The old town across the river from the Grand Palace is ripe for exploration. Thonburi, as it is known, has been shaped by centuries of foreign influence. In fact, several communities here today were settled as far back as the 1500s. They have maintained, to some degree, a traditional vibe.
One of the most cohesive communities is Kudee Jeen, an area marked by a splendid neo-classical cathedral on the river’s bank. I recently went wandering here in search of a famous pastry, but I began with a taste of history. Strolling through Santa Cruz Church, I felt its warmth rush through me as I admired the stained glass windows.
I continued my adventure through narrow alleys to the north of the church. King Taksin himself had bestowed the Portuguese with this tract, and later the Chinese joined them: two powerful influences enriching old Siam. The quaint lanes were lined with colourful wooden houses that have aged as deliciously as Bangkok!
One of the great features of Kudee Jeen is the namesake khanom farang kudee jeen, which is believed by many to be the very first cake in the Kingdom. It was introduced by Portuguese families. Over time, they passed down the recipe to their neighbours. Three family-run operations still make this dessert the old-fashioned way, using the same ingredients as their forefathers: egg, flour, and sugar.
I stopped by Thanusingha Bakery, which sits inside a traditional Thai house. The family has converted part of the first floor into a café, where you can sip coffee or tea with your freshly baked khanom. Their version of the cake was crispy outside, soft inside, and topped with dried candied fruit that provided a dash of sweetness and a note of Chinese influence: sweet, but not really “farang,” as the name implies.
For many Thais, this cake recalls pleasant childhood memories — Thanusingha’s certainly did for me!
How To Get There
Take a ferry from Pak Khlong Talad Pier to Wat Kalayanamit. When you get off, walk toward Santa Cruz Church. Thanusingha Bakery is on Soi Kudee Jeen 7. You can explore the other families’ bakeries by following the signs.