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.
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.
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.
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.