It’s something many a visitor to Phuket has experienced, a sojourn out to a weekend or local market when they wander upon the dessert sellers. A sprawling selection of sweets in all colors of the rainbow in an array of forms are laid out. Sometimes the options are so plentiful and foreign, you simply don't know where to start. On top of that, it’s often indiscernible what the treats are actually made from.
Fresh ripe mango and sticky rice with coconut milk | Credit: jcomp by Freepik
Let’s ease into it starting off with what is undoubtedly the most well-known and widely adored of all Thai desserts, mango and sticky rice. There’s really no close second, it’s safe to say mango and sticky rice is likely offered at the majority of Thai restaurants around the world (outside Thailand).
Don’t let its visual simplicity fool you, it really is a work of culinary art. While corners are often cut in the preparation of this dish, the authentic method involves more processes like thoroughly cleaning and soaking the glutinous rice, steaming the rice, using fresh coconut cream, perfectly ripe mangoes of the preferred variety, and toasting the mung beans which are sprinkled on top. If you sample this dessert from many different places, you’ll know when you get a properly prepared one.
Coconut Pancakes | Credit: edtguide.com
While fairly basic-looking and unassuming, it’s hard to not be attracted to these tasty little morsels with their golden-brown grilled bottoms and custard-y filling. While not really a pancake per se, these guys are cooked in an iron pan with concave indentations. The batter generally consists of coconut cream, shredded coconut, rice flour, sugar, and sometimes pandan, ground rice, or tapioca. Two separate batters are used, one sweet and one salty, and they can be topped with taro, peanut, corn, or cilantro. The key is to get them fresh right off the pan while the outside is still a little crispy.
Thai Crepes (khanom bueang) | Credit: Krua.co
These are quite commonly found for sale at many markets or even roaming food carts, which is fortunate as they are super tasty. They are quite distinct as they look like little bite-sized, cream-filled tacos.
The outer shell of khanom bueang is made from rice and mung bean flour, palm sugar, egg, and dissolved red limestone paste (lime water). The creamy meringue-like filling consists of egg white, sugar, and lemon juice. A variety of toppings are sprinkled on top including shredded coconut, foi thong (egg yolk boiled in a sweet syrup), or chopped spring onions.
This particular dessert has roots dating back 600 years to the Ayutthaya Empire. Keep an eye for elderly people making these as it’s rumored they have the best recipes.
Coconut Balls (khanom tom) | Credit: กับข้าวกับปลาโอ PlaoCooking on Youtube Channel
These eye-catching dessert balls are easy to spot with their bright colors and shredded coconut sprinkled on top. Their colors indicate their respective flavors, which are tasty enough not to mention the surprise you get when you bite into one.
The colored dough is made from glutinous rice powder, coconut cream, sugar, fresh coconut, and a variety of flavorings such as pandan, rose, and butterfly pea flower to name a few. The surprise bonus filling is palm sugar candied, smoked coconut.
iteam kati | Credit: cheechongruay.smartsme.co.th
Last, but not least, we’ll end on a simple crowd pleaser – homemade coconut ice cream. The best part about this one is there is a small army of mobile ice cream vendors scooting about Phuket. Listen for the bell or horn that they use to announce their presence because when you find your favorite one, you will listen for their distinct sound so you know when to run outside and stop them for your daily fix.
Not all ice cream makers are equal, but some are extremely good. They usually use coconut cream as the base instead of dairy cream so it’s safe for the lactose intolerant. Sometimes they swirl in other flavors like taro or durian. It is usually only 10-20 baht for a cone and it’s hard to beat it for a refreshing afternoon snack on a hot day.