Berwyn residents, Ussanee Sanmmueangchin, known to all as Au (pronounced “oo”), and her husband Jumpol Prasitporn, known as Jump, are inviting the community to explore the delicious world of Thai sweets at Habraé, 7230 Madison St. in Forest Park.
“When I met her, she couldn’t even make rice and I had a rice cooker,” laughed Prasitporn. “But now Au puts her mind to making Thai desserts in the way that respects homestyle recipes. I am so proud.”
The couple met when Sanmmueangchin, an account executive in Thailand, came to Chicago to study English. Looking for a place to stay led her to a spare room for rent in Prasitporn’s Berwyn home. Homesickness left her craving a simple Thai dessert — black beans in coconut milk over sticky rice. The rich and creamy concoction was hard to come by in the area but proved to be simple to make for the amateur cook. She continued to recreate Thai desserts in Prasitporn’s kitchen challenging herself to master more complicate recipes.
Despite the fact that love was blossoming between the roommates, she returned to Thailand to take classes at UFM Baking & Cooking School in Bangkok. The couple maintained their relationship while she learned the valuable Thai and French cooking techniques. In 2018, the couple traded in their long-distance relationship for wedding banns and set a goal of opening a Thai sweet shop.
“After I finished school, when I would make desserts and my friends would try them, they would say it was good and they wanted to buy them,” said Sanmmueangchin. “I knew I was ready to open the shop after that.”
The couple explored several properties before settling on the Forest Park location. They were drawn to the open-mindedness of residents both locally and in the surrounding communities. The owners undertook a 16-month renovation to bring the space to life, and design elements in the café are inspired by open-air Thai markets. In fact, the word Habraé refers to a merchant who carries homemade goods to market in a basket known as a hab.
Today, slices of airy pandan chiffon cake, purple-hued sibling steamed buns, and charcoal puddings beckon customers as they enter Habraé. Colorful khanom chan are molded into delicate floral shapes and arranged in dainty boxes behind the counter. The jelly-like cakes can be enjoyed chilled or warmed and should separate into layers with ease.
“Children like to pull them apart, so they are fun to eat,” said Prasitporn. “If the cakes don’t separate when you pull them, it means they have too much flour in them.”
Sanmmueangchin has an arsenal of approximately 50 sweets she plans to rotate in and out of Habraé’s menu. She currently features 16 sweets per day, but the menu is fluid for the moment as the couple waits to see what treats resonate most with customers.
Since opening on July 8, salted egg pastries have proven to be a popular choice. The smooth and creamy egg filling is a quintessential element in Thai desserts. When served in steamed buns, called Buddy Buns, the filling becomes molten and appeals to Asian visitors, but she also offers the salted egg filling in a croissant. Habraé’s salted egg croissant is a decadent, butter-laden pastry that appeals to American palates.
Though Sanmmueangchin and Prasitporn have plans to introduce savory street food elements to Habraé’s menu, the focus will always remain on sweets. Some of the recipes she uses are 400 years old. The couple is eager to share their culture and educate newcomers about the sweets they have brought to Forest Park.
“We would really like Americans to know more about these desserts,” said Sanmmueangchin. “Thai restaurants are mostly savory, and we think Thai desserts can be a very special thing in this town.”
Habraé is currently open Tuesday through Sunday from 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Follow Habraé on Facebook to stay up to date on daily and weekly specials.