Nine Auspicious Thai Desserts
During festive times of the year, many of us are looking for something special to give to loved ones. In Thailand, best wishes can be delivered in delicious and meaningful bites.
This article will take you on a short trip around The Nine Auspicious Thai Desserts or “Khanom Monkhon Kao Yang [ขนมมงคลเก้าอย่าง]” in Thai, which are given on various occasions, from weddings to house-warming parties.
Khanom Thai [ขนมไทย] or Thai dessert, has been popular for sweet tooth since ancient times. It is an aspect of the Thai identity that reflects delicateness, both in terms of taste and aesthetic. One of the most famous textual mentions of khanom Thai is the Kap Hae Chom Kreung Khao Wan (traditional boat song for the Royal Barge Procession) which was written by King Rama II (1809 – 1824). In it, the king described various sweet and savory dishes with great admiration.
Another textual mention of khanom Thai was in Thailand’s first cookbook ever recorded, Mae Khrua Hua Pa was written by Lady Prien Pasakorn-Rawongpublished during the reign of King Rama V (1853 – 1910). The cookbook introduces many royal Thai recipes including famous auspicious Thai desserts.
The cookbook shows the most khanom Thai are made using three main ingredients for dessert: rice flour, palm sugar, and coconut milk. Other ingredients such as fruits and flowers are added to give colors or fragrances. Besides those main ingredients, egg yolks are also used as the main ingredient in Thong family desserts.
Thong Family desserts
Thai desserts are well known for their exquisite appearance, as well as delicacy and meticulousness in every step of preparations, from choosing the raw materials to the method of production. Although there are so many traditional Thai desserts, some of them hold symbolic meanings and are used for special occasions and auspicious ceremonies.
Not only do these special treats taste delicious, but they also possess names that symbolize good luck. The most auspicious of these desserts are grouped in Thong category. “Thong [ทอง]” is the Thai word for gold, which is considered to be a valuable material in Thai culture, the color of gold is also considered to represent goodness and nobility. The Nine Auspicious Desserts contain many treats from this family.
Why the Number Nine?
As evident from the case of the Thong desserts, Thai people believe that people, places, and things that possess auspicious names are able to attract good luck.
The word for the number nine [เก้า] in the Thai language is synonymous with the Thai word “kao” [ก้าว] meaning “progress” or “to move forward”. It is also considered to be the luckiest number, according to Thai numerology. Each of the Nine Auspicious Thai Desserts is believed to convey a blessing related to different areas of human life. Thus, when bought together, the giving of all nine desserts is meant to symbolize progress and fulfillment in all wishes.
Let’s say the nine auspicious desserts make all the perfect sense to bless and deliver your best wishes in a literally sweet way. Now we move on to examine each of the nine desserts, as well as the meanings behind their names.
Thong Yip (Pinched gold egg yolks)
Photo credit: Phol Foodmafia
Thong yip [ทองหยิบ] is an auspicious dessert that looks like a golden flower. The name Thong yip has a hidden meaning for prosperity as “yip” [หยิบ] means to pick or to catch, Thus, is believed that it would enhance or bring wealth and prosperity without difficulty.
Thong yip is made from two main ingredients: egg yolk and sugar. Beaten egg yolks are dripped in syrup that is flavored with jasmine water. Its shape is formed by pinching it into a small cup to firm up like a flower or five-pointed star.
Thong Yod (Gold egg yolks drops)
Photo credit: Phol Foodmafia
Thong yod [ทองหยอด] is a golden droplet made from egg yolk. The word “yod [หยอด]” means to “drop” or “dip”. Thais believe the receiver would be blessed with a plentiful supply of money and the ability to spend the money indefinitely.
Thong yod is made by dropping the mixture of egg yolks and sugar into bubbling syrup. Some recipes would add rice flour to the mixture to help achieve a thicker texture, which would make it easier to form when dropped.
Foi Thong (Gold egg yolks threads)
Photo credit: Phol Foodmafia
Foi thong [ฝอยทอง] is given on special occasions, especially in the wedding ceremony to bless the newlyweds with a long life together. The word “foi [ฝอย]” means “threads”, symbolizing the long lasting love.
Foi thong’s ingredients are similar to thong yip and thong yod. There are only a few more preparation steps before filtering mixture into the bubbling syrup. The mixtures, which are egg yolks and sugar, have to be mixed well and strain in a fine strainer or cheesecloth to remove clumps. This helps the mixture to stretch out as long as possible, allowing the dessert to carry its symbolic meaning. The mixture is poured into the narrow funnel and moved in circular motion. The cook then uses a long pointed stick to scoop the threads before letting them to rest on a wire rack or folding it.
Thong Ek (Wheat flour dumplings with egg yolks)
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Thong ek [ทองเอก] is considered the queen of all auspicious Thai desserts. It has an elegant appearance that stands out from other “Thong” family desserts, with the unique decoration of gold leaf flakes tipped on the dessert.
The word “ek [เอก]” in Thai means “being the first”. Thais offer khanom thong ek in various auspicious ceremonies as celebration of career promotion or blessing to be the best in business or competitions.
Thong ek is also made of egg yolks and sugar, mixed in boiling wheat flour and coconut milk, stirring until all mixture is thick and firm, then resting the dough to cool down before pressing into a mold and decorating the top with a gold leaf flake.
Making thong ek takes more time than thong yip and thong yod, but the taste and texture are richer than the other two. This is due to the addition of coconut milk and wheat flour.
