Bangkok in a Bun: How a Weird-Ass Treat Symbolizes the City’s Awesomeness

There’s a lot of strange things to be found in Bangkok, from the driving ‘rules’ to the cultural norms to the variety of food. For first-time visitors it’s usually exhilarating, confusing and draining all at once, and rarely is it boring. It’s hard to imagine what could accurately depict all the intangible pieces of Bangkok’s jigsaw as a single image, but it struck me the other day that the closest I could come was one of Bangkok’s favorite treats – and something that makes absolutely no sense to us foreigners the first time we see it: the Bangkok ice cream sandwich.

For any of us hosers in Canada (and, Wikipedia tells me, many other places too), an ‘ice cream sandwich’ is a specific type of treat made up of a slab of vanilla ice cream between two strangely delicious chocolate wafers. They’re disturbingly good – the low point of many a lovely summer day in my youth was the last bite of one of these treats.

My childhood in sandwich form.

My childhood in sandwich form.

But, as with many things, Thais take this idea literally – an ice cream sandwich in Bangkok is just what it sounds like: scoops of ice cream between bread. And not only that, it usually includes such accoutrements as rice, fruit, condensed milk and peanuts.

For foreigners, the first reaction upon seeing this monstrosity is, obviously, “WTF?! You eat that?!” The very idea of mixing bread and ice cream is odd for us, and throwing in fruit, rice and condensed milk is enough to give an ice cream CEO a heart attack (zing!). However, the more you think about it, the more this odd little treat represents Bangkok in all its strange glory.

Fruit and rice are stuffed underneath the coconut-flavored ice cream. Oscar Meyer is pissed.

Fruit and rice are stuffed underneath the coconut-flavored ice cream. Oscar Meyer is pissed.

Why bread? Well, when its 38ºC outside, ice cream melts pretty fast, and what better way to sop it up than a fresh bun that you can eat? Sounds odd at first, but it sure beats licking it off your fingers and having it drip on your shirt. Fruit? You eat fruit in ice cream, right? Why not underneath it? Rice? Well, it’s not Uncle Ben’s fluffy type, but rather a sweet, sticky rice that actually keeps the ice cream scoops from sliding off the bun. Condensed milk? Ice cream is milk, after all, a bit more won’t hurt. Peanuts? Well, those are pretty normal.

Anyway, the bottom line is – at first, it seems like a strange, jumbled mess of random crap that can’t possibly work. Yet despite this – or perhaps because of it – it does. It might not be the most elegant presentation, but it has its own indefinable charm that will probably win you over if you give it a chance. Just like Bangkok.

"You put one more grain of rice in that hot dog bun and I swear to God I'll choke you to death with this bow tie."

“You put one more grain of rice in that hot dog bun and I swear to God I’ll choke you to death with this bow tie.”

PS: The fruit is often มันเชื่อม (man seum, candied yam), which, admittedly, is still a bit gross. However, just like Bangkok, there’s got to be at least one element that makes no sense no matter how hard you try to rationalize it. Like why some ladyboys are so hot.

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2016-11-17T15:48:30+00:00 Bangkok, Food, Thailand|8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Adam June 1, 2010 at 3:31 pm - Reply

    Haha, how did we miss this when going through Bangkok so many times last year? I would have loved to try it. It seems rather appropriate for some of the odd things we saw in one of our favorite cities in the world.

  2. Jay June 3, 2010 at 10:53 am - Reply

    4 years here and have yet to try one. I always give out a weird look when I see people eating them. You have inspired me once again.

  3. Migration Mark June 3, 2010 at 5:25 pm - Reply

    Greg, this hits me right on, because I just ate my debut Thai ice cream sandwich last Friday at the Sanamluang holiday festival. My honest opinion was that the bread was a marvelous combination with the ice cream because like everything else in Thailand, it was slightly sweet. However, I’m jealous, I don’t think I got the peanuts or the sticky rice.

    By the way, I also saw a guy selling "deep fried ice cream" out the back of his truck, Mexican style. Have you ever encountered this before in Thailand?

  4. Kevin June 3, 2010 at 11:36 pm - Reply

    You’re right. In it’s strange sort of Thai way, makes perfect sense. As for deep- fried ice cream, I know a seafood restaurant here that has an awesome version. Like french toast wrapped around it. Sounds suspiciously like Thai ice cream sandwich variation.

  5. Boonsong June 9, 2010 at 9:14 am - Reply

    Ice cream sandwich – a delightful treat. I always enjoy them.
    Thanks for this amusing post.

    All the best, Boonsong

  6. Timo June 30, 2010 at 4:04 pm - Reply

    There is one great "Jungle Restaurant" in Chiang Mai that sells Fried Ice Cream, too. I didn’t want to believe it first, but it’s really yummy.

  7. francis July 2, 2010 at 12:46 am - Reply

    I am kinda lost how can u deep frye ice cream? is it cooked first then chilled?Also what is it made from?I know there is differnt kinds of ice cream.This is the first time I ever herd of it.

  8. crocodilexp July 27, 2010 at 8:21 pm - Reply

    What bothers me about this is wet bread that results from ice-cream melting. Same with Thais putting normal soft bread in a milk-shake. Yuck.

    Thais don’t seem to mind eating wet and squishy bread. To a European it’s an abomination, something suitable only for feeding fish.

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