A small coffee shop and cooking studio tempts tourists with a range of traditional Thai desserts
JAPANESE CHEESE tarts and the Korean shaved ice dessert Bingsu are still all the rage, but three young entrepreneurs believe there’ll always be room for local desserts, the recipes for which are based on centuries of collective wisdom.
That’s why, five months ago, Kritsada Intharah, Thanchita Atthakornkowit and Supreda Dhanusuwansak opened the small dessert cafe and workshop studio Sane (pronounced Saneh) in Bangkok’s Tanao Road near the popular tourist area of Khao San.
The aim, they tell the Sunday Nation, is to make local sweets widely known among tourists while providing residents with some taste-bud teasing blasts from the past.
Thanchita Atthakornkowit at her dessert cafe and workshop studio Sane.
The front part of the cafe can seat about 10 guests and serves drip coffee, Thai tea, vegan and refreshing cold drinks together with bite-size local sweets such as the crown-like thong ek, saneh jaan (a dessert made with nutmeg), kanom tom (coconut ball dumpling), kanom tuay (steamed coconut milk pudding), and kleeb lamduan (Thai-style shortbread cookie).
The back serves as the studio where Kritsada, Thanchita and guest pastry chefs will take turns to offer tips and tricks for cooking traditional Thai sweets. The course will be held every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday and cover a variety of traditional desserts including bulan dun mek (steamed rice cakes), kanom gluay (steamed banana pudding), piak poon (black pudding) and som manad (Thai-style meringue).
Thong ek and saneh jaan are served with a cup of hot Americano.
“Tourists tend to regard mango and durian with sticky rice as typically Thai desserts but never get to try other sweets that are part of our heritage. We wanted to change that perception and also teach them how they can create these delicious desserts,” says Thanchita who previously worked as a pastry chef at Zuma restaurant in Bangkok.
“Also, many tourists are still reluctant to try unfamiliar tastes. Several Thai sweet treats are finished with perfumed smoke from scented wax, but foreigners tend not to like the fragrance and say it reminds them of soap,” adds Kritsada.
Kanom tuay and hot Americano
“So far, most of our clients are Thais who want to get away from bustling Khao San and munch on tempting sweets in our relaxing and tranquil venue. The dessert classes are also attracting Thais who want to learn the techniques for making such rare delicacies as thong ek, saneh jaan, and chor muang (flower-shaped dumpling).”
Both Kritsada and Thanchita honed their cooking skills in international cuisine and pastry at the School of the Oriental Hotel Apprenticeship Programme, under the direction of Mandarin Oriental Bangkok, and also signed up for several courses in making sweet delicacies based on royal recipes at Bangkok Metropolitan Administration’s Vocational Training Centre.
While acknowledging it’s a risky business because of the very short shelf of Thai sweets – coconut cream and coconut flesh do not keep – they still want to share their passions and serve up Thai desserts like grandma used to make.
“Thai desserts are perceived as cheap delicacies despite the ingredients being relatively expensive. Everything has to be super fresh too, which adds to the cost. We use rice and sticky rice flour and arrowroot, all of which are gluten-free as well as palm sugar and fresh coconut milk,” says Kritsada, who ditched a career in engineering to pursue his passion for cooking.
Visitors to the cafe can munch on such tempting treats as the six-piece set of thong ek and saneh jaan for Bt70 or a pair of kanom tuay for Bt25. Kao tu (rice balls), kleeb lamduan and bulan dun mek are just Bt10 a mouthful and made-to-order desserts can also be arranged.
The desserts are best washed down with hot drip coffee (Bt55 to Bt70), Cocoa x Coco (iced dark chocolate, coconut syrup and fresh milk, Bt80), Pino Coco (a mixture of pineapple and coconut juices and coconut milk, Bt95), or the Khaosan Mojito (roselle juice, lime, mint and soda, Bt70).
There is also vegan drink menu featuring cocoa, latte, cappuccino and mocha, made with 100-per-cent dark chocolate and drip coffee mixed with coconut syrup and coconut milk from Bt75 to Bt85.
Cocoa x Coco
“I’ve tried mango and sticky rice with coconut cream, but this is the first time I have sampled traditional Thai desserts. They are kind of sweet and a little salty and the texture is really smooth,” says South Korean customer Lee Sun Hee of her kanom tuay. “But I still love ripe Thai mango whether it’s served fresh or blended as a drink.”
The dessert courses run for about an hour for learning gluay chuem (banana with syrup) (Bt499) or kanom tuay (Bt900) and up to five hours for the more complicated chor muang (Bt1,400) and look choop (Bt2,800). Look choop are bite-size sweets made from mung bean paste mixed with coconut milk, then shaped and painted with food colouring to look like fruits or vegetables.
Kritsada Intharah conducts a class on making bulan dun mek.
On the day I visited, Kritsada was conducting a two-hour class on making bulan dun mek, a soft sweet in a tiny cup. The name refers to the moon seen through the clouds and it’s made with butterfly pea flower juice and egg custard.
Rice flour, arrowroot and sugar are mixed and kneaded by hand for 10 to 20 minutes until well mixed and set aside. Butterfly pea flowers are boiled with water and then filtered through a strainer before mixed with the kneaded dough to give it the blue tint representing the night sky.
Ceramic mini cups are steamed over high heat then filled with the mixture and steamed for another 15 minutes.
The egg custard is made by mixing egg yolk, palm sugar, coconut milk and salt. A dollop placed on the centre of each tiny cup.
The three partners also offer custom-made Western-style cakes online via their Facebook page “Little’R cake”.
Bulan dun mek
Sane Cafe and Workshop Studio is on Tanao Road (next to Khao San) and is open daily (except Monday), from 11am to 7pm.
For details, call (063) 541 4964 or keep updated with the workshop schedules at the “Sane.workshop” page on Facebook.