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Archive for October, 2009

Buddha Image (Nakhon Panom) (Wednesday Photo)

Michael Babcock, Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

Buddha Statue in Nakhon Panom

Buddha Statue in Nakhon Panom

Buddha Statue at Wat Pa Panohm in Nakhon Panom

“Don’t go fixating on the way things appear to be. Recognize whatever appears to the mind as merely so—merely a moment of sensation and awareness, something impermanent that arises and passes away. There is nothing more than that. There is no self or other, no essence, nothing that should be grasped.”

– Ajahn Chah, in Being Dharma, p. 113.

From: Being Dharma: The Essence of the Buddha’s Teachings. Ajahn Chah, Translated by Paul Breiter. Shambala, Boston & London, 2001.


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 – Khanom Wan

Michael Babcock, Sunday, October 25th, 2009

One of the joys of Thailand is the wide variety of snacks, or, in Thai, khanom, 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 khanom. In the title above I’ve used khanom wan, wan being the word for “sweet,” since I’ll focus on sweet snacks here and there are savory snacks as well). (Picture is from Kasma’s class.)

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 khanom – 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 Aw Taw Kaw 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 khanom are coconut based. Although coconut can be used in any form, such as shredded meat as used in Khanom Paeng Jee Grilled Coconut Cakes – more khanom 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 (Khanom Krok), and Coconut Egg Custard (Sangkaya). (The picture above of a vendor making Khanom 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 khanom wan is 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.” (See Coconut: In Support of Good Health in the 21st Century by Mary Enig).

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 khanom 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 Khanom Tuay – Steamed Coconut-Rice Cakes in Small Dishes and Sticky Rice and Corn Pudding (Kao Niow Bpiak Kao Pohd). And of course the khanom 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 taken from Kasma’s class menus:

  • 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 (Khanom 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 (Khanom 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 (Khanom Faktong)
Khanom Buang Thai

Khanom 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 Khanom 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 khanom 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 Sontepheap Market

Cassava cakes from Sontepheap 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 Khanh Phong on 9th Street in Oakland or (especially) Sontepheap 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 (Khanom Paeng Jee), Fried Yam Balls and Fried Bananas (Gluay Tawd).


If you want to eat Thai khanom your best bet is to travel to Thailand and be adventurous in the markets. If you want to learn to make khanom you can do so in Kasma’s classes.


Written by Michael Babcock, October 2009.

Mobile Street Vendor (Wednesday Photo)

Michael Babcock, Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

Ultra Mobile Street vendor

Mobile street vendor

Mobile street vendor

This picture was taken on the streets of Nakhon Si Thammarat and gives a good sense of how some street vendors move their operation from home to a selling location. I saw this go past on the street, ran almost a whole block and snapped it just as she was about to pull away from a red light.

This vendor has it fairly easy and gets to use a motor cycle to move her operation; others are not so lucky and pull them along by hand.


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

Tapioca – Sagu (or Sakoo)

Kasma Loha-unchit, Thursday, October 15th, 2009

Warm Tapioca Puddings Give Comfort on Cold Evenings

The tapioca pudding in Thailand is quite different from what westerner’s are used to.

Tapioca pearls

Tapioca pearls

Traditional wisdom in the Orient tells us to eat foods in accordance with the elements of the season in order to stay healthy. In the hot season, we eat milder and lighter foods, such as clear soups, oil-less sour salads and leafy greens, and drink cooling teas like those made from chrysanthemum flowers and pennywort leaves. In the cool season, our diet shifts to include richer and spicier foods like curries, coconut soups, and creamy coconut custards and puddings.

Among the puddings I so loved as a child are those made with tapioca pearls swimming in a warm coconut milk soup. They sometimes contain other flavor and texture elements such as starchy black beans or barley, crunchy water chestnuts, smooth creamy strips of young coconut meat, chewy sticky rice, or sweet corn kernals. These puddings warm the tummy and calm a child’s restless spirit on cool winter evenings. At the same time, they are nutritious, easy to digest, and relatively light compared with dairy-based western desserts.

Uncooked tapioca pearls

Uncooked tapioca pearls

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

In most of Asia, tapioca pearls and the puddings made from them are called sagu, sago or sakoo – derived from a Malayan word for the sagu (pronounced “sah-koo”) palm tree (Metroxylon sagu). The sagu palm grows naturally in swampy areas of tropical Asia and is believed to have originated in the Molucca islands of Indonesia. From there, the palm found its way to the rest of Southeast Asia and to India. This 12- to 17-foot palm in the same family as the coconut palm lives for about fifteen years, after which it dies standing. During its decline, a shoot sprouts from the underground root to produce a new tree which carries on the life of the dying parent.

Tapioca pearls cooking

Tapioca pearls cooking

Since ancient times, natives on the islands of Indonesia have used the dense starchy core of the dead sagu palm’s trunk for food. The starch is made into small pellets and dried in the sun so that they can keep until needed for cooking into both savory and sweet dishes. A very common preparation is to cook the starch into a thick porridge and mix with sweetened coconut milk to make the age-old pudding that is now enjoyed throughout Indonesia, Malaysia and the rest of the Asian subcontinent.