Dara Thong or Thong Ek Krachang (Golden crown-like desserts)
Photo credit: Bakery-lover.com
Dara thong [ดาราทอง], also known as thong ek krachang [ทองเอกกระจัง], is known to be the most difficult to make compared to other types of Thai auspicious dessert. Thus, it has become an auspicious dessert that is hard to find. The name Dara Thong means golden stars, the meaning of high status or career stability and promotion.
Dara thong is often mistakenly referred to as “ja mongkut [จ่ามงกุฎ]”, another Thai dessert that is made out of egg yolks. The word “mongkut [มงกุฎ]” means “crown” in Thai. Due to dara thong’s appearance as a crown-like dessert, the two desserts are often confused.
The ingredients of dara thong or thong ek krachang are similar to thong ek and take a longer time to prepare. Instead of pressing the dough into the mold, Dara Thong is formed into a dough ball and shaped or flanked. The dough is then decorated with sugar-coated watermelon seeds to resemble a star or crown, and do not forget to top it with a piece of gold leaf.
Med Kanoon (Jackfruit seed desserts)
Photo credit: Phol Foodmafia
This auspicious dessert has nothing to do with jackfruit except its appearance. Med kanoon [เม็ดขนุน] has a literal meaning of jackfruit seeds. When pronounced, the term of “kanoon [ขนุน]” sounds similar to the term of “noon [หนุน]” which means “to support”. This auspicious dessert has a special hidden meaning and symbolism of support and strength.
Med kanoon dough is made of steamed mung beans blended with coconut milk and sugar. The mixture is stirred in the pan or wok using low or medium heat until its texture becomes a dough. The dough is then shaped into the shape of jackfruit seeds and placed into sugary syrup. Nowadays taro is also commonly used instead of mung bean paste. This rendition is called med kanoon pueak [เม็ดขนุนเผือก], “pueak [เผือก]” meaning taro in Thai.
Khanom Chun (Streamed layer dessert)
Photo credit: Wongnai
“Chun” or “chan” [ชั้น] in Thai means layers. Khanom chun [ขนมชั้น] thus signifies progress and accomplishment. Like its literal name, khanom chun’s appearance look like a layered jelly cake. According to the Mae Khrua Hua Pa cookbook, the main ingredients of making khanom chun are rice flour, arrowroot starch, tapioca starch, coconut milk and sugar. Once mixing is done, divide the mixture into two batches, and add pandan leaf juice (which is a very popular flavoring for the dessert). The amount of pandan juice added will determine the color of the batch, with one batch being dark green and the other being light green. Pour the first layer then steam before adding the second layer, alternating between the two colored batches. Do this until there is a total of nine layers.
Although natural colors are preferable, nowadays fancy kanom chun can be made from food coloring for more vibrancy or to achieve more colors match with specific occasions.
Khanom Tuay Foo (Thai rice flour muffins)
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Khanom tuay foo [ขนมถ้วยฟู] is an auspicious fluffy dessert that symbolizes the process of growth and prosperity. The main mixture of tuay foo contains rice flour, sugar, and yeast. Once the dough is set, put the dough in ceramic cups and put those cups in a streamer. Khanom tuay foo comes in different colors. It has a sweet aroma from its special ingredient: flower water which is baked with fresh jasmine flowers in the final step of making.
Sanae Chan (Moon dessert)
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The word “chan” has many meanings in Thai. It can refer to the moon [จันทร์], sandalwood [จันท์], nutmeg [จันท์เทศ], and a the tree Diospyros decandra [จัน]. The ripe fruit of the decandra plant has a beautiful radiant yellow color and gives an unique aromatic fragrance. The powdered form of the fruit is used as the main ingredient of the dessert. Nutmeg power is also used as an alternative.
The symbolism of chan implies a connection to the moon, while the word“sanae [เสน่ห์]” means charm and affection. Undoubtedly, sanae chan [เสน่ห์จันทร์] symbolizes charm and fascination all together. It is believed that receivers would be fascinated and blessed by the charm of its special fragrance, like the charm of the moonlight.
According to Mae Khrua Hua Pa cookbook, sanae chan is made of rice flour and glutinous rice flour in boiling coconut milk and sugar. The mixture is stirred until smooth and firm, the special ingredient – nutmeg powder – is added during this thickening of the dough. Once the dough cools down, shape the dough into the ball and poke the top and decorate with palm sugar, making it resemble the decandra fruit.
Despite the Nine Auspicious Desserts taking an immense amount of time to make, they remain popular features in celebrations and special occasions. Beyond carrying the delightful taste of Thai ingredients, Thai auspicious desserts also reflect the notion of Thainess in a bite. They demonstrate the nature of thoughtfulness, as believing auspicious desserts convey blessings and wishes to the receivers. They also contain meticulousness, as every step of Thai dessert making is an art. From naming each dessert with auspicious meaning to choosing the ingredients and extracting natural coloring/flavoring, the process of making the treats is conducted with love and care. All of these factors make the Nine Auspicious Thai Desserts worthy to be called “Blessings in a Bite”.
- Sources: https://vajirayana.org/%E0%B9%81%E0%B8%A1%E0%B9%88%E0%B8%84%E0%B8%A3%E0%B8%B1%E0%B8%A7%E0%B8%AB%E0%B8%B1%E0%B8%A7%E0%B8%9B%E0%B9%88%E0%B8%B2%E0%B8%81%E0%B9%8C
Author: Phimnara Kamonsinmahat
June 8, 2022