Tag Archives: desserts

The Sweet Life: L.A.’s Southeast Asian Dessert Diaspora


PHOTO by RICARDO DEARATANHA / L.A. TIMES

In Los Angeles, where international cuisines are examined with the rigor of sociological study, dessert is often a dish born under a foreign flag. There are those who lust after the cinnamon-dusted ridges of freshly fried churros, others who long for the ephemeral sakura-wrapped mochi available only during cherry blossom season. But whether it’s by willful avoidance or total unfamiliarity, Southeast Asian sweets have yet to earn that same admiration.

Bhan Kanom Thai, meanwhile, is a rainbow rush of colors: Fresh mango glistening the brilliant orange of a late-summer sun, glutinous rice balls glowing a radiant pandan green, tender taro cakes blooming the same piercing purple as a field of lilacs. The Hollywood favorite is a den of overstimulation, its shelves stuffed with Thai desserts alive with vivid colors, focused flavors and foreign textures. To a particular set of Los Angeles diners, the sweet shop is an essential experience. Yet even as Southeast Asian flavors move from places like Thai Town and Little Saigon and into the mainstream, the region’s diverse desserts remain largely unknown, tropical curiosities far more complex than a simple batch of banana fritters. Across greater Los Angeles, however, are countless examples of these sweets, a vast dessert diaspora as varied and unique as the ingredients and cultures that comprise each confection.

Nearly every Southeast Asian nation is represented in Los Angeles’ own sprawling geography: Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. These are the very same sweets found on the streets of Bangkok and Jakarta and Manila. Here, they’re imported by former culinary school instructors and avid cooks no longer confined to borrowed kitchens, by expatriates recreating tastes of home and younger generations now carrying on those traditions.

Southeast Asian sweets have even gone upscale. At restaurants like Lukshon, Red Medicine and the Spice Table, dessert draws inspiration from the region’s honeyed heritage: pearls of palm sugar boba, dollops of avocado and coconut creams, strata of thick kaffir lime custard. It’s an evolution in Los Angeles’ appetite, one finally primed to embrace Southeast Asia’s sweet side.

Read my Southeast Asian dessert picks at the L.A. Times.

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Leftovers: House of Silvanas

Space Age Filipino cookies for the L.A. Times:

Crisp, impossibly airy cookies served straight from the freezer, their centers stuffed with slick buttercream, seem almost Space Age. They’re somehow both sturdy and weightless. They dissolve the second they touch your tongue. These otherworldly treats are silvanas, colorful and classic Filipino cookies that could easily be mistaken for oversized French macarons.

They’re the namesake of House of Silvanas, a months-old sweets shop at the confluence of Silver Lake and Little Armenia. You won’t find the place without some confusion — it’s but one of many stalls located inside Kusina, a surprisingly spacious cafeteria-style turo-turo joint where buffet trays are loaded with ruddy links of longganisa sausage and steaming cups of sinigang, a sour tamarind soup, serve as makeshift palate cleansers.

Never mind its humble surroundings — House of Silvanas has a long, multi-generational history. Its cream-filled tradition began a world away in the Philippines, where Trining Teves-Sagarbarria’s pastries were so popular that a business bloomed to satisfy demand. Those renowned recipes became heirlooms, passed down to daughter-in-law Mary Ann, who has now bestowed them upon her daughter Kathryn.

Read the rest here.

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Leftovers: Pâtisserie Chantilly

Baked fresh from this week’s District:


PHOTO by ROSHEILA ROBLES

Most of Pâtisserie Chantilly’s pastries are a matter of memory, classic concoctions of culinary history so baked into our collective consciousness they’ve become monuments to the French tradition. Some were born between the walls of stately palaces; others received simpler, less immaculate conceptions hundreds of years ago. But centuries-old recipes aren’t all Chantilly is interested in—the place is just as much Japanese as it is French, a thoroughly modern mix that still pays homage to its history.

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