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Thailand's Famous Gay Pink Milk Comes to Oakland

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A hand reaches to pick up an icy pink beverage. There's also a iced chocolate drink and a plate of corn roti on the table.
Dek Doi Cafe is introducing Bay Area customers to Thai-style "pink milk" and street food style sweet roti.

The menu at Dek Doi Cafe, the new Thai boba shop on Oakland’s Piedmont Avenue, begins with the expected taro and matcha, Thai tea and mango — the usual flavors in the usual order. But the end of the menu has a surprise: drinks called nom sod and nom chompuu, nom Milo and nom mocha, all in Thai sans translation.

Pary Phusawadrattana, a co-owner of the cafe who is manning the cashiers during its soft opening, tells me that this is a deliberate bait and switch. “Customers come in for milk tea, but they get curious about what is ‘nom,’ and they order it. We want to introduce people to Thai drinks, so we keep it on the menu.”

“Nom” means milk in Thai, and it’s served flavored and cooled by street vendors throughout Thailand. The most iconic flavor is the blindingly sweet nom chompuu, literally “pink milk,” which is colored by the addition of bright-red sala syrup, which is made with a kind of palm fruit. Other popular flavors include sod (plain), Milo (a malted chocolate drink similar to Ovaltine) and mocha (exactly what it sounds like).

I admit, I fell for Pary’s gambit and ordered the nom chompuu out of curiosity. I had vaguely heard of it before: I knew it as nom yen (“cold milk”), the name more often used in Bangkok, Thailand’s media capital. As a watcher of Thai BL (Boys’ Love) dramas — gay romantic television shows that have developed a huge following in Thailand — I knew that pink milk had become a meme among the genre’s overseas fans, who are fascinated by the colorful drink the handsome protagonists tote around the streets of Bangkok.


Pary served the drink to me in a tall boba glass. I was prepared for it to be sweet — anything that shade of neon pink would be — but it was so sugary that I felt a little lightheaded after a swig. Still, I loved it. The creaminess of the milk, the cold ice and the buzz of the sugar rush all sent me back to the strawberry milkshakes and lychee Calpicos of my childhood. Nom chompuu felt like one of the great South/Southeast Asian pink drinks I nostalgically love, up there with rooh afza, falooda and bandung.

Later on, I asked Wawa Maneewan — another co-owner of Dek Doi and the brains behind the menu — if the drink’s newfound subcultural popularity influenced her decision to serve it in her new cafe. Wawa said it had more to do with her background: “I’m from Chiang Mai,” she says, referring to the northern Thai city, “and I remember all the cafes that used to be there. That’s why I named the cafe Dek Doi, meaning ‘mountain child’ in Thai. I wanted to make a cafe just like the ones I grew up with.”

That’s why she makes it a point to include classic street food like nom chompuu and sweet roti, to represent her roots. The roti, a type of flaky pancake, might be more familiar to Americans as a savory appetizer in Thai restaurants. Dek Doi, however, serves the roti in its street food form, as a dessert topped with either coconut and corn or nutella and banana. It is delicately flaky and tender, much less dense than the frozen roti that you can find in freezer aisles. “The roti is the same one I serve in all my restaurants, except sweet,” Wawa explains. “I wanted to find something fresh, nothing frozen. I eventually found a Thai woman in Daly City who makes roti by hand — I call her Grandma, but she’s not my real grandma — and she makes thousands of them every week for me.”

Close-up view of the cafe's sweet roti topped with coconut and corn.
Most Thai restaurants serve roti as a savory appetizer. At Dek Doi, it’s served as a sweet dessert. Here it’s topped with corn and coconut.

Maybe the most regional item on the menu is the “Chiang Mai Mocha,” a tribute to her city’s famous coffee industry. “I source the beans from my sister’s coffee fields in the Chiang Rai mountains,” Wawa says. “The beans are very aromatic, but the caffeine content is very small. That way you can have a lot more coffee without feeling bad!”

However, to make Dek Doi financially viable, Wawa and her partners added boba and milk tea to the menu. At Dek Doi, you can even add boba to traditional Thai pink milk if you really want to. To a Thai person, that might sound strange, but it’s part of an American trend born out of necessity. Here in the Bay Area, Asian food businesses often capitalize on the widespread recognition of boba to make more niche Asian desserts accessible. In that way, Dek Doi is just like Berkeley’s Kuboba, which serves Filipino buko pandan mixed with tapioca pearls, or San Jose’s Soyful Desserts, which sells Japanese tofu pudding untraditionally topped with the same.

Wawa says she’d rather put top-selling items on her menu than compromise on the quality. “I do this at my other restaurants [Wawa Thai and Pla Daek in Oakland] too. My restaurants are known for quality, so we use only fresh ingredients. We want everything to be just as they serve it in Thailand.”

Wawa also wants to bring another aspect of a Thai cafe from Chiang Mai to Oakland: the street-side cafe’s role as a community hangout and social venue. Dek Doi is a joint venture between Wawa, Pary (who owns Grand Avenue Thai and Amarin Thai in Oakland), and Ook Papartassee (Neecha Thai), long-time friends who have decades of experience of running restaurants between them. There’s a communal spirit to the business — the day I stopped by, Pary had invited her husband to play the guitar for customers on a little stage at the back of the store, while she kept a watchful eye on her two daughters doing homework in the front.

“I want this to be a community space,” says Wawa. “It doesn’t matter if you have money, I want people to come by and ask for help. Maybe local musicians can come to the back and play for tips. I don’t know, but I want this to be a place for everyone.”


Dek Doi Cafe is located at 4125 Piedmont Ave. in Oakland, in the Piedmont Alley complex. It will offer a limited soft opening menu until at least the end of February.

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