Traditional Thai foods are a harmonious blend of the spicy and hot. It makes sense (and tradition!) to ensure that the desserts that follow Thai feasts “put out the fire” with a cool, colorful and healthy effect.
Ajahn Sarayut Arnanta is the founding abbot of the Wat Buddhametta, the Tucson Buddhist Meditation Center housed in a 1950s adobe that sits on 3.5 acres north of 22nd Street on Swan Road. He and Mary Watt, assistant to Ajahn Sarayut and the Temple, spoke with BorderLore about the traditions of Thai sweets.
Thai desserts are a real indulgence, with so many delicious ingredients and spices. Why are desserts special in Thai culture?
Thai mothers and grandmothers like to make desserts that are pretty and colorful and appealing. Many of the traditional desserts take a long time to make. Thai women are showing their love and caring, by taking the time and doing this tedious work to make fancy, beautiful and tasty desserts for their families.
Thai desserts certainly are colorful and pretty!
In Thailand the colors come from fresh flowers and plants. Pink, green, and yellow are favorite colorings for desserts. In America, Thai women needed to adapt, using some food coloring, because the flowers used for coloring are not available. In Thailand, the “unchun” is a purple flower used for coloring. The green leaves from the “pandanus,” a palm-like plant, are used for making coloring green. In Thailand cooks often use jasmine flowers in desserts which are very fragrant.
What are some key ingredients in creating Thai desserts?
Coconut is the most common ingredient in all of Thai desserts. Many desserts use green or young coconut. The green coconut is more tender than the brown or more-ripe coconut. Other common ingredients are tapioca, taro root, lotus root, and palm sugar. Many Asian fruits are used, including jackfruit. There are many Thai desserts which are fresh and healthy—especially the desserts of fresh mango topped with sticky rice, ruam mit, and luk chub.
Ruam Mit? Please explain some of your traditional Thai desserts.
“Khao niao mamuang” is sticky rice cooked in sweetened coconut milk, served with slices of ripe mango. This is a sweet and luscious dessert.
“Ruam mit” is made of water chestnuts rolled in tapioca flour, then boiled. These are called “crystal balls” as they become translucent when cooked. The balls are served in sweetened coconut milk. Thai cooks also make a type of custard using Asian pumpkins.
“Kai hong,” which means swans’ eggs, are somewhat like a small donut. They are made from mung beans with coconut flakes. Then they are deep fried. While still warm, the balls are rolled in sesame seeds. These are light, airy, not too sweet, and delicious. “Khanom bua loi” consists of taro root with flour, made into tiny balls, and served in coconut milk. Sometimes, sweet corn kernels are added.
“Kluay kaek” is a banana dessert, which is coated in rice and tapioca flour, and then deep fried. Fresh fruit is also served. In America, the favorite fresh fruits used in Thai desserts are mango, pineapple and watermelon.
Does Wat Buddhametta offer opportunities for Tucsonans to taste these desserts?
Wat Buddhametta hosts a monthly buffet for the public on the third Saturday of every month, from 6-8 pm. The very best Thai cooks prepare a wonderful buffet of Thai foods including Pad Thai, Egg rolls, various curries, stir fried vegetable. And then there are the Thai desserts. For our all-you-can-eat buffet we ask $10 per person. Children under 10 eat free, and no RSVP or reservation is required. Guests to our buffet may sit in our lovely Buddha Room or outside in the beautiful and lush garden, with old and new friends. The collected funds from the buffet help to support the temple to offer all classes to the public free of charge.
Thai desserts served at our buffet vary from month to month, as various temple members bring the desserts they have prepared to each buffet. We have many Thai cooks and even the monks prepare and cook much of the food for our buffet.
Please tell us more about Wat Buddhametta
We are both a temple and monastery. Currently three monks reside here and serve our community. We observe Buddhist religious practices according to the Theravada tradition. Our center also serves as a meeting place for laypeople. Everyone is welcome to join us for classes, ceremonies, meditation and community services. We offer mindfulness meditation, birth blessings, Thai Buddhist weddings, funeral services and memorial services. We hold beginning meditation class every Sunday from 3-4:30 pm.
Check the website and Temple calendar for classes, meditation instruction, and notices of special events. http://www.tucsonbuddhistcenter.org/