Delicate banana-leaf packages; grey-and-white layered puddings that look like the surface of the moon; a fluoro patty of intertwining coconut tendrils; and spice-topped parcels of rice. A Thai sweet stall is always colourful and visually textured. This one is inside Thai restaurant Thanon Khaosan in Haymarket.
Porntip Boonnak and Jutamard Nopparat have been making Thai sweets for more than five years. The stall is famous in the Thai community not just for its quality, but its incredible spread. Nopparat says most of the street-side stalls in Thailand just serve one kind of sweet, like banana fritters or crepes, because there are often a variety of stalls queued up next to each other. Here though, there’s just Thanon Khaosan and a handful of Thai grocers, so Nopparat and Boonnak get requests for every sweet imaginable. “We make nearly all of the ones in Thailand, people come here because they can buy everything, whatever they want, we have it,” says Nopparat.
For those unfamiliar with Thai desserts, the variety of the cakes can be quite bewildering. Nopparat chuckles and says for most Western customers, there’s a slow progression in adventure. “First time, they try something like this,” she points at the banana fritters and the bundles of sticky rice, one brown with palm sugar and topped with sesame, and another taro-purple with hearts of gooey banana. The next step is usually fried pandan crepes or coconut custard steamed in a banana leaf. “Then they come back and try something else,” she says. Eventually they’re eating deep-fried Thai doughnuts with mushy, peppery mung-bean paste; chewy rice clumps with dried fish and onion; or slightly savoury coconut puddings with corn and taro jelly.
Some taste strongly like root vegetables, shrimp or garlic. The textures are even more varied, with viscous pandan custards wrapped in spongey crepes; sugary coconut fritters that crumble and snap; bread-like cakes that melt like marshmallows when you stick a spoon into them; and puddings that collapse in on themselves.
To keep up with demand, Nopparat and Boonnak work a ridiculous schedule. They wake up at 5am to start making the sweets, only breaking to deliver and do the prep for their Balgowlah restaurant, Khao Thai. Every night they finish at 2am. “The desserts use a lot of time. Not like a stir-fry, you cut chicken, boil and stir fry, five to 10 minutes. For these, it's more than 10 hours for everything,” says Boonnak. “But we love Thai desserts, says Nopparat. “We love cooking.”
Their sweets can either be ordered takeaway or to sit down and eat in the restaurant.
Thai Sweet Stall
413 Pitt Street, Haymarket
0430 057 358
Sun to Wed 11am–11pm
Thu to Sat 11am–3am
Local Knowledge is a weekly Broadsheet series shining a light on the unassuming, authentic Sydney restaurants that are worthy of appreciation beyond the neighbourhoods they serve. See the rest of the series here.