This month, Natalia Martinez ventures away from typical street fare to sample the Vietnamese turn on Thai coconut ice cream. Photos by Kyle Phanroy
Living in the hot weather of Ho Chi Minh City might be overwhelming for some, but look at it this way: at least you have an excuse to enjoy refreshing ice cream any time of the year. Ask Canadians if they can do such a thing on Christmas.
Another perk of living in this part of the world is that you will be introduced to new flavours and unique designs. And kem dua Thai is a perfect example.
This icy treat became popular in Thailand a long time ago, and recently it made its way to Vietnam. Some shops have already been selling it for two years. And even though this ice cream remains a unique and hard-to-find treat, it has already reached the top of the Vietnamese foodie’s list.
What Makes it Special?
You may have never seen an ice cream quite so customised, and you might find it weird at first. But it’s a rich, cold treat that every sweet tooth should sample.
Kem dua Thai differs from other ice creams for many reasons, starting with the way it is presented. The coconut ice cream is served in a Thai coconut shell. These tiny coconuts, originally from Thailand, are grown in Ben Tre province.
Up till this point, you’re probably finding this completely normal. Except for the fact that it’s made with coconut milk, which contains the necessary fat to make ice cream. This will make your ice cream melt faster than the cow-milk kind, but it does more than that. It affects the flavour, and the way it’s digested. Take note, lactose intolerants: coconut milk doesn’t contain lactose, so eat all you like without worrying about those pesky side effects.
And now, the topping party is just about to start. Vendors make the dish even more enjoyable by adding roasted peanuts, kernels of boiled corn and sticky rice — which presents a vibrant purple colour extracted from the magenta plant. Besides all that, you also get shavings of crispy, deep-fried coconut. Depending on the shop or stall, you might find some other toppings such as pumpkin or palm fruit.
To complete this adorable masterpiece, a generous dollop of coconut cream is applied. In addition to the ice cream, the coconut water extracted from the coconut bowl is served alongside, rounding off the experience.
For coconut lovers this is definitely a must.
Our Go-To Spots
241C Cach Mang Tang Tam, Q3, HCMC
5pm to 10pm
This tiny and cosy establishment, which will double in size next June, opened last October to the delight of icy treat fans. Here you will find a richer coconut ice cream, which the owner makes using a special machine brought from Thailand. Its product is served with boiled pumpkin strips.
Kem Xoi Dua Bui Vien
106A Le Thi Rieng, Q1, HCMC
10am to 10pm
A veteran in the business, it offers a warm space open for long hours where you can find a few coconut ice cream variations, as well as other icy treats. This branch also has a stall at 103 Bui Vien, Q1, where you can find their ice cream for a cheaper price (VND20,000) from 6pm to 10pm.
Kem Xoi Dua Co Giang
89 Co Giang, Q1, HCMC
4pm to 10pm
A modest food stall with many street food options in case you want to get more than dessert. There is a sad lack of flavour in the ice cream here, but a notoriously large amount of toppings served with it.