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Aug 13, 2009 04:53 PM

Thai Cuisine [split from Midwest]

>>>"Other menu items were borrowed from Thailand and Vietnam. They included Thai red, green and Masaman curry and Pho from Vietnam. There's also a Hmong sausage which is another choice close to Hmong cuisine. All the same price range. It was a pleasant outing -- the people working there were quite friendly. "

Thanks for sharing your reviews with us. I would like to add a few things to your post. It's a common misconception that those red, green, massaman, and penang curries came from Thailand,

Those coconut-milk based curries are popular throughout SE Asia. Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and other countries have red and green curries, so it's not just Thailand. The Thai people popularized those curries in Western countries as "Thai" curries, but this doesn't mean that they were the ones who invented those curries. =)

In addition, Massaman and Penang curries are actually Malaysian dishes created by Muslims. Penang is actually a city in Malaysia. Anyway, it always makes me giggle whenever I hear people mention Thai cuisine rather than Malaysian cuisine when discussing Massaman or Penang curry. To me, that's kind of like referring to Chinese cuisine when discussing sushi. Massaman and Penang curries are from Malaysia.

Anyway, you're correct that Larb is a dish that originated in Laos. The Hmong are also from Laos so it's no surprise that they also eat Larb and Lao sausage.

I realize that many of the members on this site are Westerners and it's good to see people wanting to learn more about SE Asian cuisines, but please realize that just because many of the chowhounds on here had been exposed to the foods in Thailand first does not mean that those dishes originated from Thailand. Standard Thai restaurants around the world typically serve Laotian, Malaysian, Indonesian, and Chinese dishes in addition to their own native Thai dishes, but many foreigners are not familiar enough with the cuisines of SE Asia that they don't realize the diversity in "Thai" restaurant staples. I don't blame you for thinking that those dishes are "Thai" because you're probably not from SE Asia (well this is just my assumption), but I just wanted chowhounds to realize the diversity in SE Asian cuisines. Thailand is just one country out of the many SE Asian countries. Other SE Asian countries also eat those types of curries. That Hmong owner is from Laos and we also have curries in Laos. =)

On a different note, Pho/Feu is the result of French and Chinese influence. This dish is served in Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, but I believe it's known by a different name in Cambodia. Pho/Feu means something like "fire" in the French language. Thailand also has a similar dish to Pho/Feu, but it's known by a different name in the Thai language.

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  1. You're probably right about the dishes, but it's hard to say. Penang (or phanaeng) curry shows Malaysian (or Malaysian Chinese, i.e. perinakan) influence because the curry paste is ground as a rempeh and then fried in oil. But its ingredients are more Thai than Malaysian: lemongrass, galangal. I always thought that massaman curry came from the Muslims of south Thailand (hence the name). Both dishes are found in northeast Malaysia (Kelantan) but there they are considered Thai-influenced. (I don't think Penang curry is popular in Penang.) I guess there's just a lot of culinary interchange and fusion in the whole area, with traders from all over helping spread food ideas (e.g Portuguese carrying Indian curry to Japan and south China)

    7 Replies
    1. re: Brian S

      You're right that there was a lot of culinary interchange in that area. Before there was a Laos or Thailand, that area of land once belonged to the Khmer empire and other indigenous peoples like the Mon, etc...

      Lemongrass and galangal are actually very common ingredients in Lao, Khmer, Thai, and other SE Asian cuisines. They were common in the cuisines of SE Asia even before Laos and Thailand came into existence. I've never spoken to a Malaysian person about how "authentic" Penang curry looks or tastes, so I'll take your word for it. But from my understanding and the fact that my cuisine, Lao, also uses lemongrass and galangal, I wouldn't be surprised if the use of lemongrass and galangal in Malaysia was more of a Khmer influence than a Thai influence since the Khmer have been in that region for a long time even before Lao or Thai people came into that region. Interestingly, Lao cuisine and Khmer cuisine also adopted Penang curry from Malaysian cuisine. But not many people realized that Penang curry actually came from Malaysia. However, I'll admit that I really don't know how similar Lao/Thai/Khmer penang curries are to the original Penang curry of Malaysia. =)

      It's interesting that you may be right that Penang curry is actually more popular in neighboring countries like Laos, Thailand and Cambodia than in Malaysia itself where this dish originated from. LOL!

