Glasses of chè Thái (Thai sweet soup) sold at Y Phuong Restaurant on Nguyen Tri Phuong Street, District 10, Ho Chi Minh City / PHOTOS: GIANG VU
About a dozen years ago, a dessert from Thailand took Saigon by storm.
Simply called chè Thái (Thai fruit cocktail), the dish has a strikingly colorful look thanks to plentiful ingredients like durian, fresh jackfruit, toddy palm seeds, fresh longans, differently-colored jelly cubes and strips, and mock pomegranate seeds made from tapioca starch, also colored. All these are served in a glass together with coconut milk and ice.
The dessert was an immediate hit with many residents, especially those with a sweet tooth. And those who did not have a sweet tooth until then, acquired one soon after they tried chè Thái.
Over the past few years, the dessert seems to have faded a bit, given the emergence of myriad exotic sweet dishes like bubble tea with tapioca pearls and various kinds of jelly from Taiwan, and most recently, chè khúc bạch a cold dessert believed to originate from Hong Kong with buttery cubes of "cheese tofu," preserved longans, and silvered almonds.
Despite the apparent fall from the heights it once achieved, chè Thái remains an important part of Saigon's cuisine, and its hub is Nguyen Tri Phuong Street in District 10.
The street continues to draw in residents and visitors looking for an after dinner high, or even as a stand-alone dessert experience.
And on the street, perhaps the most popular place is that of a pioneer - Y Phuong Restaurant, which was the first to sell chè Thái in the city.
Y Phuong Restaurant is easily recognizable, with its signboard and large area, consisting of two houses and two indoor parking lots. In front of the restaurant, there are big ice boxes with takeaway servings packed in plastic bags.
The restaurant's chè Thái is famous for the strong smell of durian, which it carries in greater quantity than other sellers who limit the pungent fruit's addition to the dish because of its higher price.
Another distinctive thing about the dessert sold at Y Phuong is that it is served in big-sized glasses. Given the size of the glass and the sweetness of the dish, many customers say just one serving fills them up.
CHÃˆ THÁI Ý PHƯƠNG
380 Nguyen Tri Phuong, Ward 4, District 10
Open hours: 10 a.m. - 12 p.m.
I have heard some customers complain about the dish's sweetness, saying the restaurant's owner should tone it down so they can eat it more frequently. However, I have also heard others say that its strong sweetness is one of the good things about Y Phuong's chè Thái. So, if you do not have a strong sweet tooth, consider adding more ice to your glass.
While chè Thái is a favorite among many people in Saigon, not many know what its original version is.
Andrea Nguyen, a Vietnamese-American writer, wrote on her website Viet World Kitchen, that chè Thái is a "Vietnamese riff on a popular Thai sweet snack called tap tim krop."
Tap tim krop, or better written as tab-tim krob, is made of coconut milk, fresh jackfruit, and "rubies" that are diced water chestnuts covered with tapioca starch and colored red.
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