For many years Auntie Nim’s Desert Shop – ร้านของหวานป้านิ่ม (Raan Kong Wan Pa Nim) – in Nan was the perfect place to satisfy a sweet tooth or two. Located across from Wat Sri Pan Ton near the intersection of Chao Fa Road & Suriyapong Road, it served Thai kanom wan – sweet kanom – and ice cream. It was a great place to satisfy a craving after a good dinner.
Update: Alas! Auntie Nim’s is no more! The word is that Auntie Nim retired; it was closed when we visited in 2018. I’ll leave this blog up as a historical record.
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I’ve included a couple pictures above of the outside – the one showing the street sign during the day and the second showing how I first saw the shop: all lit up at night and (as we saw when we approached) bustling with people, nearly all Thais.
The main attractions here were the traditional Thai kanom served in a sweet coconut sauce. As you walked up to the counter, you saw a number of large bowls with various sweet things in them. Many of them were served by putting them into a bowl and adding sweet coconut cream to them.
These two popular items will give you an idea of the desserts here. On the left is Kanom Bua Loi – dumplings in a sweet coconut soup. The dumplings have a soft, interesting texture. To the right is Kanom Pa Kim Khai Tao. A couple of different kinds of noodles provide the texture to this dish.
Above left is another sweet coconut milk-based dish, this one with job’s tears. Like the two dishes above, the filling (Job’s tears, in this case) in the coconut soup provides texture and contrast to the sweet coconut milk. To the right we see their chocolate ice cream: it’s worth a try as well.
Where it was Located
ร้านของหวานป้านิ่ม – Raan Kong Wan Pa Nim
95/2, ถนนเจ้าฟ้า, ตำบลในเวียง อำเภอเมืองน่าน จังหวัดน่าน, 55000
95/2, Wat Sri Pan Ton Intersection, Chao Fa Road, Nai Wiang Subdistrict, Mueang Nan District., Nan, Thailand
One of the changes that I’ve seen over my travels to Thailand, which commenced in 1992, is the increasing availability of Western-style baked goods. Donuts, croissants, cakes, white bread, cookies and similar food items can now be found at every mall, at most (even local) markets and, as in these pictures, at nearly every Skytrain stop. It’s not just baked goods: there is also a proliferation of Western fast food places, such as Pizza Hut, McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Burger king; I should include Dunkin’ Donuts and Krispy Kreme, as well.
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This February (2011) when I was in Thailand I had an errand to run at Siam Paragon, a popular (and trendy) shopping center in Bangkok. When Kasma and I arrived, we saw a line of perhaps 30 or 40 people going out the door of the entrance. We were curious about what the people were lining up for; it turned out to be a Krispy Kreme donut shop. When we left the mall a couple hours later, the line was even longer. We saw several people with huge boxes of donuts walking away from the store.
Traditional Thai snacks are basically very healthy foods. Although they can be quite sweet, many of them are less sweet or are savory and they nearly universally include an ingredient that is quite healthy. For instance, Kanom Krok (Grilled Coconut Hotcakes) include coconut milk (a “functional” food that includes immune-system boosting Lauric Acid); Sangkaya (Coconut Egg Custard) includes both coconut milk & duck eggs; and Kao Niow Dtam (Black Sticky Rice Pudding) includes healthy, whole-grain black rice. Certainly Thai snacks with all empty calories exist but most of them include healthy ingredients such as coconut milk, pumpkin (or squash) or cassava root. (See my blogi on Thai (Sweet) Snacks – Kanom Wan
So the proliferation of Western baked goods is unfortunate because it replaces snacks that at least have some health benefit with goods made almost exclusively of white flour and sugar, which are basically empty calories that take more nutrition to process than they actually provide. See my recent blogs on A “Healthy” Diet and Thai Diet Changes for some of the references and information that indicate excessive carbohydrates are a major health issue.
These pictures show a few examples of the type of stalls that are becoming prevalent all over Thailand. It is almost certainly no coincidence that the mortality rate from heart disease is rising in Thailand at the same time.
2020 Update: The situation has only gotten much worse in the 9 years since I wrote this article. Western baked goods are everywhere now. And, not coincidentally, where before you rarely saw an overweight Thai person, now you see quite a few of them.
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.
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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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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!)
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.
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.
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.
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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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.