      With that said, if there is actually a difference between the original Penang curry and those of neighboring countries, I'm now curious to try the original Malaysian version.

      1. re: yummyrice

        This is a fascinating question, in a fascinating area -- the diffusion of ideas -- to which not nearly enough attention has been paid. (I used to be terrified that this post would be moved to the General Topics board and I would look foolish. Now I have become so fascinated that I am hoping it IS moved, starting with your first post of August 13 at 6:53 PM)

        The question: were the dishes which are known in English as red curry and green curry (but which in Thai have different names, the Thai word gaeng meaning, as I recall, something with liquid that isn't quite a soup) and which most Americans think of as Thai actually invented by Thai people, or did the Thai people get them (or a version of them) from other people, such as the Khmer? I don't know the answer and I just can't find it on the Internet, though there is a huge History of Food in 2 volumes, published by Cambridge Univ and not available online, that might hold a clue.

        Here's what I know. The Thai people came down to what is now Thailand, and what was then mostly uninhabited, from Yunnan province in China before the year 1300. (I thought they came in the 1200s, partly as a result of Mongol raids, but Wikipedia says the migration started 300 years before.) Current Yunnanese cuisine has nothing like red curry, though I'm not sure about the Dai inhabitants of southern Yunnan; I visited villages there and was even held prisoner at one village but I don't remember the food. But according to some websites Dai restaurants in Kunming feature food a lot like Thai, and use lemongrass.

        But what were the Khmer eating at that time in Angkor? A Chinese diplomat named Zhou Daguan (or Chou Ta Kuan) visited Angkor around 1280 and wrote a long account of his stay. It's just been translated into English but is not online, though I have found online descriptions of his writing in which he reports that Khmer families prepared sauces for their food in earthenware pots and served the sauces in small cups made out of leaves. But were these sauces like Thai red and green curries? They did have spices; Zhou saw pepper plants.

        I found one non-food example of diffusion of ideas which shows how interesting -- and complex -- the question is. I've always been entranced by the shimmering moonlight of gamelan music and I've thought of it as typically Indonesian. But I just found out that there have been gamelan orchestras in the Angkor region of central Cambodia for hundreds of years, maybe even in Khmer times. And you won't find gamelans anywhere in between! Not in Vietnam or Thailand or Malaya (as far as I know). So who invented it?

        Fascinating. I leave you with a Cambodian gamelan song called Kravnay Chorn Chup.

        1. re: Brian S

          Well many dishes that are known as "Thai" weren't even invented by the Thais. "Gaeng" is a basic word in both Lao and Thai languages, which means something like a soupy stew. I'm not really sure how to translate it. Anyway, I guess I should've been more specific. Thai is just a nationality made up of various ethnic groups like Khmer, Mon, Lao, Malay, Chinese, etc...the only reason why so many Americans think of "Thai" when one mentions green, red, or yellow curries has to do with the fact that out of all SE Asian cuisines, Thai cuisine was the first one that actually became heavily promoted to Westerners in the U.S., so it's very hard to get Americans to realize that Thai people didn't invent those curries. Many modern day cuisines like Lao, Thai, Vietnamese, and Khmer cuisines actually have some aspects of Mon cuisine (the indigenous people who lived in the region along with Khmers) especially when it comes to curry dishes that use rice vermicelli noodles. There was a time in the U.S. when people thought that Asian cuisine meant "Chinese" cuisine regardless of their true origins. LOL! That was also when everyone from Asia (including SE Asia) were referred to as "Chinese" =). Now that Westerners are more familiar with the various countries in East Asia, more and more Westerners are now able to classify certain dishes as belonging to Japanese, Korean and other East Asian cuisines rather than just defaulting to "Chinese".

