Welcome to the frosty world of Thai snow cones! Also known as nam kang sai, they are not exactly what you imagine when you hear "snow cone". I was not sure what I was ordering the first time I wandered into Bhan Kanom Thai. Luckily, I'm not all that picky about what I eat anyways. I like a little adventure. It's a dessert, after all, so it's not as if it's going to be full of eyeballs or something.
Bhan Kanom Thai is a very well-stocked import candy and snack shop. They have a fresh bakery and make their own desserts. There are two cases running along the side of the spacious shop. One side holds trays of desserts like pumpkin in milk, and sweet black beans in sweetened condensed milk. The other half of the case is given over to the wonder of the snow cone. This is not your mother's snow cone (Unless, of course, your mother is Thai. Then it probably is your mother's snow cone).
The server holds a large styrofoam cup at the ready. You are given several options, from which you select three or four. Some of them are familiar to most Angelenos by now - sliced jackfruit, green-tinted boba, and coconut jelly. There were also little basil seeds that were flavorless but had the fun crunch of poppy seeds. I went with the larger "palm seeds" which are actually attap, the immature fruit of the Mangrove palm. They looked like big clear lima beans. A lot of Thai sweets seem to be clear and gelatinous. I also chose boba, coconut jelly, and jackfruit.
The server filled the cup the rest of the way to the top with crushed ice, and gestured to three syrups. The first one he could only identify as "red". I asked for more clarification, like if this was a fruit flavor, and everyone just stared at each other and repeated "red". It made me think of artificially flavored "grape" kool-aid that really is the flavor "purple" when you think about it. I gestured towards the green bottle and he shook his head no. Bad choice. So I went with the clear syrup, which he could identify as "Jasmine." Later I was to discover that the green syrup was "cream soda" flavor. "Red" flavor is actually called sala, which is a flavor that comes from the fruit of the sala tree. It reminds me of a cross between Campari and cherry cough syrup.
Unlike some people, I enjoy floral flavors - I'm particularly fond of rose water, and a strange Canadian candy called "Floral Gums" that most of my friends think tastes like soap. So I really liked the Jasmine syrup. At first I approached the snow cone as more of a scientific experiment than a food, poking it and letting the textures play on my tongue. But after I got home and most of the ice had melted, what I was left with was an ice-cold fruit salad that I could not stop eating. Temperatures in the 100s made the snow cone a perfect snack.
So perfect in fact, that I made the trek back to Thai Town the very next day. And I was back a few days later to turn my friend on to the wonders of the snow cone. We arrived early enough to watch them baking and preparing all kinds of exotic goodies. This time I mixed it up a little, choosing jackfruit, palm seed, and red beans. The string-like white jelly is completely flavorless. My friend chose basil seeds for hers, and said that they looked like tiny little eyeballs. And after I had promised no eyeballs! She went with green "cream soda" flavor which turned out to be really sweet and tasted nothing like cream soda. We accepted the offer to top off the ice with a dollop of sweetened condensed milk, but that just took it too far. It made the snowcone almost too sweet to be edible.
Amongst the other taste treats there, I have picked up sweet candy threads that you roll up in a mushu-like pancake, a squishy thing that looks like a taco, sweet crispy tacos, egg yolk pastries that look like flowers, and little candies that look like hot peppers. I also picked up some dried Durian which I have yet to try. I think I'll save that one for the next LAist get-together.
Bhan Kanom Thai 5271 Hollywood Blvd. LA 90027 (323) 871 8030
12714 Sherman Way North Hollywood 91605 (818) 255-3355
8402 Alondra Blvd. Paramount 90723 (562) 633-2799