Food Markets

Hua Hin Treats

In Hua Hin, Thailand, about 120 km south of Bangkok, there’s a great place to buy snacks. Readers of this blog can be forgiven for thinking that all Kasma and I ever do in Thailand is visit restaurants and markets where we eat all the time. Come to think about it, that’s pretty accurate! Actually, though that’s a bit of an exaggeration, food is never too far from our minds in Thailand, in part because it is so widely available and visible. When we travel around Thailand we rarely miss an opportunity to visit a market and inevitably, over the years, we’ve gotten to know some markets very well.

Hua Hin Intersection
Look for this intersection
Meechai Shop
Mee Chai Shop

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

Mee Chai Shop Sign
Look for this sign

One of our regular markets is Hua Hin Market, for we drive through Hua Hin once or twice a year on our way down South, both on Kasma’s small-group trips to Thailand and when we travel on our own. [Kasma retired from doing these trips in 2020. We still will most likely go down south every year.]

Another reason we stop in Hua Hin is to pick up Thai kanom (snacks) at one of our favorite snack spots in all Thailand. It’s a storefront called Raan Mee Chai or, in English, “Mee Chai Shop.” It’s found directly opposite the main market in Hua Hin, right on the main road through town. It is just past Soi 55/2 and as you head south it will be on your left hand side.

Kanom Tian Sign
Sign and Kanom Tian

We make a special visit to this store to buy a number of treats. I’m convinced that they make the best Kanom Tian in Thailand. You may have seen this treat in Thai markets and not known exactly what it was – it’s one of a number of Thai treats that are wrapped in banana leaves. This particular kanom is a pyramid-shaped, dough-filled savory treat and is widely available in markets everywhere around Chinese New Year as well as Songkran (Thai New Year). The Thai word, tian means candle, so it is the “candle snack.” (It is perhaps named that because of all the candles lit on the holidays when it is usually available.)

Kanom Tian
Kanom Tian, unwrapped

The dough is made from sticky-rice flour while the stuffing contains mung beans and spices, sometimes pork. The dough at MeeChai is particularly gooey and tasty while I’ve never had a filling elsewhere that is so peppery and savory; this one is pork-free. It’s worth a trip to Hua Hin (and this shop) just for this one snack. I’ve pretty much stopped buying kanom tian elsewhere because it always disappoints: it’s never as good as from this shop.

Here’s a recipe for Kanom Tian – Stuffed Dough Pyramid Dessert (offsite, opens in new window). I can’t vouch for how good the recipe  is, I’m including it because it has a sequence of pictures that give a very good idea about how the snack is made.

Trays of Custards
Trays of custards

The second treat that I like at Mee Chai shop is their Baked Coconut Cream and Taro Custard (Kanom Maw Gkaeng Peuak). (Another transliteration of the Thai might be Khanom Maw Kaeng.) This is actually a snack that another town on the way to Hua Hin – Phetchaburi – is famous for; Thai travelers will make a special stop at Phetchaburi just to buy this custard. They’d be better off going to Hua Hin! I’ve had this snack from several different places in Phetchaburi and I think Kanom Maw Gkaeng here at MeeChai is the best I’ve ever had. It is an incredibly rich, creamy delicious baked custard.

Baked custard
Baked custard – Kanom Maw Gkaeng

One of the secrets to this delightfully rich custard is that it uses duck eggs rather than chicken eggs. I’ve made it at home using 100% duck eggs and 100% chicken eggs as well a combination of both; by far the best result comes from using 100% duck eggs. The other ingredients are coconut cream (the thicker the better), palm sugar, and taro that has been cooked and mashed. This dessert is very, very rich. With the Mee Chai version  a small square is enough; I eat small bites at a time wanting the delectable smoothness and taste sensation on my tongue to go on and on and on.

Pineapple Cookies
Pineapple Cookies

The other snack we always get is a box of pineapple cookies. These consist of a pineapple filling between two almost cracker-like outer cookies. Although we see these cookies in many places in Thailand, this shop sells the best ones we’ve found, though I don’t think they make the cookies themselves as they do the custards and kanom tian. I find these cookies are best eaten after snorkeling for a couple hours! (Underwater Photos from Thailand)

The shop also sells other treats, other types of custards and also sticky rice and mango. Try anything that looks good to you because it is all good. They also sell a number of nahm prik (chilli pastes), nahm jihm (dipping sauces) and gkabpi (shrimp paste), perfect for taking home or as gifts.

Previous blogs on Thai snacks (kanom):

Serving Sticky Rice
Serving sticky rice

Written by Michael Babcock, September 2010 & 2020

Cooking ingredient

Incense Candles – Tien Ohb

One of the more interesting “ingredients” in Thai cooking is a special incense candle, (tien ohb, in Thai). This candle is commonly used in the making of sweetmeats and desserts to add a spicy fragrance and smokiness by “smoking” ingredients, such as shredded coconut.

