredient such as coconut milk, squash, taro, etc.), some kanom wahn (sweet kanom) can be very sweet – some Thais do have a sweet tooth. (Also see my blog, in a new window, Thai Sweet Snacks.)

(Click images to see larger version.)

It would appears that donuts are fairly popular. In January 2011 we happened to be visiting Siam Paragon shopping center. We saw a line of perhaps 50 or 60 Thais, out the door, and wondered what the fuss was about. Turns out they were all lined up for Krispy Kreme donuts; we saw people walking away with two large boxes of donuts. I didn’t have my camera but you can see a photo of the phenomena at Krispy Kreme Opens in Bangkok | everythinghapa (opens in new page). Thais were still lining up half a year after the stores official opening. Certainly, this reflects the inroads in Thailand of Western food chains, something discussed at Indigenization of Thai Restaurants Overseas: Part 1 – American Fast Food Chains in Thailand.

Selling Snacks

"Hawker" with "donut holes"

These days you can find lots of donuts in any shopping center. There are inevitably a chain or two – Mr. Donut and Dunkin’ Donuts are popular – but you can also find donuts in the ground-floor supermarkets (found in every mall) as well as in the many stores (usually a dozen or more) selling western-style baked goods. You’ll find them in open-air markets, from vendors on the street and even from hawkers carrying two baskets suspended by a bamboo pole. As with the first picture above (taken at a Bangkok outdoor market in 2008), the donuts are often brightly glazed.

The Thais also have some snacks that are very reminiscent of donut holes. In Oakland we have donut savant (link goes to their Facebook page in new window), which makes the best donut holes around.

Thai Snack

A Thai snack

Inside a Snack

Inside the Thai snack

Here are two pictures of a “Thai donut hole.” I bought this snack from the hawker shown in the picture to the above right in Sukhothai. They reminded me of donut savant so I gave them a try. They were somewhat sweet (deep-fried and glazed) and contain a mung-bean filling, shown to the left, that is barely sweet. They weren’t bad!

Another Hawker

Hawker with 3 snacks

Glazed Donuts

Glazed donuts

Here are two pictures from Ayuthaya back in 2004. These donuts were sold by the hawker in the left picture. There are highly glazed donuts in the front basket and more traditional snacks in the back basket: the backmost (white) snack is a traditional snack rolled in coconut shreds, and the middle snack is a type of fried dough.

Sukhothai Donuts

Sukhothai Donuts

Tops Donuts #1

Tops Donuts #1

Above to the left are more glazed donuts from the morning market in Sukhothai. To the right, are some colorfully decorated donuts from the bakery at Tops Supermarket at MBK center in Bangkok.

Western & Thai

Western & Thai together

Mae Hong Son Donuts

Mae Hong Son Donuts

These pictures are both from the market in Mae Hong Son. The leftmost picture again (as with the hawker above) shows western and Thai snacks sold by the same person. The left tray has very tightly rolled donuts in back next to powdered jelly donuts in the front. The right trays show coconut pancakes (kanom krok) sold in banana leaf baskets: truly the traditional is meeting the modern here! The picture to the right shows deep-fried donuts, some with sesame seeds.

Donuts in a Bag

Donuts in plastic bags

Plain Donuts

Plain donuts in Mae Hong Son

These are also from the market in Mae Hong Son and show small donuts sold pre-packaged in a plastic bag – 8 for 10 baht (about 35 cents at the time)! I tried these donuts – each one was about two bites: they tasted just like a plain cake donut back in the states. Not bad.

I should note that like Sukhothai, this market is frequented mainly by locals with just a few tourists; it is certainly the locals who are the target audience for these supposedly western sweets.

Tops Donuts #2

From Tops Market

Tops Donuts #3

Unglazed Tops donuts

Here are two more pictures of the donuts available at Tops Supermarket at the MBK center in Bangkok. My, they do like highly frostinged donuts! The ones to the right are less sweet.

Mr. Donut

Mr. Donut in a shopping center

Mr. Donut's Donuts

Mr. Donut's Donuts

There’s a Mr. Donut in nearly every mall in Bangkok. This picture is from the Imperial World in Samrong (Samut Prakhan) on the edge of Bangkok. There’s a Mr. Donut on the lower and the ground floors. I also see that there’s a big sign on the main floor announcing that “Dunkin’ Donuts is coming soon!”


See also (all open in a new window):


Written by Michael Babcock, February 2013

Hua Hin Morning Market

Michael Babcock, Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

Chatchai Market in Hua Hin (also transliterated as Chat Chai), is well worth a visit. Whenever we head to the south of Thailand, on our own or during one of Kasma’s small-group tours to Thailand, we always plan to stop.

An Aisle in Hua Hin Market

An interior view of the market

The market is located off the main highway, highway 4, also called Thanon Phetkasem (Phetkasem Street); it’s on the right as you head south. The southernmost boundary of the market is Thanon Dechanuchit (Dechanuchit Street). The market is mostly indoors, with a little spillage to the street.

This is mainly a market for locals, featuring fresh ingredients of all kinds: vegetables, fruit, fresh-pressed coconut milk, meats, fowl and seafood. It also includes stalls with dried ingredients (dried shrimp, etc.) and prepared food. On the north end there are a number of shops catering more to the many fahrang (Caucasian) tourists and selling beach attire, colorful shirts, straw mats for the beach and so on.

