Among Bangkok’s street food, you might call them the ‘traffic jam’ bananas.
And if you’ve ever been to Bangkok’s old town, you likely know exactly the sweet, deep fried, and super crispy bananas we mean. In this historic part of the city it isn’t uncommon to be at a busy intersection and see vendors selling bags of fried bananas while wading out into the oncoming traffic. Often this takes advantage of traffic already at a standstill in Bangkok, but hungry motorist can also be blamed for creating a traffic jam while lining up for fried bananas as well!
But Bangkok’s most controversial street food snack isn’t too difficult to make at home. We’ve been testing our recipe in the Courageous Kitchen, making adjustments each time, to make it easy for you to follow at home. All you need to do is gather the ingredients for your batter, and find ripe bananas.
In Thailand, the task of gathering quality bananas a bit easier thanks to the biodiversity of the banana plants grown around country. Thailand is home to nearly 30 types of banana, with many of the popular ones available in local fresh markets and grocery stores. Arriving from farms all over the country, the bananas appear in different shapes and sizes, unfamiliar to people who are used to the limited options in the West. Thais instead have the luxury of choosing between ‘kluay hom’ fragrant bananas, chubby sweet ‘nam va’ banana, and creamy ‘kluay kai’ bananas, to name a few.
Don’t worry if you don’t have many choices, and remember sweet plantains can also be used. Go for whichever bananas you can find, and prep them to fry just as they begin to ripen. Act quickly, however, because if you let them get too ripe, they may become too soft and mushy. This makes the bananas more difficult to work with and you reduce your chances of a crispy end product.
Slice your bananas long and finger length to make them easy to eat. As you slice them you can drop them into the batter and they’ll be ready to fry. Fry until golden brown, and drain. You’ll have accomplished your mission if your fried bananas are still crunchy and tasty after they have cooled down.
bananas – 1 kg of bananas (1 bunch) cooking oil – 1 liter coconut milk – 2 cups rice flour – 1 cup sticky rice flour – 1/4 cup tapioca starch – 1/2 cup sugar – 2 tbsp salt – 1 tbsp shredded coconut – 1 cup baking powder – 2 tsp white sesame – 1 tsp black sesame – 1 tsp (optional to mix white and black or 2 tsp of either will work as well) powdered sugar (optional for garnish)
Fried Banana Instructions:
Heat your oil in a deep wok or pot. The oil is ready when it is over 100 degrees celsius (210F)
Mix dry ingredients, except your shredded coconut and sesame.
Add coconut milk and whisk well. The texture shouldn’t be overly watery or dry, similar to pancake batter.
Finally, add your coconut and sesame. Spread evenly, but don’t mix thoroughly, because we want these ingredients to coat the banana as you dip them and not get stuck at the bottom of your mixing bowl.
Dredge your bananas, allowing the excess batter to fall back into the bowl. Then drop into the oil.
Cook for 3-5 minutes, flipping occasionally until golden brown.
Rest to cool and allow excess oil to run off. If desired, decorate with a dusting of powdered sugar.
Note: Keep in mind the temperature may vary for different types of oil. If your bananas are taking too long, you may want to increase the temperature.
What makes Thai fried bananas so special?
The Thai fried banana may be more unique than others you have tried around the world. This is likely because of the widespread street food culture, and the availability of fresh ingredients. The best vendors in Bangkok, along with having a great selection of flavorful banana species, likely also utilize fresh shredded coconut and fresh coconut milk in their frying batter.
The ingredients add to the fragrance of the snack, and lend some stretchy density to the crust in each bite. The snack holds up, retaining it’s crunch even long after being removed from your frying pan or wok. In our cooking classes, this means guests can pair the fried banana with ice cream, or if they’re super full take them home and enjoy them later.
What if I don’t have the shredded coconut?
You can make this recipe without the coconut, but coconut lends both fragrance and texture to the snack. We used fresh shredded coconut, but understand most people may only be able to find dehydrated coconut flakes.
The bananas will cook a lot faster without the coconut in the batter. So pay attention to them while they’re in the oil, and adjust the cooking time as needed.
What can I do with the leftover batter?
We have used the same batter to fry mushrooms, chili, sweet potato, and pumpkin. If you have more veggies or fruit you want to give a whirl while your oil is hot, give it a try! However, since it’s is coconut milk based it usually does not last long, nor does it reheat well. For these reasons when there’s leftover batter, we make the most of it by frying up whatever we have in the fridge. For more savory vegetables, enjoy them with sriracha or the spicy hot sauce of your choice.
Why is this Bangkok’s most controversial street food snack?
In a city where you can find deep fried scorpions on a stick, it may be a shock to learn Bangkok’s most controversial street food is also one that’s easy to eat. However, people’s affection for the street food bananas, and how portable they are, definitely factor into all of the hype and controversy you may not have known about if you live outside of Bangkok.
For years the local city municipalities have tried to end the practice of walking into traffic to sell the bananas. This happens at big intersections in old town, and at the traffic light in front of Bangkok’s Nung Lerng Market.
For the most part, in the public eye and even with authorities like the Thai Royal Police who are tasked with enforcing rules against such vending, opposition to the sales have been mixed. Police have been known to feign enforcement, only to work out a separate deal with the vendors themselves (with a few free bags of fried bananas thrown in we’re sure).
However, the tide may finally be turning as street food everywhere in Bangkok has taken a hit since government crackdowns began in 2018. More enforcement from the government means fewer spaces to vend, and more intense competition with nearby competitors, displacing some vendors and eventually driving others out of business. Like all vendors around the city, even those who could be considered the most menacing are facing an uncertain future over the next few years.
This month don’t miss, Ladakh – Land in the Clouds, a special photography exhibition in Bangkok. The exhibition is by David Simon, an expat living in Bangkok who leads adventurous motorcycle tours when he’s not teaching at a local international school. As with David’s tours, the photographs also attempt to take viewers on an adventurous journey through the stunning Indian countryside.
The focus of the photographs is the province of Ladkh, India. David considers the area one of the most beautiful on earth. Unfortunately, despite the raw natural beauty of the surroundings, few people know about Ladakh, because conflict in the region has also made it one of the world’s most disputed areas.
The exhibition launch will be held March 14th, from 4pm until 6pm. The prints will be on display throughout Cajutan Swedish Restaurant, and cost 2,500 each to purchase. Following the launch event, guests are invited to enjoy a sunset drink on the Cajutan rooftop.
Proceeds from the sale of prints will go to benefit Courageous Kitchen’s work with marginalized communities in Bangkok. The support is particularly timely as the impact of the coronavirus has crippled the organization’s social enterprise offering Thai cooking classes to tourists.
We’re excited to share with you an upcoming promotion we’re having with an Indian brunch restaurant in Bangkok called Cuppachai. The colorful, newly opened spot is catching the attention of Bangkokians with their unique spin on Indian favorites. This Valentine’s Day the restaurant is kicking off a special afternoon tea called “High Chai” which will benefit Courageous Kitchen.
Cuppachai is interesting if you’re a foodie. The restaurant is located in central Bangkok at the base of El Patio Condominium (Sukhumvit 31) which is a part of town with an abundance of food choices. Cuppachai’s menu is funky and features Chef Vishvesh Nadkarni’s versions of favorites from around India. For example, Calcutta favorite Indori poha made with flattened rice, a vegetarian beetroot sandwich from Mumbai’s Iranian shops, and Goan pulao fused with local tastes by subbing in Chiang Mai sausage.