Incense Candles
Incense candles

The incense candle is  made of organic matter including herbs and flower petals. Brown in color, it has a curved shape and can be lit on both ends. This exotic item as this may not be easy to find in Western countries; ask for it in specialty Thai markets in cities with sizable Thai populations. If you travel to Thailand, look in stores that carry incense and merit-making supplies. I usually   buy mine from one of the stores carrying them in Banglampoo, in Bangkok. There are several different kinds from which to choose. Sniff and discover which fragrance you like. One candle will last a long time; it will burn very slowly and produce a lot of scented smoke.

Using an Incense Candle
Using an incense candle

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

To smoke with an incense candle, put the uncooked coconut mixture loosely in a bowl and place the bowl inside a large pot. Light the candle on both ends and position alongside the bowl. Close the lid tightly, adding extra weight over the top if necessary—such as an inverted stone mortar—to prevent smoke from escaping. Allow to smoke 30 minutes to one hour. For a stronger smoky flavor, relight the candle after 30 minutes to produce more smoke.

(Note from Michael: I love it! A candle that can be burned at both ends!)

Smoking Incense Candle
Smoking incense candle

One of Kasma’s recipes that uses an incense candle is: Grilled Coconut Cakes – Kanom Paeng Jee.

Written by Kasma Loha-unchit, August 2010.

Food Travel

Trang Cakes – Kook Ming

You may have heard of Trang cakes. Trang, a city in Southern Thailand, is a kind of crossroads city for Nakhon Si Thammarat, Krabi and points further south, including many of the islands in Trang province. If you’ve spent any time in Trang you probably noticed the stacks of square boxes at various food stores and wondered what they were. The boxes contain a type of cake called Trang Cake and they are one of the food items that Trang is known for. Another is pork that is roasted in a particular way. There’s even a Cake festival in August.

Stack of Trang Cakes
Stacked Trang cakes

A Thai traveling around the country usually plans to stock up on food items that a particular town or locale is known for, such as salted eggs in Chaiya. Travelers to Trang will often pick up several Trang cakes to take home as gifts. On her trips to Southern Thailand I always looked forward to Trang, because we would get to have Trang cake for several days. Kasma always picked up a couple to take to the staff at our favorite restaurant, Ruen Mai in Krabi.

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

Trang Cake Logo
Kook Ming, the best Trang cake

When buying a Trang cake you want to make very sure that you buy the correct one. The one Kasma and I recommend, and the only one we can, in conscience, recommend, is that made by Kook Ming. Their motto is: “The Original – The Best” and you should look for the logo, which has two black birds flying over the name and the motto. When asking for them, you can also specify “Kook Ming, the cake from Lampura.” On the trips, we pick them up from a kanom store in town (see first picture to upper left). The one time that Kook Ming cake was not available (it is popular and can sell out), we tried another brand and found it to be nowhere near as delicious.

Although you can buy the cakes in Trang town, I recommend an excursion to the bakery itself. Simply head north on Highway 4 towards Krabi. Lampura is roughly 14 km from Trang in the district of Huai Yot. The bakery will be on your left as you head north.

Kook Ming Bakery
Kook Ming Bakery in Lampura
Kook Ming Sign
Sign at the bakery

Trang Cake
Slices of Kook Ming cake

Kook Ming cake is very much like a sponge cake. It is light and bouncy with good flavor. They make it without preservatives of any kind and no baking soda but with plenty of eggs and shortening. Their website lists 10 different flavors (opens in new window). My favorites are the kehk som (orange cake), kehk dteuy hawm (pandan leaf cake), kehk neuy sod (butter cake) and the kehk sahm roht (three flavors cake, the three flavors being orange, coffee and plain). In addition to the standard cakes in the large square boxes, they also sell cakes that are similar to jelly rolls, rolled up with frosting and sold is smaller, rectangular boxes (see picture to right, below); I’ve only seen these jelly-roll cakes sold at the bakery.

Kook Ming
Kook Ming, the baker

The story of the bakery is that of a rags-to-riches Chinese immigrant to Thailand with the name of Kook Ming. Born on the island of Hainan off the southern coast of China in 1916, he was sent by his parents to Thailand when he was 18 (an elder brother was already there) because of the great unrest and fighting with the Japanese. He originally lived in Narathiwat province, where he worked at a series of odd jobs, mostly manual labor; he earned 7 baht a month. After a year he moved to Hat Yai, where he began working for a distributor of soft drinks for 12 baht a month. A hard, diligent worker, after three years he was made a regional manager and sent to Trang district with the magnificent salary of 25 baht a month.