(Click images to see larger version. There’s a slideshow of all images in the blog plus more at the bottom of the page.)

We go largely just to enjoy the lively, colorful display of fresh food.

Inside Hua Hin Market

Inside Hua Hin Market

Different markets throughout Thailand have different feels. This market is one of the most bustling markets we go to: the aisles are a bit narrow and it seems as if there is always someone wanting to get past you in the cramped quarters. Often you’ll have to scrunch over to one side to allow a motorcycle (often making a delivery, the item in a box on the back of the motorcycle) to edge past you. So be prepared to be jostled and don’t block the aisle too badly when you take photographs!

I always look forward to one of the aisles at the market where you find all kinds of dried foods; for years I’ve tried to reproduce the wonderful palette of oranges and reds created by the stacks of dried shrimps, vegetables and fruits.

Dried Food Stall

Colorful dried shrimp and more

Various Dried Foods

Close-up of dried foods

Fish Vendors

Fish vendors

When I think of Hua Hin Market, one thing that I always think of is fresh seafood. Hua Hin is right on the coast and the market naturally contains a whole section with many seafood vendors. The aisles in this section can be a bit treacherous: they are often very damp and often a bit slimy from water used to clean and refresh the seafood. Tread carefully! Usually a vendor will specialize in one thing or another: fresh fish, shrimp, squid or crabs, for instance. In addition to the fresh seafood, you’ll find all kinds of dried fish, squid and shrimp. When you see all the fresh seafood, openly displayed, you wonder how on earth all of it can get sold and what happens to the surplus. Luckily, Thais love seafood so probably hardly any of it goes to waste.
Whole Fish For Sale

Whole fish for sale

Dried Mackerel

Dried mackerel in baskets

One item that we always look for here is jackfruit (kanoon or kanun); it always seems to be good from this market. When you visit Thailand you really must try jack fruit: it has a subtle, delicious flavor unlike nearly any other fruit. It’s found in many markets already cut out of its matrix and ready to eat: something you appreciate much more if you’ve ever had to prepare it yourself! (For more pictures of this fruit and to get a sense of why it’s a luxury to get it read to eat, see the article on She Simmers – How to Prepare a Jackfruit)

Preparing Jackfruit

Preparing jackfruit for sale

Jackfruit Fruit

Jackfruit fruit, ready to eat

As befits a local market, there are a large number of vendors with fresh vegetables, ranging from large stalls with just about everything, to small vendors on a straw mat on the ground with just a few items to offer. As usual, you’ll find any vegetable you could desire for cooking Thai food, including items that we would love to be able to buy in the U.S., such as “rhizome” (krachai) and fresh, green peppercorns. In addition, you’ll find varieties of vegetables that are very different from what you’ll find back home. One example is the long, green eggplant (makeua yao) that is so delicious when roasted; you’ll even find it here already roasted – all you need to do is take it home and easily finish a delicious Roasted Eggplant Salad (Yum Makeua You).

Vegetables for Sale

Vegetables for sale

Roasted Green Eggplants

Roasted green eggplants


Hua Hin Municipal Market Slide Show

Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow.
Clicking on a slide will take you to the next image.

Inside Hua Hin Market
An Aisle in Hua Hin Market
Dried Food Stall
Various Dried Foods
More Dried Shrimp
Fish Vendors
Whole Fish For Sale
Prawns For Sale
Fresh Crabs
Dried Mackerel
Dried Fish
Preparing Jackfruit
Jackfruit Fruit
Yellow Mangoes
Papayas
Vegetables for Sale
Green Peppercorns
Roasted Green Eggplants
Palm Sugar
Dried Chilli Paste
Fresh Chilli Sauces
Butcher Stalls
Egg Vendor
Making Coconut Milk
Meat on Sticks
Grilled Fish Vendor
Frying Fish Cakes
Miang Kam to Go
Donut Holes
Flower Stall

One of the aisles at Hua Hin Market; notice the motor scooter in back.

Here's a view of Hua Hin Market from the inside.

There are numerous stalls selling dried shrimp and the like.

Here are several kinds of dried foods, including colorfully orange dried shrimp, to the right.

Here are 4 different dried shrimps, packaged to sell.

Hua Hin is on the coast and the market features numerous vendors of extremely fresh seafood.

Here's one vendor's selection of whole, fresh fish.

Fresh prawns (shrimp) such as these are widely available.

Other vendors offer fresh crabs, such as these.

This dried mackerel (pla too) is one of Thailand's favorite fishes; here it's sold in baskets, ready for steaming or frying.

Other kinds of dried fish are artfully arranged in an aesthetic swirl.

Hua Hin market always seems to have delicious jackfruit; here a vendor separates the fruit to sell.

Here's the fruit of the jackfruit, removed from the sticky matrix and ready to eat.

Of course, there's all kinds of other fruits as well, such as these sweet, yellow mangoes.

Here are orange and green papayas.

Naturally, there are numerous vendors with fresh vegetables; these are artfully displayed indeed.

Thai markets in general have a wealth of exotic ingredients hard to find back in the U.S., such as these fresh, green peppercorns.