Before rice cultivation was introduced in the fifteenth century, sagu was an important staple carbohydrate food on many of the islands in the Indonesian archipelago. Even today, the southeastern islands of the chain where sagu palms grow abundantly continue to rely on it, especially during seasons when rice yields are insufficient to feed the populations. A full-grown tree can yield as much as 600 to 800 pounds of starch for consumption. Besides the starch, the fruit of the sagu palm makes a good snack; the leaf fronds, like those of the coconut palm, are valuable thatching material for roofs; and the fibrous, peely bark can be woven into mats for use as siding for homes, into flat trays for drying foods and into storage baskets.

Tapioca with water chestnuts

Tapioca with water chestnuts

It is believed that sagu as a food has been around for over a thousand years. In his explorations of the Spice Islands, Marco Polo encountered and sampled it, and later, in the booming international maritime trade of the eighteenth century, sagu was among the prized commodities from these islands, favored especially by Chinese merchants. Even western merchants in those days became intrigued with sagu and brought it to their homeland where sagu pudding soon became a popular dessert.

Tapioca black bean pudding

Tapioca black bean pudding

Though sagu palm starch is still used to make puddings, it has been replaced in much of Southeast Asia by the starch from the manioc or cassava root, which grows prevalently, take much less time to mature and are easier to harvest. Most of the tapioca pearls imported into America today are made from the latter. In Southeast Asian markets, they come in tiny round pellets in a choice of white, light green and purplish pink. The colors are natural –– the green from the fragrant juice extract of pandanus leaf and the pink from the lovely purple flower of a tropical vine called anchan. Occasionally, you might encounter a mixture of louder colors like bright orange and red, which are from artificial food dyes.

Use the small pellets for the following recipe. For a more substantial, chewy texture, try the larger pearls the size of fish-eye pupils in the first recipe, or use it in savory soups for both an interesting visual and textural component, as well as a source of carbohydrate.

See our website for more  Thai recipes and more Thai ingredients.


This recipe is also available on our website as Tapioca Black Bean Pudding.

Tapioca Black Bean Pudding Recipe (Sakoo Tua Dtam)

Ingredients

Tapioca black bean pudding

Tapioca black bean pudding

  • 1/2 cup black beans
  • 1/2 cup small tapioca pearls
  • 2 cups, or 1 can coconut milk
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar, to taste
  • 1 tsp. sea salt, to taste

Pick through and discard any shriveled beans. Cover with water and soak for two or more hours.

Bring 1 1/2 cups of water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the beans and return to a boil.  Simmer covered over low heat until the beans are tender, stirring occasionally and adding more boiling water if the beans are drying up. When tender, stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 cup sugar, and simmer a while longer for the beans to absorb the flavorings.  [Beans may also be cooked in a pressure cooker, adding the salt and sugar when the beans are cooked.]

When the beans are in their last stretch of cooking, heat 2 cups of water in another saucepan. While waiting for the water to come to a boil, rinse the tapioca pearls in a fine-mesh strainer under running cool tap water until thoroughly wet. Drain and let sit a minute or two for the pearls to absorb surface water, then add to the boiling water. Reduce heat and stir frequently until the pearls clear (8 to 10 minutes). If the mixture becomes too thick, add a little more water to help cook the tapioca until all the pearls are cooked through.

Make a coconut sauce by combining the coconut milk, 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a saucepan. Heat and simmer about 5 minutes to thicken slightly.

When both the beans and tapioca are cooked, mix them together and pour in the coconut sauce. Stir to blend. Serve warm. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Notes:

As with many Thai snacks and desserts, the coconut cream topping is salty sweet to contrast with the bottom layer of pudding which is sweeter. The saltiness makes the cream taste richer; the cream is not meant to be eaten by itself, but together with its sweeter companion.


Written by Kasma Loha-unchit, October 2009.

Sukhothai Coffee Stand (Wednesday Photo)

Michael Babcock, Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

Kasma Loha-unchit at Thai Coffee Stand

Sukhothai Coffee Stand

Sukhothai Coffee Stand

Over the past several years, coffee stands such as this one have become fairly common throughout Thailand; at least in the areas where Kasma takes her small-group tours to Thailand. You’ll find them an many gas stations, in markets, on sidewalks or, as with this stand in Suhkothai, by the side of the read.

The coffee is usually quite good. Typically, each cup is ground and brewed to order. Many of the stands have a type of coffee that is called “Blue Mountain” – it does not refer to the Jamaican bean, rather it refers to a way of roasting the bean and it is really quite good.


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

Kasma Loha-unchit in Songkla (Wednesday Photo)

Michael Babcock, Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

Kasma Loha-unchit in Songkla

Kasma Loha-unchit

Kasma Loha-unchit

This picture shows Kasma at the National Museum in Songkla, a southern seaside city on the Gulf side of Thailand. The museum was originally the governor’s mansion and is well worth  a visit. Even on very warm days, it’s cool inside. The picture on my computer desktop rotates every day and I’m always glad when this picture appears.


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