Above: Like a cornucopia of tropical fruits and local produce, these Thai-style granitas can be laden with assorted Thai-style toppings including candied palm seeds, coconut jelly, sweet potato, and so on, in Bangkok, Thailand.
Ice made their first voyage to Siam back in 1857, via ship, in big slabs contained by crates. To preserve the cold temperatures throughout their Singapore – Bangkok route, each slab of frozen water was painstakingly covered with thick layers of sawdust. It was not until almost 50 years later that Bangkok was able to produce ice locally with the first ice factory run by Nai Lert family. And that was the beginning of the tasty explosions in the forms of Thai ice desserts.
Thai ice desserts can largely be divided into two groups: fruity granitas and shaved ice desserts. While it is just impossible to list everything there is about those refreshing sweets here, I will give you the essential highlights. Something you should never miss when it comes to chilling with something sweet. Good news for vegetarian and vegan folks, too: Thai ice desserts are also mostly either vegan or vegetarian (with milk and eggs sometimes, but not that often). Here is my list. Enjoy!
1. Coconut Ice Cream & Fruity Granitas with Lots of Toppings
Tropical fruits, from coconut to mango to durian can be made into refreshing sorbets all year round, while seasonal specials such as mango plum (Ma Yong Chid) make a once-a-year appearance comes January of each year. Usually, these fruity granitas are straightforward. They are made of the namesake fruits, sugar, sometimes coconut milk or milk, and that’s about it.
The fun of eating Thai sorbets is also about the toppings. You’ll see all the colourful candied fruits and jelly on offer. Pumpkin, yam, palm seed (look chid, my favourite, those translucent ones above), and also sticky rice (yes!), red beans, job’s tears, green beans, and so on. It is just like a cornucopia of local produce in a bowl. Note: Top picture on this post features young coconut granita (almost like shaved ice itself), with mango and durian sorbets in the foreground. The young coconut granita is my all-time favourite. Subtly sweet and fragrant. So delicious! A must!
2. Tubtim Krob
Listed as one of the world’s best desserts by CNN, Tubtim Krob (translated as crispy rubies) is a household ubiquitous Thai shaved ice dessert. Tubtim, the red rubies in the bowl, is made from water chestnut coated with tapioca flour, a dash of red colouring, and boiled to cook. It is then preserved in a light syrup. A bowl of Tubtim Krob consists not just the rubies, but also other trimmings such as a whole crunchy chestnut, a thick piece of Mapraw Kati (creamy coconut), candied palm seed, shredded fresh jackfruit, and in the case above, coconut jelly. Scroll my IG above for details.
Thai shaved ice dessert place is collectively called ‘Ran Nam Khaeng Sai.’ Nam Khaeng Sai means ‘shaved ice,’ and these places sell a bunch of things that go into a bowl upon your selection. Salim is the ultra-thin threads of noodles made from green bean flour, hence a particularly chewy texture. Salim is usually sold in three colours of pink, white, and green. And it is typical also to incorporate Salim with Tubtim Krob, for their do share similar trimmings of chestnut, creamy coconut and the smoky fragrant type of coconut milk that is called ‘Kati Ob Kwan Thien.’
Below is Salim, pure and simple, made with pandanus juice into a pandanus green. This bowl is perfect for those who just want to savour these thin chewy threads with no interruptions from other things. Delicious!
4. Lod Chong
Lod Chong is a type of fat ‘noodles’ or tadpole dumplings made from a mixture of rice, green-bean, and sometimes tapioca flours. Lod Chong is always green from pandanus juice, with the required fragrant from the plant adding to its unique deliciousness. Lod Chong is an old-school dessert that requires its own particular type of coconut milk to go with it. The coconut milk for Lod Chong is the coconut cream thickened with the best aromatic palm sugar one can find. When stirred, this coconut milk dissolves with the shaved ice into a sweet, aromatic lusciousness. 😀
Lod Chong can be eaten on its own, but the usual pairings include Thai melon or Taeng Thai (aromatic green melon with some similarities of cantaloupe but not quite), boiled taro, and black sticky rice. See my IG above, scroll for more deets.
5. SOM CHUN
Som Chun is a type of ancient and rare shaved ice dessert that you will need to seek for a bit in order to try. Legend has it that this is a dessert that harks back as long as the reign of King Rama II (1809 – 1824), as it was a word found in a royal poem describing a repertoire of royal exquisite dishes of that period.
Som Chun is a type of shaved ice dessert with mixed fruits and citrus that must at least include lychee, mandarin orange, and longan. Some places also include candied bergamot pith ผิวมะกรูดเชื่อม (the white part next to the zest). The syrup is made from aromatic jasmine water perfumed overnight with the requisite zest of Som Sa or so-called ‘bitter orange.’ Som Sa is seasonal and it is more available towards the end of the year (September onwards), so this dessert can also be seasonal for that reason.
For me, Som Chun is the epitome of Thai dessert that embodies tremendous efforts and time that involve in the making. And tasty imagination of our ancestors. Apart from all those, the toppings of Som Chun makes this bowl special and sublime. The bowl, with those fruits and aromatic and refreshing syrup, must be topped with thinly julienned fresh ginger, green mangoes, and toasted shallot! Savoury and sweet, and aromatic, unlike no other! Awesome!
6. Mee Yen
Noodle in shaved ice and syrup? Yes, you read it right! Here in Bangkok Chinatown, descendants of Chinese immigrants in Talad Noi area perpetuated their homegrown obsession with noodles by making it into desserts. These noodles are special, too, because they are vegan, a part of the annual repertoire of the Thai-Chinese clans who strictly observe the annual vegan festival. Cultural Note: Vegan Festival or J Festival in Thailand usually takes place in October for ten days. Apart from skipping all kinds of meats and eggs, J foods also cannot contain pungent herbs like onion, green onion, garlic and chives.
Shaved ice noodle is collectively called ‘Sheng Tung’ in Taechew Chinese. Apart from the noodles, other trimmings include ginkgo seeds, small dumplings made from various kinds of flour, dried longan, coconut jelly, job’s tears and so on. Below is my IG video on the making of the cold noodle.
7. Mun Doey Tua in HAD YAI
Mun = yam, Doey = job’s tears, and Tua = red beans, hence Mun Doey Tua as the name of this dessert found only in Hat Yai, a district in Thailand’s deep south. Three aforementioned items and candied pineapple are served with crushed ice and sweet coconut milk and condensed milk, and there you have it, Hat Yai’s own specialty of desserts. No one knows how this combination first took place, but now it has become a rite of passage for visitors. There are two places you can go have this refreshing glass. One, still run by the mother, is at Hat Yai Rail Station. Another branch, run by daughter, is on Hom Huan Road, not too far from Saeng Thong School. For me, I’d go for everything except for the red beans, and with extra candied pineapple. Delicious and filling!
8. O-Aew – Aiyu Jelly, PHUKET
Derived from Taiwanese Aiyu Jelly, O-Aew is what Phuket people call their specialty of clear grass jelly dessert. For a long while, this O-Aew was a mystery. People, via word of mouth, used to say that the jelly was made from ‘banana peels,’ after the dubious fact that the peel does contain some pectin. However, it was not until a couple of years ago when a modern cafe near Tai Hua Museum in Phuket shed some light on the issue that people began to realize the real origin of this refreshing sweet. That is made from the gelatin formed by soaking the seeds of a fig-like fruit. Read here for more details.
Now you can still eat O-Aew in Phuket the old way, sitting on a ramshackle chair of a street hawker. But there are now choices. O-Aew in Phuket has been modernised, as you can see from the image above, into something IG-pleasant, with fruits and hand-molded shaved ice.