The market also offers cooked ingredients that can be taken home and incorporated into a dish, such as these roast green eggplants.

Hua Hin market offers any ingredient you need to cook Thai food. Here are plastic bags of soft, easy-to-use palm sugar.

The market also offers fresh-made chilli pastes and sauces, providing an easy way to make an easy, delicious dish.

Here are some more spicy sauces.

Here's an inner aisle with several butchers offering fresh meat.

This woman offers chicken and duck eggs and also salted duck eggs. You select the eggs and take them home in a plastic bag.

Here a woman is making extracting fresh coconut milk from the flesh of coconuts; notice it running into the front pink bucket.

Of course, there's lots of pre-made food. This vendor is out on the street and offers various meats on sticks, such as satay and sausages.

Here's a grilled fish vendor with a marvelous smile.

Here's a close-up of fish or shrimp cakes fried in oil in a wok.

There's also many different pre-made foods, such as these packages of miang kam.

No market is complete without a complete selection of kanom (snacks), both Thai and, as we see here with these "donut holes," western.

Every Thai market has at least one vendor with colorful flowers; here we also see refreshing young coconut, ready to drink.

Inside Hua Hin Market thumbnail
An Aisle in Hua Hin Market thumbnail
Dried Food Stall thumbnail
Various Dried Foods thumbnail
More Dried Shrimp thumbnail
Fish Vendors thumbnail
Whole Fish For Sale thumbnail
Prawns For Sale thumbnail
Fresh Crabs thumbnail
Dried Mackerel thumbnail
Dried Fish thumbnail
Preparing Jackfruit thumbnail
Jackfruit Fruit thumbnail
Yellow Mangoes thumbnail
Papayas thumbnail
Vegetables for Sale thumbnail
Green Peppercorns thumbnail
Roasted Green Eggplants thumbnail
Palm Sugar thumbnail
Dried Chilli Paste thumbnail
Fresh Chilli Sauces thumbnail
Butcher Stalls thumbnail
Egg Vendor thumbnail
Making Coconut Milk thumbnail
Meat on Sticks thumbnail
Grilled Fish Vendor thumbnail
Frying Fish Cakes thumbnail
Miang Kam to Go thumbnail
Donut Holes thumbnail
Flower Stall thumbnail

Two Previous Blogs on Hua Hin

Five Previous Blogs on Thai Markets


Written by Michael Babcock, September 2011

Asian Markets – Oakland’s International District

Michael Babcock, Thursday, August 18th, 2011

When shopping for Thai or Asian ingredients in Oakland, California, one of the best areas is the International District, which covers International Boulevard (formerly East 14th Street) and East 12th Street. There are many Southeast Asian and Chinese markets on these two streets from the Lake Merritt end to 17th Avenue. In this blog I’ll talk about the markets where Kasma shops for ingredients, both for her personal use and for her Thai Cooking Classes.

This is a companion piece to last-week’s blog: Asian Markets – Oakland’s Chinatown

As I mentioned in a previous blog, Shopping at Asian Markets (for Thai Ingredients), more often than not Kasma goes to a number of markets on her shopping trips; different markets carry different ingredients and she always tries to get absolutely the freshest ingredients and the best brands of packaged products.

International Boulevard, the old East 14th Street in Oakland, and East 12th Street are intersected by the numbered avenues, beginning with First Avenue. Up until about 17th Avenue, the stores are primarily Asian; after that, the flavor turns more Hispanic. It is one of the two main districts for Asian supermarkets in Oakland, the other being Oakland’s Chinatown situated from 7th to 9th Streets bordered by Broadway to the west. One of the advantages of shopping at International Boulevard is that many of the stores have parking lots.

(Click images to see larger version.)

International Boulevard Asian Markets

Sontepheap Market

Mithapheap Market

Mithapheap (was Sontepheap) Market

1400 International Blvd. (at 14th Ave.)
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 436-3826

I list this market first because it is the market Kasma frequents the most out on International Boulevard. The market is run by Cambodians and is a great source for hard-to-find Southeast Asian ingredients, such as holy basil, kaffir lime leaves, cha-om, bai chaploo and more. Read Kasma’s blog Mitapheap (was Sontepheap) Market in Oakland to find out more. There’s a small parking lot right by the store. The name was changed from Sontepheap to Mitapheap in early 2012.


International Lao Market

International Lao Market

International Lao Market

1619 International Blvd. (at 16th Ave.)
Oakland, CA 94606
(510) 536-5888

The International Lao Market, owned by Laotians, gets second position because Kasma often goes there for hard-to-find produce items when they are not available at Sontepheap. The market also carries many frozen, bottled and packaged goods from Thailand, including one of Kasma’s favorite fish sauce brands – Tra Chang – as well as her favorite brand of shrimp paste (kapi) – Klong Kohn. This is one place Kasma’s students can find clay, stone and wooden mortars and pestles. Nearby street parking is usually available.


Mekong Market

Mekong Market

Mekong Market

1613 International Blvd. (at 16th Ave.)
Oakland, CA 94606
(510) 261-7630

Although it’s a small store, I’m including Mekong Market here because it is right next to the International Lao Market. The proprietress is Cambodian and Kasma uses this as a back-up for ingredients such as Thai eggplants, holy basil and kaffir lime leaves. Of the Southeast Asian cuisines, Cambodian and Lao foods share the most similarities with Thai and markets run by people from these two countries are more likely to carry the hard-to-find fresh ingredients also used in Thai cooking.


