The bright color of ube, a purple yam commonly used in desserts in the Philippines, is striking. It is sometimes a light lavender, often a deeper mauve and at times a rich violet, but the bolder shades don't reflect its flavor, which is subtly sweet with the slightest hint of vanilla. It's also the main attraction at Pandan Teahouse, a petite sandwich, soft-serve and confection shop that opened last year in Harahan.
Ube flavors and lends a deep, dark purple color to creamy swirls of ice cream, and while it might be hard to go wrong with soft-serve, the kind served here is especially good. The treat arrives on its own or framed by bright green and purple waffles, flavored with either ube or pandan, an aromatic leaf and herb commonly found in Southeast Asian cooking that imbues a pale green color and carries coconut and vanilla notes.
Much of the menu veers to the sweet side, and there is a mash-up of Asian flavors, but the Latin-leaning mangonada (also called chamango) was a surprising find. The colorful, icy beverage features blended mango, chili powder and chamoy sauce, a sweet, spicy and salty Mexican condiment. Bobbing with bits of fresh mango and topped with a chili-dusted tamarind lollipop, it's a whimsical, spicy and refreshing treat, hard to find outside of a few Latin vendors in the city. At Pandan, bubble teas run the gamut from warm, creamy milk tea to fresh fruit slushies and smoothies.
A dessert case filled with purple and green layer cakes (and, currently, Mardi Gras-themed treats) round out the sweet options. But there's a solid selection of banh mi sandwiches that diners should not overlook.
All served on crusty French bread rolls, the sandwiches burst with fresh vegetables, including julienned carrots, cucumber spears, cilantro and jalapeno slices. A standard cold cut version includes Vietnamese ham and slow-roasted pork but no pate, which was a letdown. The sandwich felt bare without it. The rest of the fillings differ from other banh mi joints around town, which makes it less of a traditionalist's pick, but fun and creative nonetheless.
I most enjoyed the grilled chicken, which is more of a soft, slow-roasted affair, with delicious fatty bits and juicy, pliable hunks stuffed into the roll. Also good was a grilled pork version, with soft, charred pork, sauteed green onions and a drizzle of Sriracha. A minced pork meatball version packed intense heat with hints of sweetness.
Though the selection at Pandan is small, it's a fun and quirky place to pop in whenever a craving for sweets arises.