          Unfortunately, the same thing that happened with "Chinese" cuisine is happening again but this time it involves the cuisines of SE Asia and how they're being lumped into "Thai" cuisine due to fact that most Westerners aren't familiar enough with SE Asian cuisines in general so those patrons are using Thai cuisine as a reference and incorrectly attributing their origins to Thai cuisine. Since Thai cuisine was their first introduction to SE Asian cuisines, many Westerners incorrectly assumed that those common SE Asian dishes are Thai inventions, but they're really not "Thai", but standard SE Asian curries that are popular in not just Thai cuisine, but Lao, Khmer, and other SE Asian cuisines as well. Even typical appetizers like satay/sate are actually from Malaysia/Indonesia, but those dishes are typically credited to Thai cuisine. It's going to take a few more years for chowhounds and others to realize that Thai cuisine is actually more like a "sampler" of the various cuisines in SE Asia because in addition to Thai-created dishes, many dishes from neighboring countries became popular in Thailand like Larb from Laos, Satay from Malaysia/Indonesia, Penang curry from Malaysia, etc....SE Asian countries have similar dishes that look the same or may even share the same names, but there are subtle differences between the various versions.

          It took some time for Westerners to be able to differentiate East Asian cuisines from "Chinese" cuisine, so it's also going to take some time for Westerners to realize that Thai cuisine is just one cuisine out of the many SE Asian cuisines and that dishes that may look familiar in cuisines like Lao, Khmer or others does not necessarily mean that they were invented by Thais. Either way, I would like to see more people visit SE Asia and appreciate the similarities and differences between the various SE Asian cuisines.

          1. re: yummyrice

            You're right and I should have done more research. But I have truly tried. When I was last in the region, long ago, I tried to cross the Mekong into Laos and couldn't, and I could not even get a visa for Cambodia. (That would have made a great line in the film Killing Fields, with Sam Waterson saying, "you're as dumb as that crazy American who tried to visit Phnom Penh and try Khmer Rouge food!") Yes, that was long ago.

            Many New York chowhounds (including me) took long walks around a remote and somewhat dangerous part of the South Bronx because the Times reported that several Cambodian families had lived there. We hoped to find a Cambodian restaurant but didn't. People make long journeys into Queens when a Thai restaurant started serving Issan food (which is similar to Laotian) or when a Burmese restaurant opened its doors. The Burmese restaurant was sensational -- but went out of business in a few months. I think people from Southeast Asia have learned that if you open a Thai restaurant you will, if not get rich, at least survive, but if you open up a Cambodian or Laotian restaurant you will not last long. Even at Tulsa's Hmong Café, they don't serve Hmong dishes.

            1. re: Brian S

              That's true, but people have to realize that Thai cuisine wasn't all that popular when it was first introduced in the U.S. Each cuisine had to start from somewhere. What made Thai cuisine become a popular new ethnic cuisine had to do with the fact that Thai restaurant owners started adding dishes from neighboring countries to add variety to the perception of Thai cuisine. Those non-Thai dishes became stuck in the minds of Americans as standard Thai dishes (even though they weren't Thai at all) because those patrons hadn't yet been exposed to other SE Asian cuisines so they couldn't tell what was truly Thai and what was actually from neighboring countries. In addition, Thai restaurant owners had no problems with Westernizing their dishes to accomodate the Western palate (i.e. removing exotic ingredients like innards, shrimp paste, etc...). Seriously, when one thinks of exotic ingredients and dishes, I would hope that Asian cuisines would at least be one of the top three things that pop into the minds of Westerners. So why is it that out of all Asian cuisines in the U.S., Thai cuisine happens to be the only one that doesn't serve "weird" dishes or ingredients? Even Chinese cuisine, despite having been in the U.S. for a very long time, still serves wonderfully exotic things like innards and other things like chicken feet. In my opinion, "Thai-American" cuisine is the one that's popular in the U.S., but not "Thai" cuisine. People in Thailand eat innards and other exotic things like insects. It's very hard to find a Thai restaurant that serves only authentic Thai dishes because those restaurants would not survive in the U.S.

              Most Thai restaurants in the U.S. are forced to serve Americanized Thai dishes because we have to admit that most Americans are not accustomed to "weird" food items like innards. In order to stay in business, more and more Thai restaurants are also serving Chinese standards like egg rolls, wontons, broccoli beef (aka Pad Broccoli), chowfun (aka Pad Si Ew) as well as dishes from Laos (larb, papaya salad) and neighboring countries (penang curry, satay and peanut sauce). If many people throughout the U.S. started opening "Americanized" Laotian or Cambodian restaurants, I'd guarantee that Laotian or Cambodian cuisine would catch on just like how Americanized Chinese cuisine became popular and now Americanized Thai cuisine as well. However, Lao people are very traditional and it's difficult for us to Westernize our dishes just to suit the Western palate because we wouldn't want to eat those watered-down dishes ourselves. We prefer authenticity over appealing to Western customers at the expense of losing a huge profit. We'd rather teach Westerners to learn to acquire our tastes rather than transform our dishes and make them more Western-friendly. I guess it's more of a pride thing. =)

              As for me, I prefer authentic Lao cuisine just like how I prefer authentic Cambodian or Thai cuisine as well. Asian cuisines in the U.S. that have been "Westernized" are just too boring for me. I like going to restaurants where the local Asian population enjoys to eat. That's a good sign that those restaurants serve authentic Asian cuisines.