Trang Cake
Kook Ming Trang Cake

After a time, Kook Ming took a liking to the cross roads town of Lampura, 15 km from Trang; he moved there and opened a small coffee shop to serve locals and travelers through the town. He bought the coffee beans and roasted them himself and served the coffee along with a number of snacks; his wife made fried bread, a type of dumpling called sara bow and curry puffs and they supplemented these with kanom from elsewhere. One of these kanom was a European-style cake: Kook Ming would bicycle the 14 kilometers into Trang in the early morning to purchase the cakes.

Cake Boxes
Boxes of Kook Ming cakes

His patrons, however, did not care for the cake, which had a frosting, so Kook Ming decided to come up with a good cake recipe that would better suit the local tastes. He made a stove out of a 200 liter oil drum and began experimenting. He also invented an appliance to beat eggs. He was having difficulty getting the cake to cook evenly so he invented a type of pan with a hole in the center, much like a plain bundt pan. He then spent a fair amount of time perfecting his recipe. Once he mastered the recipe his cakes became very popular and the popularity began to spread. As the demand grew, customers wanted to buy cakes to take home, so he began selling them in the square boxes.

Making Trang Cakes
Pouring batter into the pans

A break came in 1960 when an group of men on a electricity commision travelled through and loved the cake. One of the men recommended the bakery to an agency that gives a seal of approval to certain restaurants and food stands, recognized by the logo of a green bowl (which can be seen on the side of the cake box). The delicious cakes became more widely known and at one point Kook Ming was the guest on a popular television game show that spread his fame even wider. The Kook Ming website (completely in Thai, unfortunately) has many pictures of celebrities who have visited the store and a couple from the game show. The bakery continues to flourish, run now by his daughter, who came up with recipes for many of the different flavored cakes. Kook Ming died in 2004.

Trang Cakes
Boxes of jelly-roll cakes

In Thailand, as elsewhere, the sincerest form of flattery is imitation. I’ve counted at least another half dozen brands of Trang cakes; but this was the first and is still, as they say, the best. More than once when we’ve stopped at the bakery to have cake and coffee and to stock up for the ride north, there have been tour busses that have stopped – nearly all of the people on the bus were buying cakes, often several boxes.

Aside from a chance to see where the cakes are made (in a clean, modern bakery in the back of the store – they’ve long outgrown the 200 liter oil drum!), their store in front still offers a number of other delicious treats that are made on the premises. I’ve included pictures of two of my favorites. The first is a curry puff, a flakey outside with delicious chicken curry on the inside – garee pahf sai gkai. They also make a pastry filled with sangkaya, a rich egg custard. The second is a substantial, tasty cookie, very crunchy. Their website contains several pictures of other snacks (opens in new window) that are made on the premises.

Curry Puff
Yummy chicken curry puff
Trang Cookie
Tasty cookie from Kook Ming

Check out the Kook Ming Website (offsite, opens in new window)

Written by Michael Babcock, July 2010.

Food Markets

Thong Lo Mangos (and Sticky Rice)

Another great food treat that you can find at Thong Lo (Sukhumvit Soi 55) is White Sticky Rice with Mangoes.

Thong Lo Fruit Store
Look for the mangos!

My last blog on March 18 was on Thong Lo Duck Noodles; here’s one more blog on a Thong Lo stop. Thong Lo (pronounced “Tawng Law”) has its own skytrain stop. Kasma puts her small-group tours at a hotel there close to the mouth of the Soi. I’ve also written on its street food in One Soi’s Street Food Scene. I’ve enjoyed the chance to get to know one particular Thai neighborhood a bit better. Although Thong Lo is considered an upscale area, there are plenty of store fronts and street vendors that depend on un-trendy people (such as myself) to keep them in business.

Luscious mangoes!

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

One very strong candidate for “Favorite Thai Dish of All Time” would have to be Coconut-Flavored Sticky Rice with MangoesKao Niow Ma-muang. When Kasma taught it in her cooking classes (week 3 of the beginning series) it is one dish that seldom had any leftovers!

There’s a store on Thong Lo that does a very good version that you can purchase to go. It’s “Ma Varee Fruits Store” and is the first fruit store you come to as you walk from the skytrain down Thong Lo (on the same side as the sky train exits). You’ll recognize it by the display of mangoes in front.

Sticky Rice and Mango
Sticky Rice and Mango, to go

A quick word on Thai mangoes. They are heavenly. Mind you, I’ve never been in Thailand during the actual mango season when they are at their peak. Nevertheless, the ones I have eaten bear no resemblance to anything we get in the San Francisco Bay Area. My favorites are the yellow ones; even off-season when you get a good one, it melts in your mouth with sweetness – an “ah ha!” taste experience. Add the sticky rice, mixed with delicious, rich (fresh) coconut milk, slightly sweetened, and you have ambrosia.

As of February 2020, this store was still there.

Written by Michael Babcock, April 2010 & 2020

Food Wednesday Photo

Ranong Buns (Wednesday Photo)

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.

Food Markets Wednesday Photo

Grilled Bananas (Wednesday Photo)

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.