Truly speaking, when it comes to Asian food desserts don’t come first at your mind. Europe and North America definetely have a stronger pastry-making tradition. Needless to say Western-style pastry in shops over there are a bit disappointing (Thai ones are maybe not enough sweet for a Western), but often they have funny looks.
But if you go to the street and try “what the locals eat” you’ll find many nice surprises. So, here it comes the ranking of 15 most delicious street SWEETS I tried in Southeast Asia:
# 15 Ice lolly (Chang Mai, Thailand)
You can see these ice lollies in any somehow touristic night market in Thailand. There are plenty of flavours. Colors seem a bit artificial and they are not very tasty. But it is a good idea to cool off.
Sunday Walking Street market, Thonon Rachadamnoen – 20 baht (0,50 €.)
# 14 Chè (Hoi An, Vietnam)
Sweets made with soy flour are common in Vietnamese cuisine (and Chinese in general). Chè category includes a number of drinks and puddings. The one I tried in Hoi An was made of mung beans and topped with coconut milk. It tasted a bit floury but it was a pleasant way to end my meal.
Little cart, Phan Chau Trinh road – 30.000 dong (1,20 €.)
# 13 Chendul (Penang, Malaysia)
Penang island’s Chendul (or cendol) is a close relative of Vietnamese Chè ba màu. It’is a mix of soy flour jellies and beans in a soy and coconut milk, served with a piece of ice. Many people in Georgetown recommended me to try the one on Penang Road. In fact, I must say that despite I’m no jelly fan I really liked it.
Teochew chendul, Keng Kwee street, Georgetown – 2,50 ringgit (0,50 €.)
# 12 Sang ka ya fak thong (Bangkok, Thailand)
One of the first sweet treats I tried in Thailand. Really eye-catching. A roasted pumpkin filled with custard. Quite an unexpected flavor in the street. Very nutritious.
Street BBQ, Phaniang road at the corner with Nakhon Sawan road – 40 baht (1.00 €.)
#11 Mote Lone Yay Paw (Nyaung Shwe, Myanmar)
Their name meaning “food floating in the water”, these little rice flour balls are stuffed with palm sugar and covered in grated coconut. They taste good although slightly chewy, as often happens with doughs in the region.
Stand at town market, Yone Gyi street – 500 kyat (0,40 €.)
#10 Steamed bread (Yên Minh, Vietnam)
I couldn’t find out how this specialty is called. I spot it at Yên Minh’s Sunday market where hilltribe women come to sell their products. As I already wrote, I was attracted by the polenta looks of this sweet steamed bread. I think it was made with soy and coconut milk and was absolutely delicious.
Stand at Sunday market, downtown – 20.000 dong (0,80 €.)
# 9 Roti canai (Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand)
In any Southeast Asian country sooner or later you will run into someone who’s cooking a pancake called roti. Clearly it has Indian origins and has slightly different names depending on the country: roti canai in Malaysia, roti paratha in Myanmar, ro tee in Thailand. They are made with an elastic, very greasy wheat flour and egg dough which once cooked is folded into a square and sliced. I tried them in various ways, plain with sugar, topped with chocolate (ready-made syrups) or stuffed with eggs (as an energetic breakfast), but my indisputed favorite is the one stuffed with banana.
Roti canai – about 1 €.
# 8 Ais kepal (Penang, Malaysia)
While I was exploring Penang street art I found this vintage favorite. It was fashionable in Georgetown back in the 70s and now someone brought it back. It is a shredded ice ball covered with fruit syrup. Flavours include lychee, mango, blackcurrant and rose. A very simple thing, but it has the right for its place alongside the fine street delights offered by Penang island (see other episodes on street food to know more). One of the best and funniest ice lollies I’ve ever had.
70’s ice, Lebuh Armenian – 3,00 ringgit (0,60 €.)
#7 I-dtim mat phrao (Bangkok, Thailand)
If you are Italian you will hardly find a good ice cream in Asia. I was not even looking for. But Bangkok’s coconut ice cream is really original and I had to try it. First of all, it is served in half a coconut, not a regular cup. Then, in addition to the ice cream you have sliced baby coconut (very tender one) and several sweet and salty add-ons to choose from: roasted peanuts, salted dried mango, azuki beans and more. An unusual ice cream, but enjoyable. The vendor I tried is famous and claims he invented it in the ’80s.
Stall at Chatuchak weekend market, Section 1, Soi 37 – 50 baht (1.20 €.)