Thien Loi Hoa

Thien Loi Hoa

Thien Loi Hoa

1199 E. 12th St. (at 12th Ave.)
Oakland, CA 94606
(510) 663-0138

Also on East 12th Street, Thien Loi Hoa is a fairly large and complete market. They have fresh and frozen seafood in addition to produce and a butcher. In the freezers are also various Southeast Asian herbs and vegetables, like cha-om and sadao (neem). This is the only market in Oakland where Kasma can find pickled garlic from Thailand without preservatives in vacuum-sealed bags in the refrigerated section. In the same section, there’s usually the sometimes hard-to-find salted mackerel from Thailand. Fresh duck eggs are frequently available here, too. The store has a small parking lot; I’m usually able to find a spot.


Lucky Fish Market

Lucky Seafood Market

Lucky Seafood Market

1201 E 12th St. (at 12th Ave.)
Oakland, CA 94620
(510) 436-6068

Lucky Fish Market is right across the street from Thien Loi Hoa and is a good place to look for fresh fish, including live ones in the tanks, and other seafood such as crabs and lobsters. They have another market on 8th street in Oakland’s Chinatown. Thien Loi Hoa and Sun Sang (see next entry) also have fresh fish, if you can’t find what you’re looking for here.


Sun Sang Market

Sun Sang Market

Sun Sang Market

751 International Blvd. (at 8th Ave.)
Oakland, CA 94606
(510) 891-0298

A fairly large Asian grocery store with produce and a meat counter. Kasma used to go there specifically to buy Lion and Globe Peanut oil in 5 liter bottles but lately they have only the smaller sizes. The store has a large selection of frozen seafood products and also a fairly good fresh fish counter.


Written by Michael Babcock, August 2011

Asian Markets – Oakland’s Chinatown

Michael Babcock, Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

One of the two best locales to shop for Asian ingredients in Oakland, California is Oakland’s Chinatown. When Kasma does her weekly shopping for her Thai cooking classes, she invariably begins at Oakland’s Chinatown. Below are the stores where she shops.

One map I came across shows Oakland’s Chinatown Boundaries as a rectangle bound by Broadway and Oak on two sides and 6th Street and 11th Street on the other two sides. The stores where Kasma shops are all within a narrower area, bounded by Broadway and Webster on two sides and 7th Street and 9th Street on the other sides.

Although it is called Chinatown, it is really more pan-Asian as the stores are run not only by Chinese but also by Southeast Asians such as Vietnamese.

Street parking can be somewhat hard to find in Chinatown, particularly on 8th Street and 9th Street where there are many stores. Double-parked vehicles, including large delivery trucks, are very common on these two streets. On weekday mornings, Kasma can sometimes find parking on Broadway between 8th Street and 9th Street. When I shop here I usually drive up 9th Street (it’s a one-way street) coming from Clay Street and park at the metered-street parking either between Clay and Washington or between Washington and Broadway. Alternatively, there’s a parking lot under the Asian Cultural Center, which is found on Franklin Street in-between 9th and 10th. Drive up 9th (one-way) from Broadway and turn onto Franklin (left only, Franklin is one-way) and the parking lot is underground to your right. It costs the same to park here as on the street, but they charge in hour-long increments.

(Click images to see larger version.)

Oakland Chinatown’s Asian Markets

Wah Hang Market

Wah Hang Market

Wah Hang Market

415 Ninth St
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 268-0358

Wah Hang Market is a small shop just on 9th street between Broadway and Franklin. Kasma occasionally stops here mainly to look for fresh produce; if Khanh Phong is out of a certain item or if the freshness is not to Kasma’s liking, she’ll stroll down here and see what is on display. She’ll also buy certain cuts of pork here, again, if Khanh Phong doesn’t have what pleases her.


Yuen Hop Noodle Company

Yuen Hop Noodle Company

Yuen Hop Noodle Company

824 Webster St.
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 451-2698

Kasma comes to Yuen Hop Noodle Company basically for two items. One is the loosely packed bags of fresh-made rice noodles, which are the best rice noodles on this side of the Bay. The other is a snack – Chinese-style mochi (sticky rice dough balls) stuffed with a ground black sesame and peanut filling that is very good and a favorite snack among her students. Both are usually sold out before noon. Although it is called the “Noodle Company”, the store is more or less a typical Asian grocery store carrying a wide variety of fresh produce, dried seafood products (occasionally the hard-to-find salted mackerel), and packaged and canned goods. The cookware aisles are worth a look.


Wing Fat Market

Wing Fat Market

Wing Fat Market

719 Webster St.
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 835-2318

I’m including this smaller, Asian market just for the sake of completeness. Kasma comes here mainly to look for nino (” baby”) bananas (Thais call them “egg bananas”) if she can’t find them at the right stage of ripeness for cooking that she needs at other stores. This store seems to always have bunches of these bananas hanging from wire hooks at the front.


Best Taste Restaurant

Best Taste Restaurant

Best Taste Restaurant

814 Franklin St.
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 444-4983

Kasma stops here to get char siu – Chinese barbecued red pork. Their roast duck and crispy-skin roast pork are also quite good. A good place for a quick, inexpensive lunch.


