Thais love snacking, they spend all day killing boredom with a never ending array of sweet and savoury snacks, as well as fruits, nuts and vegetables to keep their apetite in check. It’s perfectly normal for a an office worker to disappear for half an hour and return with a bag full of homemade goodies which everyone gladly shares.
Savoury Thai snacks
Hmu Ping: grilled skewered pork that turns a delicious dark brown as the marinade mixes with the meats juices and slowly caramelizes. They are sold by the stick and usually super cheap. Eat them like the locals do, and get a five baht bag of sticky rice to go with them.
Insects: they have to be mentioned because everybody is curious, though few are brave enough to dig in. Notice that there are many bugs available year–round such as grasshoppers, crickets, and silkworm pupas. There are also some regional and seasonal specialties like water beetles and flying termites.
Insects are always deep fried, drained and then usually sprayed with a light garlic and fish sauce. Many report these insects as tasting anywhere from ‘nutty’ to ‘a little like chicken’. There’s only one way to find out!
Sweet Thai snacks
Thai sweets cannot really be compared with Western desserts, but they are unique and tasty unto themselves. There are so many types of ‘khanom’ (pastries) that most Thais will readily admit they do not know all of them. When one looks or smells just right to you, go ahead and buy something to experiment with. They’ve also liberally adopted the Western delight of baking and so love cakes, flan and all sorts of creative fusion.
Mango and sticky rice: Called ‘khao niaw mamuang’ if you wish to say it in Thai, this is likely the favourite Thai dessert among Westerners. It is available year round, but has to be experienced in the spring and summer months at the height of mango season for the best treat of all. Lightly salted, sweet sticky rice is cooked with coconut milk, and is served with fresh sliced mangoes on top. It is filing and satisfies everyone’s tropical sweet tooth.
There are too many of these pastries to actually describe without a whole book. It is also hard to choose any one item in particular, as everybody has their favourite. The best thing to do is learn the word and then charge into the streets ready to point, say ‘khanom’, and then pay a few baht at each vendor for a bite or two. That way you can find your own favorites.
Thais cook them up as clever little shapes over steamers, in small pastry tins, or in sheets that they later cut into squares. Common ingredients are rice flour, bean paste, milk, coconut milk, palm sugar, eggs, yolks, coconut, peanuts and sesame seeds. Picking and choosing from these various ingredients Thai cooks are able to fashion an incredible number of variations. Be sure to try the adorable ‘luk chup’ miniaturised hand–crafted fruits made of bean paste, and sangkhayah yellow egg–based dessert introduced by the Portuguese to the royal court centuries ago.
Thai Iced Tea: though not a full dessert you eat, ‘naam cha yen’ is equally filling and satisfying for a sugartooth after a day of walking in the heat. A special Thai red tea blend is steeped in hot water, poured over ice, and then sweetened condensed milk is generously poured in until you end with a light red–brown, creamy drink that deserves contemplative sipping.