#6 Khao Niew Mamuang (Pai, Thailand)
A signature dish of Thailand. Sticky rice (also known as glutinous rice) is a type of rice widely used in Northern Thailand and Laos. Compared to normal rice, it has a low level in amidon that makes it stickier. It goes along with many dishes and you eat it with your hands, having in this respect a similar role to bread in Europe. Sticky rice with mango is an ideal breakfast in Asia. The steamed rice is mixed with warm coconut milk and sugar and then topped with fresh mango slices. When I was back from Southeast Asia I could not resist and tried to replicate it. It was good, but over there is so much better!
Fruit seller, Chaisongkram road- 50 Baht (1,25 €.)
#5 Khanom krok (Luang Prabang, Laos)
A delicious snack very popular in Thailand and Laos. In Luang Prabang I had them several times a day! Very simple: a mixture of rice flour and coconut milk cooked in special pan giving a round shape. The core remains a bit liquid and coconutty and fits perfectly with the fried but yet soft exterior. A vegan sweet treat, a bit greasy but super-good.
Stalls on the main street, Sisavangvong road – 5,000 kip (0.60 €.)
#4 Khanom Tarn (Bangkok, Thailand)
Two ingredients were very often in my best meals: a market (in this case Khlong Toei one) and chance. In the less frequented part of the market, when I was almost stuffed I came across this delight. These delicious pastries are made with rice flour, coconut and a key ingredient: palm sugar. Soft and tasty.
Stall at Khong Toei Market, covered area near the pedestrian overpass – 30 Baht (1,25 €.)
#3 Fresh fruit (Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar)
One unforgettable thing about traveling in the tropics is certainly fruit. It is not only because of freshness, but above all of taste. I’m still longing for those sweet mangoes. Reason why I love visiting local markets. All over the streets you find pre-cut fruit sellers. Papaya, pineapple, dragonfruit, guava, mango, pineapple, pomelo, banana (usually short ones) just to mention the most common. Fruit shakes are amazing as well and you can’t miss to drink a coconut directly from the nut. Not only that’s the healthiest snack or desserts that you can find, but also one of the tastiests.
Sliced fruit and fruit shakes – from 0.50 to 1.50 €.
#2 Chestnut and coconut cake (Nyaung Shwe, Myanmar)
A lady at the market was selling two types of cakes. Shwe gyi mont – Myanmar’s famous semolina cake – was easy to recognize (left side in the picture), but the cake with coconut flakes on top was much more attractive. It seemed made with chestnut flour and indeed it was! Very soft, tasty, yet delicate but with a special touch given by chestnut. Amazing!
Stall at town market, Yone Gyi Street – 500 kyat (0.40 €)
#1 Kluay Kaek (Bangkok, Thailand)
OK guys, I ate fried bananas everywhere in Southeast Asia. I consider myself quite an expert. But the kuay kaek I had (again and again) in a certain spot in Bangkok were pure orgasm. And it was the most street food you can imagine. Sellers were rushing through the cars blocked in traffic to sell bags of these banana fritters. Masked with a huge hood meant to protect them from smog, sun and rain, they looked looked like robbers!
How to make them? First, you must use the right bananas – short and not too mature, possibly from burro type – and cut them into slices (fried whole bananas are called kluay tod). Then you need a special batter containing grated coconut and cream, white sesame seeds and a little of yeast. The end result is rocking. Crunchy outside, soft and full of flavor inside. I was lucky, since I stayed right in the area where they make the best ones in Bangkok. If you are in town check them out!
Mae Gim Lung, Thanon Chakkraphatdi road – 20 baht for 2 bags (€ 0.50)
SOME LESS EXCITING SWEETS
Durian fruit (Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia)
Here comes the most precious, and controversial, fruit in Southeast Asia. Very sweet and with a smooth texture, but quite segmenting taste (I recalled me blue cheese!). Many people are crazy for it, I do not really. Try it at your own risk. Funny fact: in Thailand it is forbidden to take it on public transport because of its strong smell.
Sour plums (Myanmar)
Burmese people love fermented / sour taste, they have plenty of dishes with this feature. And you find it in their most polpular fruit too. Red plums, dryed and fermented in salt, have a very strong taste. Often grounded chili is added too. If you aren’t Burmese you’ll hardly fall in love with them, but if you’re visiting Myanmar you should at least try one.
Kang Nam Sai (Thailand)
Your eyes are very likely to be catched by this dessert. A series of jellies, candied fruits and other very colorful ingredients served with coconut milk, hyper-sugary and artificial syrups and crushed ice. I did not like at all. Fake taste.
Did I inspire you with some of these sweets? Leave a comment!