Make Thailand’s Golden Threads Dessert

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Last week, I wrote about the life and legacy of Maria Guyomar de Pinha, the Portuguese-Japanese countess turned Siamese palace chef nicknamed “the Queen of Thai Desserts.” In addition to being a harrowing tale of murder, betrayal, and political intrigue, Guyomar’s life story tells of a 17th-century culinary exchange between Portugal and Thailand whose reverberations continue today.

Few dishes demonstrate this better than foi thong, or “golden threads,” a treat that consists of fine strands of yolk cooked in sugar syrup infused with fragrant pandan leaves. Anyone familiar with Portuguese desserts will note how similar foi thong is to a Portuguese sweet called fios de ovos, meaning “egg threads.” The only differences are that foi thong features longer strands and vanilla-like pandan instead of vanilla.

Foi thong represents Portuguese techniques adapted to Thai ingredients and symbolic resonance. Along with its prosperous and lucky golden color, foi thong carries an additional layer of meaning because its long strands—longer than those of the Portuguese egg threads—represent a long and happy life. For this reason, foi thong may be served at Thai weddings. In modern Thailand, when foi thong is not being presented as part of the auspicious “Nine Desserts” for a special occasion, it can be eaten on its own or used as a garnish for desserts such as coconut rice and cakes.

Portugal’s former colonial empire has resulted in culinary influence that can still be felt in many parts of Asia beyond Thailand: Even Japanese konpeito, the crunchy bits of rainbow-colored rock candy fed to the soot sprites in the film Spirited Away, derives from Portuguese confeito, meaning “confection” or “sweet.” This means that Thailand is not the only Asian country to serve egg threads, though everyone who adopted the recipe has tweaked it and made it their own, just as Guyomar did. Japanese egg threads, known as keiran somen after fine somen noodles, are twisted to resemble bundles of yarn and presented as a wagashi, a type of delicate sweet served with tea. In Kerala in southern India, the egg whites and the sugar syrup used to cook the yolk threads are made into a fluffy pudding, which is served together with the threads.

Foi thong is traditionally made with a funnel-like tool, but you can approximate it at home by poking a small hole in a Ziploc bag. Though not strictly necessary, vegetable oil may be added to the yolks to give them a glossier final appearance, and food coloring may be used to emphasize their lucky golden glow.

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