Cuppachai’s latest special, however, brings Indian flavors to the British high tea tradition. During High Chai you can enjoy a special tea set for two, from 12pm-5pm with all of the following:
Earl grey and date scones with clotted cream and Courageous Kitchen roselle jam
Kachumber and raita sandwich, akuri tofu sandwich, and two classic Mumbai samosas
Halwa macaroons, fruit puff pastries, coconut-chocolate ladoos, and gulab jamun cheesecake
Housemade masala chai, or the tea of your choice
That’s right, we’ve contributed to the sweet and savory set platter with our own homemade cinnamon and roselle jam. We make a variety of jams, especially in the low season when there are fewer customers for our Thai cooking class, but one of our favorites is made from the gelatinous petals of the rosella hibiscus. We sweeten and slightly spice the petals to make a jam that is reminiscent of a cranberry jam, but lighter and never bitter. In the future we’ll contribute other flavors depending on what fruit is in season.
However, the food is not the full story in this case. The owners of the restaurant have also volunteered with Courageous Kitchen in the past to teach English, take children to the hospital, and to have fun in the kitchen with our students too. On one memorable occasion, they taught a group of students popular Indian street food snacks like vada pav and pani puris. The students had a blast getting their hands messy making the puris and always appreciate a chance to taste something new. Needless to say, there weren’t any leftovers!
We’re honored to participate in this collaboration. A portion of the proceeds from people ordering the tea sets will be donated back toward our charity work, and we hope to collaborate more with Cuppachai in the future as well. Of course, you don’t have to have afternoon tea to support Courageous Kitchen. Join us in an upcoming cooking class or make a donation in support of our work with marginalized children.
Happy eating and don’t forget to share this article with a friend visiting Bangkok!
Traveling with kids is difficult enough, don’t let meal times be any more stressful than necessary. To help you, we’ve taken the feedback from guests visiting our kids cooking class in Bangkok, to create a free menu to make ordering food for your kids easier on your next trip to Thailand.
When your children enjoy the food in the country you’re visiting, it can change the entire dynamic of your trip. This is especially true for Thailand, where many of the travelers come specifically to enjoy all of the spicy and full-flavored Thai dishes. However, for those new to Thai cuisine or traveling with small children, figuring out what to order can be daunting.
How to Order Thai Food Kids Enjoy
If you’re planning your trip to Bangkok, you may already be thinking about what to order your kids. One of the common issues is ordering food that isn’t going to set flame to the tastebuds of your little ones. There is plenty of delicious Thai food that isn’t spicy, but you may come up with only a short list reading travel blogs and tips from writers who don’t stay in the country long.
You also need to understand spice in Thailand isn’t a novelty like in other countries. There are seldom chili eating competitions nor much bravado associated with your ability to eat spicy food. That’s because spicy food is the norm in Thailand, and not the exception.
Remember the crisis in Thailand when members of a youth football team were trapped deep in a cave? When they asked the trapped students (many of them from marginalized people groups like the ones Courageous Kitchen serves) what they most wanted to eat, they responded, ‘pad krapao’. This well-loved Thai dish can appear on the menu simply as ‘stir fried basil with pork’. However, some English menus may neglect to mention this dish is usually made with a healthy heaping of chili, where even the mildest versions can be a shock to those unaccustomed to spicy food!
Now that may sound delicious to you, but unless your kids are Thai, they may not be craving a face full of chili as soon as they get off the plane. This means knowing a few milder dishes to order can be extremely helpful. Instead of ordering the aforementioned spicy pad krapao, you can simply order a plate of ‘pad see ew‘ (wok-fried rice nooodles with egg and chicken) instead. Since the dish isn’t spicy by nature, it makes it a much better choice and delicious for both parents and adults.
Knowing some Thai dishes is helpful, and any knowledge of Thai language comes in handy too. For instance, no guidebook or travel guide is complete without teaching you the phrase ‘mai ped‘, meaning ‘not spicy’ in Thai. Flip those words around and change the tones slightly, and you can ask ‘ped mai‘ or ‘is this spicy?‘ to people in restaurants or at street food stalls.
Already confused? Don’t worry, this isn’t a Thai lesson. However, we do hope parents understand before arriving, that communicating the needs of your children in local restaurants can be a monumental task. Although Thailand is a major destination for vacationers around the world, limited English ability by Thais can add miscommunication to the growing list of obstacles keeping you from feeding hangry kids.
