Early on in my time in New York City, I realized that I was in a neighborhood (Elmhurst, and next to another one, Woodside!) that had excellent, authentic Thai food — Thai food that wasn’t extra sweetened with sugar or chili-reduced, but was actually true to the flavors of Thailand. The Thai restaurants of Elmhurst and Woodside do not just have the standard pad thai, pad see ew, or tom yum soup dishes (some actually do not have any of these dishes!), but dishes that regional, super spicy, and unforgiving when it comes to whether you have been exposed only to Americanized Thai food or not.
Today, I went to Elmhurst to have lunch with friends who live in Queens, and we met at a spot called Khao Nom, which I had wanted to try for a while. Part of the reason I wanted to check this spot out was due to its extensive takeout selection for Thai desserts. For the longest time, I had no idea what Thai desserts even were outside of sticky rice with mango, but after living in Elmhurst, I realized that Thai desserts overlap so much with what I was exposed to with Vietnamese desserts — lots of coconut, pandan, palm sugar, fresh exotic fruit (jackfruit! Mango!), and lots of rich flavors. Khao Nom has a large counter in the front where they line up all their desserts which you can take to go. Every day, they have anywhere from 8-12 varieties, and when I entered and saw all these lined up in neat rows, I felt like a kid in a candy shop: I had no idea how to even start narrowing down my selection! All I knew was that I couldn’t leave without fewer than three types.
Today, Khao Nom had kanom buang, which I’d seen frequently on Mark Wiens’s food videos in Thailand: Thai crispy, thin pancakes usually filled with coconut, sweet egg yolk, and even dried shrimp. They had pandan cendol, a cold summer soupy dessert with rich coconut milk and pandan. And just in time for Mid-Autumn Moon Festival at the end of this month, Khao Nom had Thai-style mooncakes. They are very flaky and buttery, filled with mashed mung bean or taro, as well as a small salted duck egg yolk. After much deliberation, I ended up choosing three desserts after our delicious lunch: Thai style taro mooncakes, Tokyo pandan (rolled Thai style pancakes filled with pandan custard), and pandan coconut mini jellies. I loved all three of them.
I was thinking about the vast variety of Thai desserts as I left the restaurant, and I thought: yep. That’s how you know if the area where you are has a high concentration of legit X-cuisine: if they have a BAKERY (or multiple, for that matter!) that can give you these types of treats!