Old Oakland Farmer's Market

Old Oakland Farmer’s Market

Old Oakland Farmer’s Market

Ninth St. between Broadway & Clay
Oakland, CA
Fridays, 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

On Friday mornings, the Old Oakland Farmer’s Market is a great place to get Asian produce. There’s a large number of Asian vendors, many of them immigrant Southeast Asian farmers including Hmong and other hilltribes. The produce is very fresh and the prices are among the best you’ll find. It pays to get to the market as early as you can as store owners often come early in search of hard-to-find produce for their stores, such as pea eggplants, Thai eggplants, holy basil, lemon basil and chayote greens. Many stalls are ready to sell even before 8:00 a.m., the official opening time. In addition to produce, we come here for very fresh duck eggs; our Filipino mailman swears by the balut we get here. There are also stalls selling ready-made food and a few tables set up for people to eat. See our earlier blog Old Oakland Farmer’s Market.


Oakland Chinatown’s Seafood Markets

Asian seafood markets are very different from what you find in regular supermarkets. Most of the fish is displayed whole, with the head, tail and fins still on; you can have them cleaned to your liking after you’ve made your selection. The best way to tell how fresh a fish is is when it’s still whole and not yet scaled and gutted. (See Kasma’s article Selecting a Fresh Fish.) Kasma prefers to shop for fish in Chinatown because there are three stores within close proximity that have a good selection of fresh whole fish; it is not uncommon for her to walk to all three stores to make sure she gets the freshest possible seafood. All three markets display the whole fish on ice and also have tanks with live fish and other seafood, such as crabs, lobsters, shrimp and clams. (See also Whole Fish Dishes.)

New Sang Chong Market

New Sang Chong Market

New Sang Chong Market

377 8th St.
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 451-2018

New Sang Chong Market is where Kasma usually looks for fresh fish first. Although the selection is not as large as Lucky Fish Market (across the street), the fish tends to be fresher. In addition they sell what in Thai would be called gai bahn, literally “house chicken.” These free-range chickens are a much smaller variety than that found in traditional American supermarkets and have a much better flavor. When Kasma was perfecting her Thai Southern Fried Chicken Recipe, she was able to get the result she wanted only from this smaller variety of chicken. The chickens are sold with head and feet on. The market also has a butcher, a good selection of frozen seafood, and fresh produce.


Lucky Seafood Market

Lucky Seafood Market

Lucky Seafood Market #2

376 8th St.
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 663-8638

No longer called Lucky, still a fish market.

This is the largest of the three fishmongers on this block. There’s also a Lucky Seafood Market on International Boulevard, the other good locale for markets with Asian ingredients in Oakland – a blog to follow soon.


Yet Sun Market

Yet Sun Market

Yet Sung Market

397 8th St.
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 451-3338

Yet Sung Market is the third market with fresh seafood and also the smaller variety of free-range whole chicken with head and feet still on. They also have very fresh produce, well worth a look here.


Oakland Chinatown Bonus Restaurant

Gum Kuo Restaurant

Gum Kuo Restaurant

Gum Kuo Restaurant

388 9th St # 182
Oakland, CA 94607-4292
(510) 268-1288

I’ll include this restaurant because it’s a great place to get jook (or johk) – congee (rice porridge). On the Fridays that we come to the Old Oakland Farmer’s Market we usually come here for congee or for the roast pork or roast duck, both of which you can see hanging enticingly in the window. I often get a plate of the pork and Kasma usually gets congee with pork liver, preserved egg and fish. This restaurant is worth a blog of its own sometime soon. (Prescient words! See Gum Kuo Restaurant, Oakland Congee, from February 2012.)


Further reading:

Written by Michael Babcock, August 2011, updated May 2017

Nakhon Thong – Portrait of a Thai Community

Kasma Loha-unchit, Friday, June 3rd, 2011

The Nakhon Thong community is situated just north of Sukhumvit Road and across the canal from the large municipal market and bustling town center of Samrong in Samut Prakan province.

(Note: scroll down for a slide show of images from Nakhon Thong.)

Samrong Canal

Samrong canal

My sister moved to this community about a year and a half ago along with my elderly mother whom she has been taking care of the past five years. It’s a convenient neighborhood with all essential services within a short walking distance, including two large, open-air fresh markets, a shopping mall with a big department store and modern supermarket, branches of all major banks, and the post office. Although it is in Samut Prakan province, the town of Samrong is only a few kilometers across the boundary line from Bangkok and is very much part of the greater Bangkok metropolitan area. Mass transportation systems and freeways make commute to jobs in the heart of the capital easy.

In many ways, Nakhon Thong is a typical Thai working class community with most of the residents living in two- to three-story townhouses or rowhouses along quiet dead-end streets and alleys. Many of the rowhouses have been converted into primary residences from machine shops prevalent in the area in years past. Most are homes to families with two to three generations living under the same roof, so it is common to see grandmas and grandpas visiting one another and small children running around the alleyways playing.

