Those of you who regularly drive the Chiang Mai-Lamphun Road will have noticed the sugar-coated Barbie pink building selling desserts which is very hard to miss
Though this dessert shop, which has been operating for 35 years, is really well known for their sweet and savoury flavoured kanom pia, originally a Hokkien Chinese moon pastry filled with beans and other flavourings from durian to egg yolk, there is a plethora of other traditional Thai desserts on the menu, making this a great destination for anyone looking to explore a lesser known tradition of Thai cuisine – desserts.
“We are now the second generation of this brand, taking the recipes and hard work of our parents into the modern era while retaining the beloved flavours from the original recipes,” said Neeratra ‘May’ Vannasut.
It all started when May’s father, Ajarn Suchat Vannasut received a kanom pia recipe from his sister, Malee Sawadphoon, well known for her skills in the kitchen.
“My uncle was a prosecutor, while my aunt, his wife, was a housewife who had to entertain a lot,” explained May. “She used to live in Nakhon Phanom and developed her skills making traditional Thai sweets for guests. When my uncle died from an accident, my aunt was left with little money and three girls to care for. So she moved the family to Bangkok so that the girls could get a good education and began to make ‘break boxes’ which were little boxes of snacks to be delivered to places such as offices or meetings and conferences.”
May continued to tell her family’s and brand’s story, “Auntie Malee built the Kanom Ban Arjarn, which means sweets from the house of the prosecutor, into a widely known Thai brand. Here in Chiang Mai we have Kanom Ban Arjarn, which means sweets from the house of the lecturer, which may be confusing to come people, but allow me to explain. My father used to go to Bangkok to my aunt at her shop every holiday and was most impressed with his sister’s success. My father had a Master’s degree in ceramics and used to travel to places such as Japan and Europe for research. He began to notice that these countries had patisseries, confectioneries and such shops selling delicious treats wrapped up in attractive looking boxes, something that was sorely lacking in Thailand. He made it his own little project to come home after work and cut pretty paper boxes for his sister.”
May said that when her father returned home with cooking skills he learnt from my aunt, he began to hone his own kanom pia recipe. At the time he had an assistant, Sanguansri Vannasut, who eventually became his wife and May’s mother. “My mother was also a lecturer at Chiang Mai Rajabhat University, and she loved to cook, so the two of them went through endless batches until they perfected their own version of the kanom pia, which is slightly different from the Bangkok version as we had to keep our prices more affordable to our local economy. Fans of the brand will notice that the Chiang Mai version is just slightly sweeter than Bangkok’s saltier bites.”
The husband and wife began to make kanom pia to order, supplying snacks to the occasional large event around town. They took their boxes of kanom pia to gift to people on holidays and New Year, and soon there was enough demand to open a little shop called Kanom Ban Arjarn.
Soon the couple found the location to be too small and moved to a larger shop. It wasn’t long before they opened their first shop in a shopping mall. And over the years, as each mall has opened in Chiang Mai, they have been invited to get on board. The flagship shop of course, is this pink dollhouse on the road to Lampang, but if you don’t want to head that far out of the city, you can go and grab your own box of the classic kanom pia at any of six branches. Today, May and her sister Suchawadee Vannasut run the shops while their brother, Supiyachat Vannasut, runs the factory – a proper family business!
The fillings of the kanom pia are getting creative these days, with kidney beans, sesame, chocolate, beans, green tea, dried shrimps, shredded dried pork and multiple new flavours being added to appeal to a younger generation so that they too can appreciate classical Thai desserts. Other Thai desserts you can find are kleep lumduan shortbread cookies, salie Thai coconut cake, crispy lotus blossom cookies, kanom luk chup gelatin dipped fruit, khao mao puffed rice, black pepper Thai caramalised crisps, flavoured arlua (thought to have borrowed from the English word allure), the very rare kanom na nual, coconut meringue and many more exotic and exciting sweets.
There are also international desserts such as pies, cookies, brownies and butterfly pies. They have six super refreshing herbal drinks which are great healthy accompaniments to all those sweets.
There are some treats being offered in a new East Asian zone: Chinese, Korean and Japanese munchies and snacks selected by the owner to be featured as a special offer for those with a taste for the eastern flavours.
On special occasions you can also give them your budget and they are happy to put together a gift basket for you for any special moment in life.
35 Years Later
The secret to Kanom Ban Arjarn is the absolute, consistently high standard which has been maintained for 35 long years and across two generations. Every single ingredient is top grade and has been sourced for excellence, says May.
No preservatives are used in any of the products which has meant that, in spite of numerous opportunities, Kanom Baan Ajarn has not scaled up to a point where they are forced to compromise and use preservatives.
“We started by making these kanom pia for ourselves, our family members,” continued May. “Then we gave then away, soon people came to us to try them and then we turned it into a business. Every once in a while, our parents come to the factory to taste what we are making and we make sure it is exactly like what they made all those years ago!”
That is why in another 35 years, whether it is May and her siblings, or their children, you will likely be able to taste the exact same bite from Kanom Ban Arjarn.
Kanom Ban Arjarn
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