For many visitors to Thailand, eating an ice cream is heaven. After all, with typical Thai weather in the mid-90s, all year-round, it’s nice to be able to grab something cool.
When they reach a street-side ice cream cart, or try to order an ice cream sundae at a Thai branch of Swensen’s, however, it’s only then they realize how unusual ice cream in Thailand is. It’s certainly not the same as what you normally eat.
What is Thai ice cream made from
You may be surprised to learn a lot of Thai ice cream isn’t made from cow’s milk. Instead, it’s whipped up from coconut milk. The reason for this is most Asians still have a problem digesting dairy milk (they don’t grow up with it being used in food), so ice cream with coconut milk is easier on their stomachs. It also makes the ice cream lighter and, in my opinion, even more delicious.
Flavors of ice cream in Thailand
The first thing you’ll notice when you choose ice cream from a Thai shop are the unusual flavors. Sure, you can sometimes get vanilla, strawberry and chocolate, but most Thai ice cream vendors favor the Asian-preferred flavors as those are what sell the most, so those are the ones you’ll see a lot.
Ice cream flavors like green tea, mung bean, taro, ginger, jack fruit, coconut, sala, star gooseberry and sour Chinese plum will be most of your choices. Be adventurous, as they really are the best ice cream flavors you will ever eat, and far more interesting than boring chocolate.
How is ice cream in Thailand served?
While modern Thais in places like Bangkok will often have ice cream in a cone or in a sundae dish, most other Thais outside the city still eat it “the traditional way”. That means two or three scoops of ice cream are served inside a hot dog bun that is first covered with a thin layer of sticky rice — and then topped with a variety of traditional toppings. These include corn, ginger, palm kernel and peanuts. (see video at the end of this article to see how this is actually made).
This all has some condensed milk poured over it before it’s served to you. Yum!
Where to get the best ice cream in Thailand
If you want upscale ice cream served in an air conditioned ice cream shop, you can’t beat Thai ice cream shop Iberry. Of course, as it’s what my Thai friends call “hi-so ice cream” (ice cream for high-society types), it’s expensive, running at least 60 baht ($2) for a scoop. A sundae here will often cost you more than one back home.
If you want to try traditional Thai ice cream, however, buy it from street vendors at Bangkok’s Chatuchak Weekend Market or from one of the thousands of small sellers pushing stainless steel ice cream carts around busy city streets all over Thailand.
These guys sell the “real deal” and, at only 10 baht (33 cents) for a paper bowl of two scoops of coconut ice cream topped with two toppings and condensed milk, it’s incredibly cheap. Delicious too.