Offering Alms

Offering alms to a monk

Like in many communities, there are social programs for the residents sponsored by the district government. For instance, for several weekends last year, free cooking and craft classes were offered in the open area by the canal that serves as the community’s forum. Every weekday evening, a free aerobic exercise class is given in this same space. Neighborhood meetings are frequently held here as well with good attendance and most of the residents know one another and watch out for each other. Living in the community is a district representative who visits every home to make sure underweight children are provided with free milk and the elderly and the handicapped are given assistance in applying for the central government’s 500 baht per month welfare program for the disadvantaged.

As in many working class communities, there are cottage businesses operating on the ground floors of many of the rowhouses. Among them is a home that makes coconut ice cream in large canisters for tricycle street vendors. Another home sews striped fiberglass bags like the ones you see selling in most marketplaces around the country. Still another home makes beautiful cloth cosmetic bags for vendor stalls by the shopping mall.

Cooking on the Street

Cooking on the street

But perhaps the most common cottage business is food and there are many cooks along the alleyways of the community offering a range of either pre-made or cook-to-order food. Together with all manner of tricycle, motorcycle and pushcart food vendors who regularly come into the neighborhood, busy home-makers and the elderly need not leave their homes to be well-fed. For more choices, a short walk over a pedestrian bridge by the Sukhumvit Road overpass, or an even quicker and easier 2-baht ferry boat ride across the canal will bring you to a bustling marketplace selling all kinds of fresh produce and meats, as well as a wide assortment of ready-to-eat foods. From there, a short walk across the street takes you to another large open-air food market by the big shopping mall, in which are plenty of eateries on several floors. Busy commuters tired out by Bangkok’s notorious traffic have plenty of choices to pick from on their walk home from the bus stop and need not worry about cooking after a long hard day.


Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow. You can also click on any picture individually and either scroll through the images using “Next” and “Prev” or start the slideshow at any image. Captions accompany the images. Clicking on a slide will also take you to the next image.


Nahkon Thong Community – Slide Show

Community Meeting
Ice Cream Vendor
Ice Cream Sandwich
Caregiver
Chicken Vendor
Pork Vendor
Community Spirit House
Giving Alms
Making Coconut Ice Cream
Motorcycle Food Vendor
Motorcycle Food Cart
Cooking on the Street
More Prepared Food
Slicing Crispy Pork}
Pork Soup Vendor
Pushcart Vendor
Salad Vendor
Herbal Drink Vendor
Herbal Drink
Drink Stand
Ferry Boat
Samrong Canal
Pedestrian Bridge
Samrong Food Market
Street Vendors
Open-Air Market
Shopping Center Food Fair
Outside Food Stalls

A community meeting sponsored by the district government announces social programs planned for the neighborhood.

My sister waits for her turn to buy coconut ice cream from a tricycle cart parked in front of her townhouse.

The vendor makes a Thai-style ice cream sandwich for my sister.

Wan, a neighbor hired by my sister to help take care of my mother, takes her blood pressure. Wan is also very active in helping handicapped people in the community.

A pushcart fried chicken vendor visits the neighborhood.

This motorcycle vendor is well-known in the neighborhood for his delicious barbecued pork and crispy pork rice.

This is the community's spirit house.

Nan, an elderly neighbor, gives alms to a monk across the alley from the community's spirit house. The woman kneeling in front makes a variety of food (in the large pots) each morning for sale outside her home as alms offering.

A couple of doors down from where residents gather in the morning to give alms to monks, coconut ice cream is being made in large canisters for tricycle cart vendors who will come by to pick them up.

A motorcycle food vendor makes his way into the community, announcing his arrival with the sound of a peculiar horn.

A motorcycle cart sells fresh and pickled fruits and snack foods.

Neighbor Keow, who loves to cook, makes delicious dishes on propane burners outside her home to sell to residents in the community who doesn't have time to cook. She also makes some money on the side by selling transportation services with her pickup truck. We've relied on the convenience of hiring her to take us to the airport on our trip back to the USA, especially with our big pieces of luggage which wouldn't fit in a single cab!

Appetizing home-made food to go varies from day to day from neighborhood street stalls, giving busy residents choices and variety in their diet.

Jeng, who lives across the alley from Keow, is slicing up yummy crispy fried pork belly for me to take on my plane ride home. She cooks just about any standard wok dishes to order.

Dtia and Jae make pork soup noodles from a push cart parked outside their home.

A couple make green papaya salad and grill chicken and fish on a pushcart outside their waterfront townhouse.

Hohm is proud of her made-to-order Isan-style hot-and-sour salads, which sell out every day.

Across the walkway from Hohm's cart, Oy sells a home-made herbal drink of pandan leaves and butterfly pea flower, which she grows herself.

Oy's herbal drink is colored naturally with fresh green pandan bai toey leaves and the deep blue butterfly pea flower (dawk anchan).

Oy's brother sets up the tables along the canal, selling various cold drinks and snacks on a hot summer afternoon.

Petch and other members of his family operate a simple wooden boat "ferry" service to cross the canal to the marketplace for two baht per ride.

This view of the Klong Samrong is seen from the middle of the pedestrian bridge crossing the canal. The community is situated on the right bank where the ferry boat is seen at a distance in the middle of the picture.

The pedestrian bridge straddles the concrete Sukhumvit Road bridge. This picture is taken from the marketplace side.

The huge Samrong municipal fresh food market as seen from the bottom of the pedestrian bridge.