              1. re: yummyrice

                Good post. Reminds me of a friend who would only eat sweet and sour pork. Other stuff, even in a mainstream Americanized Chinese restaurant, was too weird for him.
                When do you think Thai, Lao or Vietnamese food became mainstream in the US? I think I remember starting to eat Thai in a high Asian density area of Richardson and Garland, TX (Dallas area), back in the late '70's. Certainly wasn't mainstream then like it was when, in the mid '90's, an upscale fusion Thai restaurant came to Flower Mound.
                Pho places seem to survive, in small numbers, and serve tripe and tendon. Tongue and Menudo exist in some Mexican restaurants, with Menudo perhaps only served on the weekend and not in all Americanized places. I think tongue in Mexican food is well accepted in my circle of eaters.
                I only agree partially with the "watered down" comment. Some is and some is just different, not necessarily "weaker". There is the aspect of not wasting parts of animals and plants in some foreign foods. Many (more affluent or non-farming), Americans have never been exposed to innards and go eew, and will miss the opportunity to see what the dish is like, as a whole.
                Am reading "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and their using ALLof what they buy is reminiscent of what Asians commonly do.

                1. re: Scargod

                  Thai cuisine started to catch the attention of Westerners in the mid 90's when Thai restaurant owners began to adapt their cuisine to Western customers. Then another Thai restaurant noticed the changes that the other Thai restaurant had made and began to incorporate those changes as well...and then it became like a chain reaction where more and more Thai restaurants were serving Americanized Thai cuisine and copying each other's restaurant menus just to be more competitive. I've known many Thai restaurant owners and trust me when I tell you that they do copy and take dishes from other Thai restaurants because they were competing with one another. One Thai restaurant would add a new Western-influenced dish and then the other Thai restaurant would copy it. That's why there's such a thing as "standard" Thai cuisine in the U.S. because pretty much every Thai-American restaurant has a good amount of the same dishes just like how Chinese-American restaurants all have chowmein, sweet and sour pork, etc...

                  Lately, I've been noticing more and more Thai restaurants incorporating Lao and Vietnamese dishes. i.e. Larb, Lao sausages, Lao beef jerky, sticky rice, khao piak (Lao chicken noodle soup), fresh spring rolls, ban xeo (Vietnamese crepe).

                  >>When do you think Thai, Lao or Vietnamese food became mainstream in the US?

                  IMO, Thai has been mainstream (i.e. Westernized) since the late '90s-early '00. Vietnamese has now become mainstream especially with the new crop of Vietnamese-French restaurants to appeal to Americans. But I'm glad that most Vietnamese Pho places still offer tasty soups with innards. =) Lao cuisine is slowly catching on but because we still haven't totally Westernized our dishes, it's going to take a few more years for its popularity to spread. However, I do know that Lao restaurants in the SF Bay Area as well as in Minnesota are doing quite well.

                  Chinese American cuisine has been popular for a very long time now, but I don't think real Chinese cuisine in the U.S. is as popular as Chinese American cuisine (i.e. sweet and sour pork). =)

                  Another funny thing is that more and more Thai restaurants in the U.S. are serving boiled mixed vegetables topped with peanut sauce (btw, this sauce originated from Malaysia/Indonesia). That's funny to me because Thai people don't even eat that dish because they consider it as "dog food" because it's something they would give to their dogs (i.e. imagine mixing together leftover peanut sauce and veggies). They said they created that combination and made a dish out of it because they noticed that Americans enjoyed eating peanut sauce even though the Thai chefs and waiters themselves are grossed out by that veggies/peanut sauce combination since it's really like dog food to them. But since Americans are willing to eat it, Thai restaurants will continue to serve it.