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Hot Topics 2022-06-28

Stories behind These Misleading Names of Thai Foods

misleading Thai food names

The origins of food names seem like a dull topic to talk about, yet the facts behind the names are more surprising than you’d ever imagine! Today, we’ll introduce the misleading names of Thai food. For foreigners, these names will firstly confuse them but later amaze them by the origins. Each one of these names was invented by a certain vendor or restaurant, but the names are widely known nowadays among most Thai people.

Tokyo Pancake (Khanom Tokyo; ขนมโตเกียว)

Despite its exotic name, Tokyo pancake is a Thai snack sold by stalls near school entrances. It is one of the most popular snacks for children. Tokyo pancake is a thin, soft crepe with fillings. The fillings can be sweet or savory such as sausage, minced pork, quail eggs, butter, etc. Though it’s called “Tokyo pancake”, its origin has nothing to do with the capital city in Japan. Tokyo pancake’s origin started from a stall selling dorayaki near a Japanese shopping mall. Due to the high price of dorayaki, a vendor adjusted the flavor to Thai people’s liking and sold the new variation at a lower price. As for the names, the vendor named this way just to make it sound like a Japanese snack.

泰國甜點東京卷(Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Singapore Bubble Tea Noodles (Lod Chong Singapore; ลอดช่องสิงคโปร์)

While noodles in coconut milk aren’t something new in Southeast Asia, Singaporean bubble tea noodles are way different from the others of its kind. Traditional bubble tea noodles come from Indonesia and are made from rice powder. Nevertheless, Singaporean bubble tea noodles use sweet potato starch as a substitute to make it have a lighter color, look a little bit transparent, and taste chewy, bouncy in texture. Jackfruit and coconut milk are common ingredients to mix with Singaporean bubble tea noodles. Why, then, does the food have “Singapore” in its name? In 1961, Singapore Pochana (สิงคโปร์โภชนา), an eatery settled near Singapore Cinema (โรงหนังสิงคโปร์) at that time, was the very first eatery using sweet potato powder to make cendol instead of rice powder. Initially, people mostly addressed them as “bubble tea noodles sold in front of Singapore Cinema”, but later, they gradually called them “Singaporean bubble tea noodles”.

泰國飲料新加坡珍多(Image source: Wikimedia Commons

American Fried Rice (Khao Pad American; ข้าวผัดอเมริกัน)

As you read “American Fried Rice”, you might wonder: “Does America have its own version of fried rice? How does it look?” That’s right, American fried rice only exists in Thailand. Compared to regular fried rice, what’s special about American fried rice is that it uses ketchup, raisins, and peas as ingredients. Other frequently used ingredients include sausages, hams, fried chicken, fried sunny side up egg, and more.

American fried rice is said to originate from a restaurant at an airport in the early days. One time, an airline company ordered American breakfasts from the restaurant for a flight, but later the flight was canceled.  In order not to cause any waste, the chef used the leftovers to cook fried rice with ketchup.

The other theory says that during the Vietnam War, a chef stir-fried American breakfast with rice, making the food for American soldiers back then. Everyone in the battalion was delighted by the new dish, so the food later became popular and was named American fried rice.

泰國料理美國炒飯(Image source: flickr

Middle East Fried Banana (Kluay Khaek; กล้วยแขก)

In the past, traditional Thai foods were cooked by either boiling, baking, or roasting. But the later influences brought by foreign countries have made Thai cuisine have various cooking methods at present. Many people believe that the reason why the fried banana snack is named “Kluay Khaek (กล้วยแขก)” is because the cooking method is the same as fried beans from India. In Thai language, “Khaek (แขก)” refers to residents from the Middle East: be it people from India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Afghanistan, or other states. It is also said that Middle East fried banana is actually a Thai equivalent to “pisang goreng” from Indonesia, as the ingredients and cooking methods are identical. But Middle East fried bananas have thinner slices of banana and are seasoned with coconut milk, sugar, and sesame.

(Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Chinese Thin Noodles (Ka Nom Jeen; ขนมจีน)

“Ka Nom (ขนม)” may either refer to noodles made of wheat or a dessert consisting of rice and sugar.It generally tastes sweet and is not eaten with rice. In spite of the fact that it has “Jeen (จีน)”, meaning “China”, in its name, Chinese thin noodles are neither sweet nor of Chinese origin.

In fact, Chinese thin noodles were originally the food of Mon people (a Southeast Asian minority group mainly populated in Myanmar). It was also called Ka Nom Jeen, but in different tones. “Ka Nom” means “noodles” while “Jeen” means “cooked”. When it’s introduced to Thailand, Ka Nom Jeen soon became popular because it’s easy to make and tastes wonderful when eaten with multiple kinds of foods. Generally speaking, Chinese thin noodles are eaten with various types of sauces such as fish ball curry, green curry, and others. In addition, there’s another way to eat Chinese thin noodles: to eat them with papaya salad.

泰國料理中國麵線(Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Singaporean Sponge Cake (Ka Nom Krok Singapore; ขนมครกสิงคโปร์)

Most Thai desserts use either rice powder or sticky rice powder as the main ingredient while Singaporean sponge cake uses “Singaporean flour” instead. In the past, Thai people used to call sweet potato starch “Singaporean flour”, as they believed that Thailand in the early days couldn't produce sweet potato starch and had to import it from Singapore; therefore, people call it “Singaporean flour”.

The cooking method of Singaporean sponge cake is the same as that of Taiwanese sponge cake, but most of Singaporean sponge cake is flower-shaped. If you look up on the Internet, you can see they are green in color. That is the color of pandan leaves. Later when it got popular, people  began to develop different flavors like sweet potato, pumpkin, chocolate, strawberry, durian, coconut, Thai milk tea, and more. So you can see sponge cakes in multiple colors as well.

泰國甜點新加坡雞蛋糕(Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Fun Facts behind the Names

From the 6 misleading names of Thai food, it’s not hard to tell that food names always have their intriguing background stories. No matter if they are real or made-up, the stories are all funny for sure. What do you think about these food names? Have you heard of other food names that confuse you? Leave your comments to share with us!

Editor, World Gourmet Platform

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