Vendors sell ready-made foods, as well as clothing and household items, to passersby from stalls beneath the Sukhumvit Road overpass

In another large open-air market across the Sukhumvit Road overpass from the municipal market is bustling with shoppers.

Weeklong food fairs are frequently held in the wide open area on the ground floor just inside the main entrance of the Imperial World shopping complex. This is another reason why residents in nearby communities hardly need to cook.

Outside the Imperial World shopping complex are more food stalls under tents along the sidewalk.

Community Meeting thumbnail
Ice Cream Vendor thumbnail
Ice Cream Sandwich thumbnail
Caregiver thumbnail
Chicken Vendor thumbnail
Pork Vendor thumbnail
Community Spirit House thumbnail
Giving Alms thumbnail
Making Coconut Ice Cream thumbnail
Motorcycle Food Vendor thumbnail
Motorcycle Food Cart thumbnail
Cooking on the Street thumbnail
More Prepared Food thumbnail
Slicing Crispy Pork thumbnail
Pork Soup Vendor thumbnail
Pushcart vendor thumbnail
Salad Vendor thumbnail
Herbal Drink Vendor thumbnail
Herbal Drink thumbnail
Drink Stand thumbnail
Ferry Boat thumbnail
Samrong Canal thumbnail
Pedestrian Bridge thumbnail
Samrong Food Market thumbnail
Street Vendors thumbnail
Open-Air Market thumbnail
Shopping Center Food Fair thumbnail
Outside Food Stalls thumbnail

Written by Kasma Loha-unchit, June 2011.

Cha-Om – A Delicious and Nutritious Tropical Acacia

Kasma Loha-unchit, Friday, May 13th, 2011

Cha-om, a tropical member of the acacia family (Acacia pennata) native to mainland Southeast Asia, is a well-loved herby vegetable among Thais, Cambodians and Laotians. The parts that are eaten are the ferny young leaf shoots and tender tips before the stems turn tough and thorny. It has a particular fragrance that may seem unpleasant at first to the unaccustomed, but when it’s cooked up, it’s so tasty that most people can’t stop eating it and the aroma is just part of the package and soon becomes quite likable. This happens a lot whenever cha-om is cooked up in my cooking classes.

Click on an image to see a larger version.

There’s a slide show with all images in this
post at the very bottom (scroll down).

Fresh Cha-Om

Fresh cha-om from Mithapheap

More Fresh Cha-Om

Prickly thorns on lower stepms

De-stemmed Cha-om

De-stemmed, ready to cook

Cha-om is a small shrub with prickly thorns on its branches and stems, though I hear breeders have come up with a thornless variety I have yet to personally come across. In tropical Southeast Asia, it is a fast-growing shrub that puts out new shoots year-round and most robustly during the rainy season. People in some regions, particularly the North, prefer to eat cha-om in the dry season since cha-om grown during the monsoon season tends to develop a tartness and has a much stronger smell. Growers prune the shrubs regularly to harvest the young shoots, wearing long gloves to protect themselves from the nasty thorns. A mature plant can put forth enough shoots for cutting every three days or so. In the more temperate climate of northern California, growth is less profuse and the plants need protection from the cold. They stop producing new shoots when temperatures dip in late fall and stay semi-dormant through the winter.

Cha-om Egg Squares

Cha-om egg squares

The most common way cha-om is cooked is with beaten eggs, like in an omelette, which is then cut into squares or rectangles to serve with pungent nahm prik (hot chilli sauces, usually with fermented shrimp paste – nahm prik kapi in Thai) and fried fish (usually Asian mackerel, or pla too).(See Kasma’s recipe, Pan-Fried Mackerel and Assorted Vegetables with Hot-and-Pungent Fermented Shrimp Dipping Sauce – Nam Prik Pla Too.)

Nam prik pla too

Nam prik pla too

Thai Dipping Sauce

Nam prik with cha-om egg pieces

Cha-om Egg Rounds

Cha-om egg rounds

Cha-om Omelette

Cha-om omelette

Cha-om egg squares are also frequently cooked in a spicy sour tamarind curry with shrimp (kaeng som). One of my favorite restaurants, Mallika, located in the outskirts of Bangkok, makes a fabulous crispy fried cha-om in a ferny nest, topped with a hot-and-sour sauce containing squid, shrimp and chopped pork (yam cha-om gkrawb). It’s one of the first dishes people in my Thailand travel groups get to savor as I usually take them to Mallika for lunch right after picking them up from the airport. Most fall for cha-om and look forward to eating more of it in other dishes through the trip.

Cha-om in Curry

Cha-om egg squares in curry

Dish with Cha-om

Crisp-fried cha-om

Stir-fried Cha-om

Stir-fried cha-om with egg

Because of its fairly assertive flavor and higher price, cha-om is usually not stir-fried by itself like other leafy green vegetables, but is instead used much like an herb to flavor other things cooked with it. For these reasons, it is sold in small bundles in markets across Thailand. Eggs go especially well with cha-om and in my classes, we make a delicious stir-fried cha-om with eggs and bean thread noodles.

