Saturday, August 13, 2005

You Put The Rice In The Coconut And Mix It All Up: Bhan Kanom Thai

Besides the fact that there are a couple of neon-lit signs in Thai out front, you'd never know that you were setting foot inside a Thai sweet shop. We first visited North Hollywood's Bhan Kanom Thai after downing pupusas over at Texis No. 4 across the street on Sherman Way, our eyes practically popping out of thier sockets with excitement at all the options in the spacious, brightly painted room full of treats. The cliche "kid in a candy store" applied to me and my friends in every which way.

Shelves lined with colorfully packaged Thai goodies flanked the back wall--on one side, clear bins full of various Thai candies; on the opposite side, wrapped ever so prettily in cellophane paper and tied with colorful ribbons are not salt water taffy or pretzels, but banana and taro chips. In the middle of the room are two counter-like displays--one with trays of packaged Thai snacks like sweet rolls and lotus-leaf wrapped sticky rice, the other with clear bins of preserved fruits like papaya and mango.

Pretty packages of Thai treats

More goodies to tempt you

Fried taro, banana and more...

Most of the excitement, however, came from seeing the dessert cases at the counter where trays of brightly colored balls and shapes looked back at us. "Oooh, lookit that! Oooh, what's that? Oooh, that looks gooood!" we'd mumble. We stared...and stared...until the moisture from our gaping mouths started fogging up the glass. The lady behind the counter, who soon became our best friend in the whole wide world, sensed that we needed help--and fast! Bless her heart, she gave us samples of everything we asked about and then some. Handing us one dessert after another--some out of this world and some tasting oddly of perfume--she gave us information about what it was made of, and even gave us glasses of ice water in between to cleanse our palates! A good strategy, I must say, because my friends and I walked out with boxes and boxes of Thai treats that day, and have been back to this place four times in the last week and a half to get Thai iced coffee or whatever else we may have been craving. See what happens when you're nice?

The other day, someone at the office brought in some store-bought packaged baked goods like brownie bites and coffee cake, the kind that contains so many preservatives that you can practically taste them, and everyone gobbled them up. I offered my Thai desserts to people when I got back from lunch and most people looked at me like I was trying to feed them poison. Oh well, closed-mindedness just means more food for me. I shared what I could (mostly with my girlfriends who were with me at Bhan Kanom Thai to begin with!) and then holed myself up in my little office like a rat hoarding food. Suddenly I pictured myself as
Smeagol from Lord of The Rings: "My precious..." I had all the plastic containers lined up on my desk as I indulged myself in each treat that sent me into a peanutty-coconutty milky-sweet ricey stupor for the rest of the afternoon. (But in a good way)

My favorite of the bunch is probably the pang-chee, a grilled muted-purple cake of taro, rice flour, coconut and corn. The lady at Bhan Kanom Thai says it's their best seller, and for good reason. It's chewy, coconutty has the consistency of anything made with rice flour; the taro definitely lends some mild, sweet starchiness and the corn adds an interesting, pebbly texture. Next runner up is the kanom krok, a dessert that kind of reminds me of Saturn or a flying saucer or something of that shape: a creamy coconut milk mixture is sandwiched between airy, grilled, rice flour domes for a mildly sweet, puffy treat.


She's rightfully proud of her pang-chee!

Flying saucer-ish Kanom Krok

I quite liked the kanom sai-sai, little plastic cups the size of minature Reese's peanut butter cups filled with a gelatinous white coconut cream and surrounding a bright green gumball-like sphere. I thought for sure it was a gumball, but was pleasantly surprised when I took my first bite and broke apart the green peanut-filled sphere that was followed by a cool, refreshing creaminess. Also interesting were the diamond shaped cakes made of corn, taro or kasawa. They had a bouncy texture and were lightly sweetened with coconut and sugar. Refrigerated, these small, muted-colored cakes are also a refreshing snack.

Kanom Sai Sai

Kasawa, Cream Corn and Taro Cakes

Looking a little like alien planets, I just couldn't resist the aesthetic appeal of the tua-peab and the kanom-tom, pastel green and purple spheres covered with squigly shredded coconut. They certainly looked more interesting than they tasted, as these were probably the blandest of the bunch. One, the tua peab, contained a mung bean filling which wasn't sweetened enough; the other, the kanom-tom, contained a granular filling of some sort that was more salty than sweet.

Kanom Tom (purple) and Tua Peab (green)

Bhan Kanom Thai also sells small trays of gelatinous goodies. Their glo-worm green "layer cake" is artfully cut into raised cubes inside its small, clear plastic tray. Scoop it out of its tray and you get something that resembles the green slime on that old Nickelodeon show. "It kinda smells like peanut shells," my friend said of this gooey green coconutty dessert. To me, it kinda smelled like those scratch- and-sniff stickers we used to have as kids (the peanut flavor perhaps?). It was something that I couldn't quite place my finger on, but somehow, it was still OK with me.

Alien green layer cake

Their coconut jelly is perhaps a little less scary in that it doesn't leave you guessing about any smells. Like the layer cake, it's served in a small square tray, but unlike the layer cake, it's made of gelatin instead of rice flour so it doesn't have that gooey consistency. The transparent and opaque white layered gelatin is very clean tasting, subtley sweetened with coconut, and extremely refreshing. Also refreshing is their ta-ko, cups of creamy coconut milk jelly atop either starchy bits of taro or crunchy bits of water chestnut.

Coconut jelly

Bhan Kanom Thai also has other sweet treats like sticky rice with mango and fried taro and banana. And, if you're in a savory mood, they've got an assortment of small dishes and snacks to choose from.

It hasn't even been two weeks and the staff there knows us already. (Hmm, I wonder why?) Honestly though, I'm a tad coconutted-out, so I may have to take a break from Bhan Kanom Thai for a little while. Two weeks, maybe?

Bhan Kanom Thai (other locations in Thai Town and in Paramount)
12714 Sherman Way
North Hollywood, CA 91605
(818) 255-3355


elmomonster said...

Oh goodness! That was an awesome report! I am with you though, I don't get those American desserts that are so sweet you can't taste anything else for hours afterward. I bought angel food cake from Ralphs last week thinking it might be good, but ACK! It's like eating cotton candy! BLECH! Not that I have anything against cotton candy...just not when I'm expecting to taste cake!

Desserts like these are more my style.

Kirk said...

Pam - You ever seen those programs on TV - "When Animals Attack", need to make our own. "When Asians Snack!!!" Is the coconut jelly anything like Haupia? I'm with Elmo, I hate snacks that are so sweet your teeth hurt after!

Daily Gluttony said...

Hey Elmo & Kirk,

Yeah, I can't stand desserts that are so sweet they make your teeth hurt. Something's gotta be wrong with that!!! That's why even when I go buy "Western" style desserts like layer cake I like to buy them from Asian or Latin bakeries 'cause they're never as sweet.

And Kirk, that "When Asians Snack" idea is genius--you should pitch that. BTW, what is Haupia?

Kirk said...

Pam - Haupia is like coconut pudding or jello - they serve it at all the luau's as dessert - maybe I'll make it again soon! But, it's white and looks like that coconut dessert.

Daily Gluttony said...


I'm sure it's similar...make sure you post the recipe when you make it next =)

MEalCentric said...

This one makes me miss Thailand so much...all these sweets were constantly being sold on the cheap it was practically free!

Anonymous said...

I love the taro cakes. They are soooo good!! Everytime I go down to LA, I buy 20 of them and eat them within a few days :P