Thai street food: khanom tang taek

There was a time when I wrote a lot more about Thai street food. In the years since I had to stop working from home and started getting a real job, I’ve had a lot less time to write – but rest assured I haven’t stopped enjoying Thai street food! In the past few months, I’ve discovered a tasty treat that I had not encountered in more than ten years here: a snack named after a broken barrel.

Called “khanom tang taek” this snack is basically a pancake cooked in a deep pan, filled with shredded fresh coconut, black sesame seeds and sugar.

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Baked until crisp, it is folded in half (the breaking of the “barrel”) and served while still warm.

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It isn’t the fastest treat to make, perhaps one of the reasons you see so few street vendors making it. But the flavor and texture and wonderful and I count myself lucky to have a vendor who is regularly found at lunchtime across the street from my office.

 

Airplane Food – China Eastern Airlines

For our flights to and from Shanghai, we flew China Eastern Airlines. The only reason we chose this carrier, which is a member of the Sky Team alliance, is that their price was 60% of any other carrier’s – the Shanghai market seems to command unreasonably high air fares. The flight was fine, although the flight attendants are frumpily dressed and are surly in their attitude. They make the flight attendants at US airlines look cheerful. The thing I found particularly odd was how the meal service differed on the outbound and return flights.

Our outbound flight left Bangkok at 2:00 am, arriving Shanghai at 7:00. I would have expected that there would be no meal service for this four-hour red eye flight but about an hour after our delayed departure, the flight attendants served a choice of hot entrees for a relatively substantial meal. This is the duck with wide rice noodles. 

Our return trip left Shanghai at about 9:40 pm, arriving Bangkok just before 1:00 am. Considering that you need to arrive at the airport a few hours before departure, I expected they would serve a hot meal service, similar to what they unexpectedly served on the outbound flight. Instead, we were served a plastic box of snack items: dinner roll, slice of banana bread, hickory kernels, apple chips, onion cookies “with original flavour,” and what I think were Oreo-flavored cookie bars. In short, a very sad selection of food.

In this day and age, I guess I shouldn’t have any expectations for food served in economy class anywhere in the world, but I was confused by the difference in service levels between the two flights on the same route.

Hospital Snack Box

A few weeks ago I spent the first half of the day at Bangkok Hospital taking care of a few odds and ends. I had an eye appointment in the early part of the morning because my right eye was inflamed (thankfully, not infected – doctor said just too much time working on the computer). An hour later, I had an appointment with another doctor about my back, which had a bad muscle spasm that had lasted a week. He proscribed some physical therapy, which was available elsewhere in the hospital complex.

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When I arrived at the physical thearapy center, though, they were quite busy and the service manager told me I’d have to wait an hour. Since I had my iPod with me, I didn’t mind waiting. Nonetheless, she came over a few minutes later and apologized for the wait and gave me this snack box. I guess they prepare these for patients who have long waits.

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While I wasn’t hungry (I brought the box home to photograph!), the gesture was appreciated. Service in Thailand is generally very good, especially at the hospitals. What do you think of the contents of the snack box, though? Juice and cookies – seems more appropriate for someone who has just donated blood.

 

Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice

While I said I was done with the food entries from Maui, there actually is one dessert/snack entry remaining: Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice.

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Andy’s wife Sugi (I can say “wife” now – yay!) enjoying her favorite shave ice. Since her mother is from Maui and Sugi spent her summers growing up on the island, I put great stock in her number-one rating for Ululani’s. After some so-so experiences with shave ice on Kauai last year, I was surprised at how good the dessert can be – if you go to the right place.

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Shave ice, often confused by mainlanders with snow cones, is a local Hawaiian specialty. Unlike snow cones, which are made with crushed ice, shave ice is precisely that – shaved – with a texture akin to snow. (I know, it would seem that shave ice should really be called “snow cones,” right?) This is important because while a snow cone results in a big pool of flavored syrup sitting at the bottom of a cup of ice, shave ice absorbs the syrup, ensuring that each bite is full of goodness.

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Ululani’s has four locations on Maui – two near each other in Lahaina, one in the island’s main town of Kahului, and the newest shop on the north side of Kihei. We went to the original location on Front Street in old town Lahaina.

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Each of Ululani’s 40 flavored syrups is made in-house using fruit purees, extracts, filtered water, and pure cane sugar. Toppings are either home made or come from other Maui companies. This local approach is one of their secrets to success. Now, it is true that shave ice can be a sickeningly sweet dessert. The key is to choose favors that create complexity and contrast rather than just add one layer of sweetness on top of another. I chose a recommended combination – Ho’ike – which offers lilikoi (passionfruit), li hing mui (Chinese salted plum), and passion orange. The salted plum adds a tart and salty note that cuts the sweetness, making the shave ice refreshing. 