Free English to Thai Menu for Parents
Kids Travel Menu for Thailand
Don’t struggle to order food for your kids in Thailand any more!
The free kids menu isn’t only helpful for people with kids, but useful for anyone with food allergies, aversions to spicy food, and limited knowledge of Thai language.
To help ease communication issues parents are having, we’ve created a special one page kids menu that you can download. The menu is created using dishes common in restaurants around Thailand, that are also friendly for kids because they’re not overly spicy. Some dishes may even be similar to food options you have in your home country.
Of course, not every restaurant will have all of the dishes we’ve listed. However, our hope is that with a little assistance communicating you’ll find that even restaurants who don’t, will often willingly do their best to make something tasty for your kids.
In addition, with each food item we’ve included a brief English description and the corresponding Thai characters, as well as an abbreviated phonetic spelling for assistance pronouncing the words on your own.
Food Allergies in Thailand
Ordering in Thai restaurants takes another leap in difficulty if you’re also working around your child’s allergy. This may mean, for example, trying to prevent peanuts from being added to a dish like pad thai where they are commonly used to garnish the popular noodle dish. For this reason we’ve added a section to the menu download, specifically for making special requests including common food allergies translated into Thai.
Thailand is becoming friendlier for vegan and vegetarian travelers too. Much of this is due to the growth of local businesses offering solely meat free options, or existing restaurants hoping to attract new customers with more accommodating menu items. This is great news if you’re visiting the big cities like Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Phuket. However, when exploring out of the city centers, you should be ready to communicate your dietary restrictions to street food vendors and restaurants you visit.
This is because often Thai food includes what we refer to as ‘sneaky meat’. To get the umami flavors that make the food stand out, cooks are often using meat based sauces and stocks to season food. For example, dishes you may already love such as pad thai and pad see ew are both commonly made with fish sauce. A noodle dish may appear to be meat free, but you can’t assume it is, just because there isn’t any meat cooked in the dish that you can identify easily. Instead, using the right terminology when you order can prevent these problems!
Finally, we know this won’t solve every problem with ordering. You still don’t want to leave home without a smartphone with translation apps and internet access. You can also never underestimate the value of having a local friend. While this simple menu won’t replace your Thai friends, it may make you a little more adventurous on days when you’re not with a guide or friend to give you a hand.
Happy travels to all the parents reading, we hope the entire family enjoys your time in Thailand. If you found this information helpful, please consider making a donation to help us feed and educate those in need.
You’re here because you’re addicted to sticky rice, sweet tropical mango, and everything that comes along with it!
We don’t blame you.
Welcome friend, you’re in a safe place because today the Courageous Kitchen has got a few versions of Thailand’s most renown dessert, mango and sticky rice, to share with everyone.
If you’re new here, we’re a nonprofit with a cooking class that raises money to help improve the lives of youth in Bangkok. We do this simply by hosting tourists visiting Bangkok for fun cooking classes. And you guessed it, one of our most requested desserts is the notorious mango and sticky rice. As we’ve cooked it for you over the years, we’ve had fun learning about all the components of the dessert that make it special, and trying different variations of the dessert.
A Delicious, but Tedious Dessert
Although the name sounds like you can just slap wet rice on a plate with mango, that couldn’t be further from the truth. The ‘sticky rice’ used by Thais, isn’t just your regular rice gone soggy, but a separate species of rice entirely. Southeast asian glutinous rice is a beast entirely of its own, and if you don’t give the rice the respect it deserves, it may ruin your day (and your kitchen), when it fails to cook up as nicely as you remember from your trip to Thailand.
For starters the rice has to be washed and then soaked for hours. Many people will soak the rice overnight and steam it in the morning. Next, while your steamed rice is hot, you want to add your sweet coconut sauce so that it can be absorbed by the rice for at least thirty minutes. This isn’t to mention getting your mung beans all toasted and ready, and creating a salty version of the coconut sauce to use as a topping.
