April brings lovely blossoms to fruit trees here in North Carolina, and as spring unfolds softly, I’m reminded that Thailand is starting to heat up. The coolness of the last few months fades away, and start to sizzle in this brand new month of April, known in Thai as ‘mae-sah-yohn‘. Thai New Year will be here in less than a fortnight, so I wanted to begin this month with something wonderfully sweet.
This simple pleasure involves only a few ingredients and a small amount of effort. The results? Fantastic, luscious flavor and the pleasure of chewy little rice dumplings, auspiciously round and plump, bouncing in a coconut milk-palm sugar sauce. This is Thailand’s take on a beloved classic Chinese dessert, ‘tang yuan’. Often stuffed with a delightful nutty-flavored paste of black sesame seeds, and served in a clear syrup, the Chinese original is sometimes tinted with food coloring, and often shows up during the Lantern Festival which signals the end of the two-week Lunar New Year celebrations throughout Asia, as well as other times of the year.
Sweets vendors make this dish and serve it up in small bowls or to-go baggies at fresh markets, night markets, food stalls, and in informal food-sales circles which appear near schools and businesses at busy times of day. I love the playful name, bua loy: bua means lotus, the sacred flower of Buddhism. Full name would be meht (seed) dok (flower) bua (lotus). Loy means ‘to float or bob in the water, or in soup, or in a quiet pond.
This recipe calls for sticky rice flour (also known as ‘glutinous’ rice and sweet rice flour), which you will find in Asian markets or by mail order from ImportFood.Com or TempleofThai.com. It keeps for a long time. I transfer the contents of the little plastic bags to a jar and seal it up tight, with the label stuck on the outside so i remember what is what! Look carefully — there is rice flour and sticky rice flour, and for this you want sticky rice flour (baeng kao niow in Thai) for its sticky goodness. You’ll also need palm sugar, nahm thaan beep, also called coconut sugar or even coconut candy. Use South Asian jaggery, or Chinese rock sugar if you don’t have palm sugar, which provides the lovely golden hue in the coconut milk sauce. Brown sugar works, too.
You’ll find my recipe for this dish pictured here on pages 64-65 of my first cookbook, Real Thai: The Best of Thailand’s Regional Cooking.
For more on this sweet delight, check out these links on the subject: