The popular Nang Leong Market, a foodie haven in the northeastern section of Bangkok’s Old Town, is famous not only for filling the bellies of many people, but also for being a charming community in and of itself. I would add that if a person comes to experience the food here, they must also take a walk and spend a little more time on observing the authentic Bangkok lifestyle which is also on display.
I always make a few more friends each time I visit the Nang Leong community. We develop a familiarity with each other, and many times they wave or greet me before I even open my mouth to say “Sawasdee Kha” to them. That is really sweet. That sweetness also sugarcoats this story, because the Nang Leong market community is famous for making traditional Thai sweets, or Khanom Thai.
Grandmother Hong, or Yai Hong, has been making her Khanom Thai for more than 40 years. Her little shop is at the corner space next to the charming rustic wooden cinema house called Charoenburi. She makes her desserts fresh every day, direct from the kitchen of her World War II era home, which is situated in the adjacent little alley nearby. Bear in mind that Yai Hong is 80-something years old, and has been using the same kitchen to make her sweets almost every morning.
She rises each day from her hardwood bed, and starts the charcoal in the kitchen by herself. The upper portion of her body is bent parallel to the ground from her repeated humble movements—because she has been doing this since she was 14!
Khanom Thai requires a gentle touch in marrying ingredients together, and the person making th
e sweets must be sensitive to the cooking heat. Yai Hong prefers doing it all in the original way, with charcoal, because she wants to remain true to the original method. It’s the way she knows best, and it’s also the best way to make certain delicate desserts, such as her Nam Kati (coconut milk mixed with a little salt).
But it’s her famous Khanom Morkaeng that really stands out. These sweets are similar to egg custard, or flan, and are made with mung beans, eggs, palm sugar, white sugar, and fresh coconut milk. Yai Hong still bakes them in the old-school, handmade oven that is pretty much the same age as her. This rustic appliance has a tray that covers the top of the unit, which in turn allows the fiery charcoals to sit inside. And that’s what makes her Khanom Morkaeng come out with such an amazing colour—burnt brown with a crispy texture on the top layer.
She is such a master in preparing this item that she can tell just from the smell if it is ready or not. When indeed they are ready, she will sprinkle them generously with crispy fried shallots on top. That’s what makes them such a gem! And having them while they’re still hot is divine!
This is the reason why when I’m here I have my lunch backwards. I start with dessert first… and why not?!
ADDRESS: Yai Hong Khanom Thai is at the corner of the wooden cinema and little alleyway in Nang Leong market community. It is open Monday to Saturday, from 10:30am till 4pm.