While making the dish overall isn’t hard, you will have to put in some time and attention to the process if you want it to yield great results. Don’t fret though, we’ve included the instructions for classic mango and sticky rice in the pdf download of our recipe book.
Thais are True Mango Connoisseurs
The sticky rice isn’t the only difficult component of this dessert. The mangoes, depending where you live, can be more than troublesome to find. When you do find them, they may be overripe, or just breeds that don’t lend well to slicing nicely to the pairing. This may because the particular fruit is too fibrous (you know those stringy bits you get on the inside that take over). If they’re large like Mexico’s ‘Tommy Atkins’ mangoes they may be too soft, mushy, and overripe before becoming sweet enough.
While many western countries outside of the tropical zone count themselves fortunate to import a few breeds of mango from places like Mexico and India, Thailand is home to over 200 varieties. The biodiversity found in the country for this one particular fruit is astounding, and the way Thais consume them is a reflection of that variety. They’re eaten unripe and crunchy, soft and velvety, and about every combination in between. At times they’re paired with pungent, fishy dipping sauces, and in other instances dipped in a mix of sugar, salt, and lime.
You may not be surprised to learn then that mangoes, during harvest season especially, are shockingly cheap in Thailand. One of the fanciest of Thai ‘nam dok mai’ (a thai cultivar whose name means flower nectar) mangoes may fetch a price of 120 baht or more per kilo. But just think, that’s still only about $4 for a whole heap of luxurious mango to stuff in your face.
The cheaper varietals abound, and people in the countryside might have a mango tree or 20 in their orchards. The ubiquity and variety of mangoes available in Thailand, and their pairing with the humble sticky rice is telling. While jasmine rice was tapped for export, and touted by elites, sticky rice on the other hand remained what average people ate from day to day. You can be confident that the mango and sticky rice combination then, wasn’t a five star chef invention, but made it’s way from the lowly countryside, to the notoriety it enjoys today.
Sticky Variations of the Dessert to Try
Now that mango and sticky rice has gone around the world, cooks are challenged to put a new spin on the dish. Serving the dish with a unique presentation can be just what’s needed to catch the eye of locals ready to get excited again about the old favorite, and newcomers to Thailand who may be trying the dessert for the first time. This may mean naturally dying the sticky rice until you have a rainbow of rice to serve with your mango, or even giving it a Japanese makeover, by serving it sushi style.
Another abnormally eye-catching version calls for you to do some kitchen voodoo on the mango. You’ll need to slice the top off and carefully etch away at the flesh against the seed of the mango, being careful not to let your knife cut through the thin skin. If you’re skillful enough, you can create enough space in the in mango to begin twisting the seed until it pops out. Now you’ve got a natural bowl, ready to be filled with mango, sticky rice, and any other fruit your heart desires. When we spotted Chef Seng’s stuffed mango and sticky rice on instagram, our faces lit up and we knew we had to give it try.
So how do you like your mango and sticky rice? Rolled sushi style? Or shoved back into the fruit so the mango becomes a natural bowl? Maybe you’re like us and will always love the classic version.
Whichever one suits you, we hope you’ve learned more about what it takes to put this deliciousness together, and that the best version is one you can enjoy with friends.
Alright sweet tooth friends either get cooking, or get over here to help us eat them all!
One of our favorite recipes, is the super savory and crispy Vietnamese Banh Xeo. A popular street food snack in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh, the yellow tinted crepe has gained popularity throughout many Southeast Asian countries because it can be a cost effective way to feed a big family. This makes it a great recipe for use to teach, as we reach out to families in need in Bangkok.
“I grew up in Vietnam, but we lived in a remote village in the countryside. I never had a chance to have banh xeo until learning to cook with Christy. I can’t wait to try making it for my family.” – Alina, CK Trainee
Just like Alina, there are lots of people who may not have had the joy of enjoying these deliciously crispy crepes. They are more fragile and more deeply savory when compared to western crepes. To master the perfect crunch, you need to steam a thin layer of batter until golden brown and it naturally releases from your pan.
