Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Desserts in Review

Those of you who know me know that I have a sweet tooth morning, day and night. I sampled desserts everywhere we went, and here is what I found:

Thea and I discovered Mango Sticky Rice early on in Thailand -- it's super glutinous sticky rice drenched in creamy cocnut milk and topped with ripe-to-bruised mango slices. Reliably delicious. However, as the trip wore on, I found that we were consuming so much rice during regular meals that I didn't have the appetite for rice at dessert time too.

We found many Southeast Asia desserts to be unidentifiable blobs of gelatin like these:

They're often beautifully presented like little gifts wrapped in banana leaves, but the slimy texture is a let-down. The white ones probably have a coconut base, but who knows what else goes into these creations.

In Laos, I sampled this popular streetside dessert:

Again, the gelatinous texture, but this time the flavor was a bit more interesting. Greeen tea and coconut, perhaps? They also offered squares of egg custard that weren't too shabby -- and perfect size for a non-committal nibble.

In Myanmar, Thea fell in love with their fresh yogurt for dessert (fresh enough for a barnyard-y aftertaste!), served with a long spoon in glass beer mugs. I found myself smitten with a traditional dessert called faluda, a mug of rose milk with colored gelatin bits and a scoop of ice cream on top:

(And this only cost $1!)

In most places where we tromped around Southeast Asia, we came across bakeries that tempted me with beautiful-looking confections from home:

And even though I knew better after a couple of dry pastries whose texture was inexplicably odd, I succumbed to the temptation to try another one. "Maybe this bakery has it figured out!" I exclaimed to Thea, ever sanguine. "Laos used to be a French colony!" But again and again, I was sobered. Wheat flour is hard to come by, so perhaps the problem was substitutions of rice flour or corn flour. We also rarely saw ovens during our travels. And hey, baked goods are not a local delight.

Another common dessert (and breakfast) cartering to the wandering Westerner that we encountered time and time again was the Banana Pancake:

Sometimes it was a crepe smeared with Nutella and slices of banana, other times it was advertised as a "roti," sometimes it was a thick, deep-fried pancake with banana slices caramelized inside. Sometimes it tasted like Bisquik pancake mix with honey on the side rather than maple syrup.

Perhaps most of the Asian desserts we tried were so lack-luster because locals don't need to produce a light and buttery croissant or a dense brownie when Mother Nature produces the best dessert around, in a myriad of vibrant colors and sweet, tropical flavors:

Eaten raw or blended into a fruit shake, some of our favorites were papaya, mango, tamarind, coconut, and the Queen of them all: the Banana. Bananas came in a slightly different shape in each country we visited, and although they were often bruised or brown on the outside, the flesh was always scrumptious and in perfect condition. (7-11 also sold great "solar dried" bananas for dirt cheap.) Thank you tropical climate for this fresh plenitude of fruit!

But, I'm still looking very forward to my first bite of 70% cacao, in a matter of hours now as I write this from the plane!

Your Diplomat of Desserts,

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