Songkran: A Sweet Guide To The Thai 'Sankranti'

DERIVED from the Sanskrit word “Sankranti”, Thailand’s Songkran festival is among the nation’s most important, marking the beginning of the new year. The way it is celebrated is reminiscent of another Indian festival: Holi. Water fights form the mainstay of Songkran celebrations in Thailand, and revellers are also known to smear thanaka powder (made from the bark of a tree) of different colours on each other. The celebrations extend over several days, and the first order of business is “merit-making” and worshipping one’s elders, followed by a visit to the local temple to wash the Buddha statues there in perfumed water and to donate food to the monks. While food is certainly a vital offering, this doesn’t mean that families don’t enjoy festive delicacies themselves. Here’s a look at some Thai Songkran treats: 

Cooked rice “cooled in flower-scented water with various condiments” is a dish that many accounts cite as a must on Songkran — “Khao Che”. The condiments span a diverse array, including but not limited to “shrimp paste, stuffed shallots, stuffed sweet peppers, shredded sweetened beef or pork, stir-fried sweet pickled Chinese turnips with eggs, raw mango, fresh cucumber, fresh wild ginger, fresh chillies and fresh spring onions”.


“Khao Neow Toorien” is the name for a coconut milk soup with chunks of Durian fruit, paired with sticky rice. Sticky rice is also had with custard (Khao Neow Sang Kaya); the ubiquitous mango (sweet sticky rice, mango, coconut cream syrup); and with bamboo (sweet sticky rice steamed with beans and thick coconut syrup.There is also a dish that uses sweet black sticky rice (Khao Neow Dam) that is served with shredded coconut.

                                Image: Sticky Rice

There are numerous other sweets that make use of roasted sticky rice, including Khanom Khao Mao and Khao Mao Tod, essentially ripe banana that is encased in a wrapping of the rice and coconut before being deep-fried. It is similar to the sweet fried banana fritters from South India, although the wrapping differs. 


Jellies and custards are served in various forms and encompassing an array of flavours; popular ones include Woon Ma Plow (coconut jelly), Khanom Chun (made of sugar, coconut milk and flour), Khanom Duang (tapioca, rice flour, coconut milk and sugar, with shredded coconut as a topping), Khanom Piek Poon (flour, sugar, and shredded coconut that has been burnt until black), Takoh (tapioca flour, heavy coconut cream, coconut pulp and sugar), Woon Kati (jelly made of condensed milk).


Aright from Kai Wan — simply eggs that are cooked in sugar and water, with ginger for added flavour — to Khanom Khai, a cake, eggs appear in traditional Thai sweets in several forms. In the “Tong Yord”, round balls are formed from egg yolk, sugar and flower water, and then boiled in sugar syrup. The same ingredients comprise “Foi Tong”, with the major difference being that the dough is cut into strands. When shaped into flowers, the sweet is known as “Tong Yip”.


If the Americans have their pumpkin pie, Thai desserts too make use of pumpkin in various forms. For instance, a dessert called “Fuk Tong Gang Buad” has pumpkin chunks candied in coconut milk sweetened with sugar. Similarly, you also have “Sang Kaya Fug”, where a pumpkin’s innards are scooped out, replaced with a creamy custard, and then served in slices. Water Chestnuts are served in a cold, sweetened coconut broth as part of “Taptim Grob”. Deep-fried onions make a surprising appearance atop the “Khanom Moa Gang” — a custard cake.

The pantheon of Thai sweets is endless, and on festive occasions like Songran, you’re bound to find a smorgasbord of pancakes, breads, dumplings, puddings, candied fruit and what-have-you on offer. Before you dig into the treats though, make sure to call out “Sawasdee Pee Mai (Happy New Year)” to those around you!