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Another part of Ululani’s charm is their friendly employees. Sure, I’m a mainlander who barely knows my pu pu platter from my poke. But this young lady was patient, happy to answer every question with a smile, and chatted with us about our visit to Maui while preparing our shave ice. In this picture, she adds mochi (made by Maui Specialty Chocolates) to my shave ice.

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The finished product! Yummy!

 

Thai Desserts

As we wait patiently for updates as to the flooding risk in Bangkok…

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It has been a while since I’ve done an entry about food, so I thought I would share with you the plate full of Thai desserts that Tawn brought for me a few weeks ago when I was slaving away all afternoon on the computer.

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The full plate – from left: rae rai, khanom tuay, khanom khii nuu (in the cup), and gluay bing.   First off, the term “khanom” is an all-purpose word used for snacks or sweets.  

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Item 1:This is khanom khii nuu.  I’m not sure you want me to translate the name as the literal meaning is pretty unappetizing.  This dessert is almost like a sweet cous cous made of rice flour instead of wheat flour.  The rice flour is mixed with jasmine water to make a paste, then it is pressed through a screen to make small granules.  These are then wrapped in a cloth and weighted to press out any extra liquid, then steamed until cooked. 

A simple syrup is made with more jasmine water, sugar, and (if desired) food coloring, which is then mixed into the cooked flour granules.  Finally, the whole thing is placed in a container along with a jasmine candle, which is allowed to burn to impart additional aroma.  It is served with a little bit of shredded mature coconut.  The flavor and texture are delicate, almost a bit too delicate.

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Item 2: Rae rai are basically rice flour noodles.  They are made by mixing two types of rice flour (regular and glutinous) with coconut cream and jasmine water until it forms a dough.  The dough is stirred over medium heat for about ten minutes until the flour is cooked.  Food coloring is added and the dough is separated into small balls (about the size of ping pong balls) and then extruded through a device that looks a bit like a garlic press.  The resulting noodles are steamed and then served with a combination of sugar and sesame seeds and a little bit of salted coconut cream.  Also a delicate flavor but a bit more substantial than khanom khii nuu.

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Item 3: Gluay bing, grilled bananas.  A semi-ripe starchy type of banana is grilled at a low temperature and then flattened.  It is then soaked in a mixture of coconut milk and palm sugar.  I’m not a big banana fan, so this wasn’t a particular favorite of mine.

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Item 4: Khanom tuay, literally a “cup snack”.  The dough is made of rice flour, flavored and colored with pandanus leaf.  These are steamed in small cup molds and, after being removed, are served with a palm sugar caramel with sesame seeds.

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Inside view of the khanom tuay, which has a consistent texture throughout, something similar to mochi, the pounded sticky rice that is common in Japanese cuisine.  This was my favorite, especially because of the texture.  I like the chewy texture of mochi, caramel, taffy, etc.

So there you have it – Thai desserts to tide you over while we wait for news about the flooding.  “The water is coming tonight,” said one of our guards as he inspected the wall of sandbags in front of our condo.  Let’s hope when I wake up tomorrow, everything is still dry.

Great Eats in Bangkok Volume 2 – Khanom Krug

As I promised, my “Great Eats in Bangkok” series is in fact becomming a series and not just a single video.  Using my new wireless microphone that plugs into a Kodak Zi8, the audio quality is a bit better than the first time I shot the footage for this episode.  I’ll have to keep playing around with the equipment in order to learn to master it, but hopefully each successive volume of the series will get better.

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Photo courtesy yang1815

In this volume we explore one of my favorite Thai desserts, something called khanom krug.  “Khanom” is the broad term used for snacks and nibbly type of desserts and “krug” refers to the half-sphere shape in which these tasty treats are made.  You can loosely describe khanom krug as “rice flour and coconut milk pancakes”, although that description fails to capture what makes them so special and worth seeking out.

Here’s the 3-minute video.

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Photo courtesy yang1815

The interesting thing about khanom krug is how it is composed of two batters, both made with rice flour and coconut milk.  One batter is a little saltier and the other is a little sweeter.  The sweet batter is poured into the indentations in the pan, filling them about 2/3 of the way.  Then a few seconds later the saltier batter is added.  Savory fillings such as corn, taro, or free onions can be added (but just as often, are not) and then the whole thing is covered and allowed to bake and steam for several minutes.

Once the khanom are fairly firm, but still a little molten in the middle, the halves are scooped out and paired together for serving.  You have to be careful of a few things when eating them: first, they will be incredibly hot and the interior will decimate your tastebuds like lava flowing through a forest.  Second, don’t let the vendor put the container of them in a bag.  Steam is the enemy of these khanom and they will lose their crisp exterior very quickly.  Third, solve that problem by eating them right away!

I hope you enjoyed the video.  A third one is being edited now and the first volume, focusing on rice noodles called guaytiaw, is here.