Cha-om for Sale

Cha-om at Hua Hin market

Cha-om Bundled for Sale

Cha-om at Krabi market

Cha-om for Sale

Cha-om at Mithapheap

Starting last spring, we’ve been lucky to be able to get cha-om fresh in the Bay Area during the warmer months beginning in April until the weather turns cold in the fall. Being a tropical acacia, cha-om needs warmth to enable it to put forth new shoots. However, there’s only one store I know of that carries the fresh shoots and that’s Mithapheap, a Cambodian market on International Boulevard in Oakland. [Update, May, 2014: Lao Jaleune Market, formerly Heng Fath Market, on 23rd Street in Richmond, CA also carries it on occasion.] Last summer the store even had cha-om starter plants for sale. But the supply is very limited and disappears quickly in spite of its price (retails for around $15 a pound).

 

Cha-om Plants

Cha-om plants at Mithapheap

Sam, who owns Mithapheap, tries to carry as many of the tropical herbs and vegetables that his Southeast Asian clientele craves and misses after immigrating to this country. He’s made an arrangement with farmers he knows in Modesto to grow many of these exotic produce. Among them is cha-om. During the growing season, Sam drives down to the farm two to three times monthly, usually late in the week (often Thursdays) and the produce would be available over the weekend. Cha-om is usually gone within a few days. Since both Michael and I are very fond of cha-om, as are many of my students who’ve been introduced to it, Sam would call or email me whenever he’s been to the farm and brought back cha-om. As soon as I receive the message, I would dash down to the store to pick up some before it disappears and then shoot off a message to my students. Sam is the main fresh cha-om supplier in the Bay Area and many of his big Southeast Asian customers, including some restaurant owners, often place special orders with him and are among the people he would contact whenever he brings cha-om back from the farm.

 

Frozen Cha-om

Frozen cha-om at Mithapheap

Short of being able to get cha-om fresh, it is available for a lower price in 4-oz. packages imported from Thailand in the freezers of several East Bay stores (haven’t checked the Cambodian markets in San Francisco which most likely would have it). Mithapheap sometimes has frozen packages of de-stemmed leaves which make it easier to use and you get more for the same weight. But most frequently, the frozen packages contain cha-om still on the stems. The Laos International Market two blocks further down the same street also regularly carries frozen cha-om and a third store in the same vicinity to check is Thien Loi Hoa on East 12th Street at 12th Avenue.

 

Frozen Cha-om

Frozen Cha-om at Lao Market

Frozen Cha-om

Frozen Cha-om at Thien Loi Hoa

Not only is it delcious, cha-om is a nutritious vegetable, high in vitamin C and beta-carotenes. It is good for the heart and is known to be an anti-cancer agent. There’s nothing like a natural food that tastes great and, at the same time, is good for you!


Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow. You can also click on any picture individually and either scroll through the images using “Next” and “Prev” or start the slideshow at any image. Captions accompany the images. Clicking on a slide will also take you to the next image.


Kasma’s Cha-om Photo Slide Show

Fresh Cha-Om
More Fresh Cha-Om
De-stemmed Cha-om
Cha-om Egg Squares
Nam prik plah too
Thai Dipping Sauce
Cha-om Egg Rounds
Cha-om Omelette
Cha-om in Curry
Dish with Cha-om
Cha-om for Sale
Cha-om Bundled for Sale
Stir-fried Cha-om
Cha-om for Sale
Cha-om Plants
Frozen Cha-om
Frozen Cha-om
Frozen Cha-om

Fresh cha-om from Sontepheap market in Oakland.

Notice the prickly thorns on the lower part of the stems.

De-stemmed cha-om leaf shoots and tips ready for cooking.

Cha-om egg squares to accompany nam prik and fried fish in the next picture.

Nam prik plah too at Nong Beun in Inburi.

Nam prik with cha-om egg pieces at Mae Sa Valley Resort.

Cha-om egg rounds at Or Tor Kor (Aw Taw Kaw) market.

Cha-om omelette and fried mackerel at a rice shop in Nakhon Si Thammarat.

Sour tamarind curry with cha-om egg squares at Chula in Sukhothai.

Crisp-fried cha-om with hot-and-sour sauce, Mallika.

Cha-om sold in small bundles at Hua Hin market.

Cha-om bundled with banana leaf in Krabi market.

Stir-fried cha-om with eggs and bean threads.

4- to 6-oz. packages of fresh cha-om, Sontepheap Market.

Cha-om plants for sale at Sontepheap.

4-oz. frozen packages of de-stemmed cha-om at Sontepheap.

4-oz. frozen packages at Laos International Market.

4-oz. frozen packages at Thien Loi Hoa.

Fresh Cha-Om thumbnail
More Fresh Cha-Om thumbnail
De-stemmed Cha-om thumbnail
Cha-om Egg Squares thumbnail
Nam Prik Plah Too thumbnail
Thai Dipping Sauce thumbnail
Cha-om Egg Rounds thumbnail
Cha-om Omelette thumbnail
Cha-om in Curry thumbnail
Dish with Cha-om thumbnail
Cha-om for Sale thumbnail
Cha-om Bundled for Sale thumbnail
Stir-fried Cha-om  thumbnail
Cha-om for Sale thumbnail
Cha-om Plants thumbnail
Frozen Cha-om thumbnail
Frozen Cha-om thumbnail
Frozen Cha-om thumbnail

Written by Kasma Loha-unchit, June 2011