I’m filling another request, in part because I’m impressed and genuinely surprised that there are foreigners who know about our little Kanom Tuay. It is considered street food, not from any royal court anywhere except a court under a bridge in Bangkok!
You know that in Bangkok there will be people erecting their houses from pieces of cardboard, plywood, and bits and pieces of items found under the bridges and freeways, right? They live there with stolen electricity, using safety pins jammed through the rubber casing of the main power lines, with their electric cords attached to those safety pins. (My dad used to be the CFO of The Metropolitan Electricity Authority and had to deal with the various ways that people stole electricity all over town. This is the most popular method, even though it has killed large numbers of people already.) Of course, it’s illegal, but when money isn’t that readily available to buy or rent a home, you learn several different ways to survive.
I didn’t mean to teach you how to steal electricity or educate you about the life of the Bangkok homeless. I was just telling you that this dessert I’m giving you the recipe for this time isn’t anything complicated, or for the elite. In fact, it is just a very common dessert that every household at every level can enjoy.
Kanom Tuay might have many different spellings, such as Kanom Thuay, Kanom Tuai, Khanom Thuai or even Khanom Thuay, but all refer to the same thing, as long as they don’t have “fu” or “foo” attached as part of the name.
In the past, you could find this dessert everywhere in the city, but it might not be as common these days as Westerner desserts seem to be taking the leading role in Thailand. Kanom Tuay used to be sold by a solo merchants, either a man or woman (but mostly women), who carried two baskets hanging from cradles that hung from the tips of a beam balanced on one shoulder, calling the customers by proclaiming, “Kanom Tuay Mai Ja”, asking “Do you want any Kanom Tuay?” (You can see the image by clicking on this link; the site is in Thai language but shows several pictures of those baskets).
These days, sadly, they are seen much less around the country, both the merchants carrying the balancing baskets and the Kanom Tuay!
I asked the person who requested this recipe how she knew about this rice custard. She said she went to a noodle place in Bangkok and they just had them sitting on the table, and she saw people eat them after their meal or while they were waiting for their noodles to arrive. So she tried them and fell in love, so now she wants to know how to make them.
I can’t find the history of Kanom Tuay. It seems like it is too common, and so no one cares to reveal its history or origin. My guess is it’s just because it’s made from basic local ingredients that can be found in any household, so no one bothered to trace it.
The Kanom Tuay name is actually is shortened from the real name, Kanom Tuay Talai. Tuay or Thuay means cup and Tuay Talai is a very tiny cup. As you can see from the picture below.
The cream-colored and the white cups with the blurred stripes both are the “Tuay Talai” or ถ้วยตะไล; the smaller size has an opening that isn’t much bigger than a quarter coin. The shallower cups are the big Tuay Talai; we use these kind much more these days because it’s easier to scoop the custard out. You don’t need to use these cups. You can use small ramekins cups or any small cups you can find.
For someone who’ve never eaten this rice custard, it has two parts: the bottom is the sweet part, we call it the body or “tua” (ตัว), soft but sticky, and the top part is called the face or “nah” (หน้า) and is salty and creamy.
It’s unlike any Western dessert. The bottom (sweet) part has the texture of custard but there is no egg in it. The closest thing I can compare it to is caramel custard or flan, but it doesn’t break or fall apart as easily. It stays together due to some stickiness of the rice flour. Then there is the creamy, salty coconut top, which is not sticky at all, but creamy. It’s a blend of sweet and salty, sticky and creamy; heavenly!
I think you might have to try to make it once just to get the idea. It’s quite easy, so it shouldn’t be a problem.
Ingredients for the body part:
Rice flour 60 g or 1/2 cup
Mung bean flour 10 g or 1 tablespoon (If you can’t find it use tapioca starch instead)
Arrowroot starch (Bob’s Red Mill’s) 35 g or 3 tablespoons, or use tapioca starch (See NOTE #1)
Palm sugar 165-175 g or 1/2 cup
Thin coconut milk 200 g or 1 cup (See NOTE #2)
(Optional) Pandan leaf extract 1/4 cup (See NOTE #3) If you can’t find it or don’t want to use it add 1/4 cup of thin coconut milk.
1) I never tried the recipe with tapioca starch myself, but I’ve been told it works as a substitute.
2) This is how you extract thin coconut milk:
Take the coconut milk out of the can, put in a jar, then refrigerate the coconut milk jar overnight.
The cream will stay on top and the water will drop to the bottom. Skim the cream and save it for the top part, and use the rest for the bottom mix.
Another method would be to mix coconut milk with water at a ratio of 1:5.
3) Pandan leaf extract
Use 5 pandan leaves,
crushed and mixed with 1/2 cup of water,
then squeeze and squeeze until you see the water turn green, then extract about 1/4 cup of green water out.
Method for mixing the body part:
1.1) Mix all the flour
1.2) Add the thin coconut milk a little at a time, using a whisk to stir them together.
1.3) Add palm sugar and pandan leaf extract and let it sit until the palm sugar softens, then mix until it becomes smooth.
1.4) Rest the batter for at least half an hour, stirring every 10 minutes.
Ingredients for the face part:
Coconut cream 385 g or 2 cups
Salt 6-8 g or 1 teaspoon
Rice flour 45 g or 5 tablespoons
Method for mixing the face part:
2.1) Mix everything together and stir with a whisk
You should end up with 2 cups each for both body and face.
Method of cooking Kanom Tuay:
3.1) You need to have a steamer. I use this but you don’t need to buy one, just use your steamer or modified steamer setup is fine.
Put water in your steamer and put your cups in the rack. You need to steam the cups empty for 10 – 15 minutes first before you put any batter in them. This will help when releasing the custard from the cups.
3.2) After your cups are ready, stir your batter again before you pour the contents into the cups, starting of course with the body mixture first. Fill only 3/5 of each cup. If you like sweet sweet you can fill 3/4 of the cup.
Warning: I take the section of the steamer where I put the cups out away from the steamer to pour the batter in. If you want to do it over the stove, lower the heat and wear a mitt.
3.3) Steam the bottom-filled cups at high heat for 8 – 10 minutes, depending on the size of your cups. You might need more than that. You can test if the body part is firm by touching the top. If it’s firm to the touch then you are ready to pour the face part.
3.4) Open the steamer again; you can take the pan section away from the steam or lower the heat. We are cooking dessert here, not your hand.
Pour the top mixture onto of the partially cooked bottom part. This time you fill all the way to the rim of the cups. You can see some green part mixed with the white surface here. It’s because the body that wasn’t cooked got mixed with the face part. It’s ok. I was worried that the face wouldn’t stick with the body if I steamed the body too long so I ended up undercooking the body a bit.
3.5) Steam for another 8 – 10 minutes. You don’t want to steam too long because the top part has so little rice flour, and cooking for too long will cause the coconut cream to break and the custard will have a cracked face. If the face part doesn’t set, next time you might want to add more rice flour, but do it little at a time. You don’t want it to be too hard either.
3.6) Take the custard cups out of the steamer and let them cool down completely before you dig in to them, or else they won’t release from the cups that easily.
(But they’re good warm too; who cares about the cup once the custard is already in your tummy, right?)