The Taste of Sweet Lanna

 |  June 30, 2016

As a luk krung they say you get the best of both worlds. Growing up in Germany the great land of gateaux, cookies and pastries – I got pretty pampered with heavenly desserts. The mere thought of delicious Berliner and my grandma’s plum cake makes my mouth water. Nevertheless Thailand has a huge variety of sweet dishes as well, but I never really had the pleasure of experiencing their taste. So I am eager to explore this unknown territory. Since I was born in Chiang Mai but never spent a lot of time here, this might also be a good opportunity to learn something about my “other” roots. And seriously, is there anything better than trying sweet treats the whole day?

Fully motivated, I headed to Warorot Market in the hopes of finding traditional sweat treats – and boy, I was not disappointed. After finding my way through the various stalls, I was quite successful and returned with two bags full of Lanna delights. Almost all of these were wrapped in banana leaves, which looked pretty nice and was supposed to bring a special taste to it all.

Before starting to try all these sweet treats, I was warned. Twice. First, everyone at the office laughed when I told them what I was up to. I wasn’t sure why and was quite nervous. Then another colleague told me that Thai teens and young adults wouldn’t eat any of the treats I bought. I wasn’t sure if they don’t eat it because they don’t like it or because they rather fancy western candies. Well, either way I didn’t care. I had 10 different traditional Lanna sweets gathered around me and nothing could stop me from finding out what my sweet roots taste like!

The best part is that nothing was more expensive than 15 baht!

Khanom Madtang

1. Khanom Madtang
First one to try was khanom madtang. It was beautifully wrapped in a banana leaf and looked so pretty that it distracted me from this funny smelling yellow hard pudding inside. The jelly like texture apparently arose when ripe muskmelons, a lot of sugar, coconut milk, rice flour and cassava flour were cooked together. Once eaten it tasted rather plain and not too sweet. But the light aftertaste of melon made the taste definitely more interesting. However, this was not going to be one of my favourites.

Khanom Mansapalang

2. Khanom Mansapalang
Khanom mansapalang was made of grounded cassava and sugar. Therefor this treat was referred to as “cassava cake”, though I would have rather described it as a really al dente jelly. Nevertheless these small colourful treats looked like a lot of fun, however they truly left me disappointed. Unfortunately it tasted only a bit sweet and nothing like the wonderful bright colours would predict.

Khanom Dtom

3. Khanom Dtom
The next three treats were quite alike. They consisted of glutinous rice, sugar and a tiny bit of salt, but differed in one main ingredient. These treats also came in various forms (triangular, round, small bars) and are very filling.

Khanom dtom were small round treats and they were finger-licking good. I wanted to bathe in them and eat them forever. They reminded me of those fancy and healthy “raw-bites”. Well, except the Thai pendant wasn’t raw and there was some (or maybe a lot) of sugar in it. Anyway, these morsels consisted of a lot of coconut, sticky rice and some more roasted coconut inside, they didn’t seem too unhealthy to me. Thumbs up for these blissful bites.

Khao Dtom Tua

4. Khanom Dtom Tua
In comparison to the sweet coconut filled khanom dtom, khanom dtom tua lacked the sweetness as these tiny triangular shaped bites were filled with not that sweet black beans. They were delicious as well and could be a very nice snack. So this might be the right snack for someone who is not much of a sweet tooth.

Khao Gluay

5. Khanom Dtom Guay
Khanom dtom guay was a huge sticky rice bar with a pink banana in it – and this tasted absolutely gorgeous. The sticky rice itself didn’t taste sweet at all, but it had this special aroma due to the banana leaf wrapper. As soon as I got a bite of the banana, my mouth was flooded with a gorgeous sweet taste – and I instantly needed more of this. My sweet tooth was satisfied.

Khanom Kluea

6. Khanom Klua
I am not a superficial person, I believe in inner beauty and I don’t want to offend anyone, but khanom kluea didn’t look nice or edible at all. Was it a cake? Was it jelly? I didn’t know. I just knew that it smelled quite weird, the texture was sticky and creamy at the same time and it had a muddy colour which made me even more suspicious. But what did I expect from a sweet dish that is only made of rice flour, cassava flour and sugar? Honestly, I really didn’t want to try this. So I just closed my eyes and went for it: and no, I didn’t appreciate eating khanom klua. This treat had an oddly sweet taste. By putting a bit of brown sugar on it you could definitely improve the taste, since it became sweeter and a bit “crunchy”. Still not my favourite dish and nothing I would buy again.

Khanom Piang

7. Khanom Piang
Another one I wasn’t eager to try was khanom piang which looked similar to khanom klua but much darker. It was made of black glutinous rice (didn’t even know that deep black rice existed), “white” glutinous rice, a bit sugar and a pinch of salt. So it was just obvious that this could not taste sweet or whatsoever. I didn’t suppose that it had a great taste so I added sugar and coconut stripes right away. Khanom piang was not awful or too bad, but again nothing I would buy a second time.

Khanom Kang

8. Khanom Keng
Khanom keng was referred to as a “sticky cake”. Well, it was made of glutinous rice, sugar and water – so I couldn’t expect it to be anything but sticky, right? It had this soft jelly sticky texture, just like gummy-bears you forgot in your car and that eventually melted into one big mass. This was rather tasteless and I was pretty sure I was not going to get used to this weird texture in a hurry.

Khao Khip

9. Khao Khip
Khao khip consisted of glutinous rice, brown sugar and coconut milk and was surprisingly photogenic hiding its true nature of being a bit strange. This cake-like dish smelled like peanuts and tasted like caramel coffee. How is this even possible? As I have never been a fan of coffee (I know – shame on me), this one was a no for me.

Khanom Khaep

10. Khao Khaep
The word crispy was invented for khao khaep, a flat round snack that reminded me of huge crisps. Khao khaep really tasted like nothing but air and crispiness, which was easily explained by the ingredients (only glutinous rice and salt). I wouldn’t recommend eating it in front of the TV as every bite sounds like T-Rex chewing on bones. (To be on the safe side, I took a picture before driving to the office. Turned out it was a good idea because as I arrived the thin round snacks already broke into tiny pieces).

Final thoughts and what I’ve learned:
Although I wasn’t fond of every sweet treat I tried, I must admit that in a MacGuyver manner the ancient Lanna people made the best out of the few ingredients (sugar, cassava and rice) they had. They even achieved to create a variety of rice desserts. Furthermore I immediately understood why these treats are preferred by elderly people as they were all quiet creamy and there was basically no need to chew. Also the lack of sweetness might be a reason why many elder people favour traditional and local sweets and why teens don’t. All in all this was certainly an interesting experience and I think you should at least try one or two of these. Just saying.

Warning: Since all of the treats are made of either rice or rice flour, they tend to make you quite full. Just don’t eat as many of these dishes as I did! I was so full afterwards that I didn’t even know if ever wanted to eat again.