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.