However, the real fun part begins when you see what’s inside. Typically bahn xeo can be stuffed with a choice of chicken, shrimp, ground pork, and bean sprouts. But there’s not reason they can’t be vegan, gluten free, or cooked with whatever ingredients you have in the fridge.
Enjoy Christy and Alina’s rendition of the renowned sizzling crepe below. Remember you can request this dish in our charitable cooking classes, and the proceeds from your cooking class and donations will help us to teach and train more young people to be leaders in the kitchen, and their community like Alina.
Banh Xeo Recipe
Recipe by Christy Innouvong & Alina Xiong
Yields: 10-12 crepes
2 cups soda water
1 bunch of green onion, chopped into centimeter pieces (aka scallion, roughly about 200g)
125 ml of coconut milk (a tap more than half a cup)
140 grams rice flour
1-2 tsp of turmeric powder
1 tsp salt
200g shredded chicken breast or protein of your choice
Tip: Some versions call for you to stir fry your protein with a tbsp of garlic and onion. This is optional.
Just be sure you cook your filler protein in advance, so you don’t need to overcook your crepe while waiting on the meat to finish cooking.
1 carrot, shredded thinly
300g bean sprouts
Veggies for Wrapping (optional)
You’ll want to wash all your leafy greens well because you will eat them raw. Be sure to leave some extra time for removing them from the stem if needed.
1 bunch of Vietnamese mustard greens
Tip: This can be hard to find. Substitute Vietnamese coriander, perilla leaf, or heart leaf if possible.
1 bunch of mint
1 bunch of cilantro
1 head of romaine or similarly leafy lettuce for wrapping
Vietnamese Dipping sauce
Nuoc cham (pronounced NEW-uk jham) aka Vietnamese dipping sauce is traditionally poured over each crepe, or alternatively used for dipping bites of your banh xeo or fried egg rolls.
Here’s a simple recipe for nuoc cham:
1/2 cup of soda water
1/3 cup of fish sauce
1/4 cup of vinegar
3 tbsp of white sugar
2 tbsp of lime juice
2 cloves of garlic chopped
2 spicy red chili chopped
Prepare Your Batter
Combine all batter ingredients except scallions in a large mixing bowl for at least 30 minutes before cooking. You can leave refrigerated up to one night before cooking. Add scallions only right before making the crêpes.
Prepare Your Filling
Cook your protein and slice or shred small, so it can easily be eaten when biting into the crepe.
Wash bean sprouts and leafy greens. Keep your leafy greens large and intact, they will be used to wrap bites of your stuffed crepes.
Making the Banh Xeo Crepe (Each takes approx. 5-7 mins)
In a skillet, heat to medium and then turn the heat to low. This is important because if the skillet is too hot, it will burn your crepe before it is fully cooked. Brush some cooking oil (a teaspoon will do) on your skillet and add your batter (approximate ½ a cup). You can pick up the pan and tilt so that the batter covers the entire skillet.
Tip: If you add too much batter, simply pour the excess back into your batter bowl.
Add a little bit more batter if it wasn’t enough to cover the pan, but to achieve a thin, crisp omelette the less batter the better. Add your filling ingredients and cover for 4-5 minutes.
After 5 minutes, the bean sprouts should appear slightly cooked and the batter should also be transparent and crispy around the edges. You can brush a touch of oil around the edges to help lift your crepe.
Remove the lid and fold in half (omelette style), transfer to a plate and serve immediately with greens and dipping sauce on the side.
How to Eat Banh Xeo
Roughly tear your fresh herbs and place on top or inside of crepe. Generally people will chop the crepe in several pieces and eat inside of the large leaves as a wrap. Decide whether you prefer the leaf wrap version, or just want to eat it like a taco. Whatever you choose, be sure to drizzle your nuoc cham sauce over the entire banh xeo crepe. Enjoy!