Khanom Thian

I was hurriedly walking to school this morning in a very un-Thai manner. I could see it was about to rain again and I had neglected to bring my umbrella. I was so deep in thought about whether I would make it in time that I didn’t notice at first someone shouting out my name. “Ri-chaaard. Ri-chaaaard,” someone was shouting with the emphasis firmly on the second syllable. Had to be a Thai person. When I turned around I was surprised to be confronted with the sight of Wirat cycling towards me.

Now, my regular readers might remember this person as my local “khanom krok” lady. She is the one that never stopped talking and was always trying to be more than my friend. Bascially, her ex-husband had abandoned both her and her newborn child 15 years ago and now she wanted me to marry her. Of course I was flattered but then I later found out that she was proposing to just about anyone who would listen! Not that I minded my little chats with her. And, actually, I kind of missed her as she has not been selling khanom krok around here for several months now. We had all been wondering where she had got to. And then, here she was, cycling down Sukhumwit Road out of the blue.

Naturally, I shouted out to her “bai nai ma” meaning “where have you been?” She stopped and soon brought me up-to-date. She said that she had been disappointed with slow sales at the top of my soi so she now sells something different in Samrong! She then reached into a couple of large plastic bags and brought out some Thai desserts wrapped in banana leaves. “I now sell khanom thien, (ขนม เทียน )” she told me. “Here, try some, no charge!” She then proceeded to give me two bags full of these desserts. In one bag she put a marker made from a sliver of banana leaf. She told me “This one sai-kem with the marker and the other sai-waang. You might find the sai-kem one a little spicy.” If you didn’t know, “kem” means salty and “waang” means sweet.

I thanked her and wished her good luck by saying ‘chok dee”. I made a mental note to try and find out where she had set up her new stall. Samrong is about 10-15 minutes away by car. At school I decided to give away some of the desserts to other teachers. There was too much for me to eat alone. And anyway, it is Thai custom to share food around like this. I soon discovered that Thai people prefer the salted version much more than the sweet one which surprised me. I always thought Thai people had a sweet tooth. But, after I tried it, I could see what they meant. I like the “sai-kem” one much better too.

My helpful teacher went on to say that you can tell the difference between them even before you unwrap them from the banana leaves. All you have to do is squeeze them slightly. The softer one is “sai-waang”. In the picture at the top, it is “sai-kem” on the left and “sai-waang” on the right. The common ingredients between these two are white sticky-rice flour, black sticky-rice flour, palm sugar and fragrant water.

The salted one then has: mung bean, chopped red onion, crushed pepper, sugar, salt and oil. The sweet one has: shredded coconut, and palm sugar. As you can see from the faded colour of the banana leaves in the picture, the final product is cooked in a steamer for about 15 minutes and served when cold. As far as I can understand, these desserts are Chinese in origin and are used in a festival to honour dead ancestors.

They certainly have an interesting taste. But to be honest, I really miss my fresh piping hot khanom krok. I think tomorrow I will walk down to Paknam market to see if I can find anyone selling this coconut pudding.

9 responses to “Khanom Thian

  1. Whatever… the lady sounds so sweet to reach out to you with food.. I feel like saying – Do not loose touch with her!!

  2. Aroy dee kha. I love most khanom types especially khanom chun and khanom krok. I’ll repeat that I love seeing the food, lol.

  3. It is very common to hear stories about “her ex-husband had abandoned both her and her newborn child”. Almost all “Mor Nuad” in the traditional Thai massage parlor will tell you the same story, if you strike a conversation with them asking about their family.

  4. Isn’t black sticky rice actually muang beans? I can’t imagine rice being black.

  5. It’s real black sticky rice (smaller and harder)

  6. I once road my friends bicycle from Imperial World Samrong to Paknam and back, riding on the foot path where possible as there are to many cars on the main road, any way that trip took me 20 minutes each way, Maybe Richard should ride a bicycle, to buy food off this lady, but remember to stay on the foot path, and use the bell to make shore the pedestrians move out of you way.

  7. Yes, most asian countries have their own version of Khanom Thian. In Singapore, our version is the same as that of China. This sweet is in the shape of the triangular pyramid. Basically it contains the same ingredients. We called it the “Bak Chang” or meat dumpling. (Bak = meat, Chang = dumpling)
    The origin of this dumpling goes back to the warring period of the Ancient Chinese era. A wise and loyal official was disheartened to see his country falling apart due to corrupted court officials. So he went to a river and committed suicide. His subjects knew about it later and they row boats to the spot and threw dumplings into the river so that the fishes would not eat his body. Some villagers also beat gongs to frighten sea creatures. This went on and soon they had a “dragon boat race”. To commemorate his death, Chinese all over the world will celebrate Dumpling festival and the Dragon boat race on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month of the Chinese Calendar.

  8. Really enjoy reading about thai food or khanom thai from your thread. You know quite pretty well about our tradition and all the entirly details. I just really feel hungry as I saw “Khanom Thien” Sai Hwarn or Sai Khem. Havent ate for quite a long time. I have been living in Europe now and do missing thai food. Khanom Krog is also my best favarite too, hurrrrrrrr.Eventhough I am from Bangkok, but I have never been to Samrong, or I did, cant remember..coz I once visit Crocodile Farm. Maybe next time I shall have a visit. Still enjoy reading your blogs. Have a great weekend kha.

  9. Sweet=waan……. not waang as you posted 🙂