11 July 2024

Thanks to Chinese singer Jackson Wang, one Thai rice dish has suddenly become a hot favorite. Wang revealed his love for American fried rice (Khao Pad American in Thai), which he tried at a well-known supermarket’s restaurant, while guesting on a local radio station and that endorsement was enough to make the fried rice variation a must-eat among the star’s fan club both in Thailand and abroad. “It’s the best of the best,” he raved, causing the restaurant where he had sneaked out to buy the dish at night, to launch a promotion that paired the dish with corn soup to cash in on the hype.

Wang went on and tasted other Thai foods, appeared in a number of big events including a famous TV show “The Wall Song” before leaving Thailand on Friday morning. However, Thais may have to thank him for more than the entertainment he provided during his stay, as his “best of the best” has promoted fried rice to a lot of young people who might not be interested in some of the old Thai dishes.

There’s nothing new about American fried rice but before Wang’s endorsement, it was less popular among the new generation than Kimchi fried rice or Japanese curry rice. And unlike other fried rice dishes that can be found at street food stalls, American Fried Rice is only on offer at some restaurants.

So, what is American fried rice? To briefly explain to any non-Thais, typically Khao Pad American is fried rice with tomato paste/sauce, sometimes with raisins, to which sausage and ham are added and the whole shebang is them topped with an egg sunny side up. And despite the name, it is a Thai dish and originated in Thailand.

Although no one can really be sure of the true origins of the dish, there are a few stories about it. Some say it was created quite by accident while others suspected that it was a way of using up leftovers. One of the stories is that Khunying Sureepan Maneewat who was in charge of the kitchen at Don Muang’s airport Ratchathani Restaurant where airline meals were prepared, said that she created the American fried rice before 1954.  She told (then) Sakul Thai magazine that on one occasion, a flight was canceled, and she was left with a whole lot of American breakfast ingredients. She then fried rice with tomato sauce and combined it with sausages, ham, and eggs. An American soldier passed by and asked her what the dish was called “It’s American Fried Rice,” she quipped.

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Whether the iconic dish was born that way or not, the fried rice dish is a fine example of how Thai food has evolved over time. It’s said that the dish was popular during the Vietnam war. Khunying Sureepan may really give birth to it but no one has ever recorded the commercial aspects.

According to one theory, at the height of the Vietnam War then, there were thousands of GIs on rest and recreation breaks in Pattaya and Phetchaburi. Back in 1961, Tip-Top was the first restaurant in Bangkok to serve American fried rice and by the 1970s, it was a firmly established dish.

Another story has it that “Go Jek,” a Thai-Chinese chef serving the United States personnel stationed in Korat and Udon Thani during the Vietnam War, created the dish. While yet another story makes out that American fried rice was just an extension to the already delicious Khao Pad Rot Fai (literally means Train fried rice) which used to be served on trains and was created in the kitchens of Rot Fai Hotel in Hua Hin a century ago.

No matter how the fried rice dish came to be, one interesting fact is that it reflects how Thai food, particularly dishes with a mild taste like fried rice, can be further promoted among those with a foreign palate.

Our thanks go Jackson Wang for unwittingly causing a surge in sales for Khao Pad American!

By Veena Thoopkrajae