6 June 2024

Many Thai dishes that are, well, quintessentially Thai, have been given foreign names over the years. Take American fried rice, for example, which despite its name doesn’t hail from the US and is likely most commonly found in Thai and other Asian restaurants stateside. The reasons for these confusing appellations are varied so here we take a look at four local dishes and unveil the ‘hows’ and the ‘whys’ behind their names.

Khao Pad American (American fried rice)

This fried rice dish is a fine example of how Thai food has evolved over time.  At the height of the Vietnam war, there were thousands and thousands of GIs on rest and recreation breaks in Pattaya and Phetchaburi, long before the Patpong bar strip came into being. The dish was created with the objective of offering a Thai dish with a modern name. Typically Khao Pad American is fried rice with tomato paste/sauce, sometimes with raisins, to which sausage and ham are added and a sunny-side-up egg is served on the top. 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.

Suki-yaki

It may not be the most confusing dish in Thailand but the name is Japanese and the Thai version has nothing to do with it. The founder of Coca Suki-yaki  Srichai Phanphensophon

created this Thai version 54 years ago because he liked the name and felt it would catch on. Of course, it probably helped that the Japanese song “Suki-yaki” was a hit at that time! Actually, the Japanese do have a hotpot dish that is close to Thai Suki-yaki called Sha-bu that comes with a clear soup. Suki-yaki is a traditional Japanese dish with a thick soy sauce-based soup to which konbu (thick seaweed), tofu, onions, and mushrooms are added for a hearty meal. In winter Japanese cook Suki-yaki over an open burner with a big pot or nabe in front of them. In Thailand, the Coca version isn’t suki-yaki as such because not everything is thrown into the pot together. Meats, vegetables, and noodles are served a la carte. The key is the dipping sauce with a unique taste – sweet, sour and spicy – that’s a perfect match for all kinds of meats and seafood.

Lot-chong Singapore

Cendol, Lot-chong Singapore in Thai, is a refreshing iced dessert with green rice flour jelly droplets in coconut milk – some add evaporated milk – and palm sugar syrup. Additional toppings such as jackfruit, corn and coconut meat can be added. The dessert is found in Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia with different names. Lot-chong Singapore gets the Singapore reference because when it was first introduced in Thailand some 60 years ago, a shop selling Cendol was located in front of the Singapore Theatre (later Chalermburi theatre) on Yaowaraj Road.  It became known as “Lot Chong in front of the Singapore Theatre” and soon after the name was shortened to “Lot Chong Singapore”.  The original shop was later renamed Singapore Phochana and second generation owner Narong Chakrithungkool tells us his dad had got recipe from a friend. Since then, the dessert has been a highlight of Yaowaraj and China town.

Kanom Tokyo

The name could fool anyone into thinking this is a Japanese snack but in fact, Kanom Tokyo is only found in Thailand and not in Tokyo or anywhere else in Japan. It’s best described as an adapted version of Japan’s Dorayaki or Japanese Red Bean Pancake (later expanded to many sweet fillings). There are no exact records but it is believed that the Thai version of the Japanese pancake made its appearance in or around 1967 at the Thai Daimaru department store on Rajdamri Road. Thai vendors created the thin pancake and named it Kanom Tokyo to go with Thai Daimaru, which sold merchandise mainly imported from Japan. So Kanom Tokyo has nothing to do with Japan’s capital at all. The dessert has a variety of fillings, both savory and sweet including sausages, Pandan custard, and custard cream. The fillings depend on the vendor’s creativity – some put foi thong (golden thread) or ham. However, the red bean is not one of the choices. Kanom Tokyo has survived through time and is still popular among youngsters. It’s found at roadside food stalls and the food courts of department stores.

By Veena Thoopkrajae