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Bangkok - A Taste of Pa Thong Ko (Thai Crullers) in Yaowarat

A very popular breakfast/snack item in Bangkok of Chinese origin is called the Pa Thong Ko – a Thai naming oddity, as the food item in question is actually Chinese “yau char kuay” (油炸鬼) or “yu tiao” (油條), a deep-fried cruller or long-ish doughnut.

The Thai word “Pa Thong Ko” (Thai: ปาท่องโก๋) actually came from the Teochew-Chinese word for another type of dessert: a steamed cake called “Pak Thong Ko” (白糖糕). Traditionally in both Singapore and Malaysia (e.g. Penang), both yu tiao” (油條) and “pak thong ko” (白糖糕) are sold side-by-side by the same itinerant Teochew (Cantonese: Chiuchow; Mandarin: Chaozhou; Thai-Chinese: Taechew) street-food vendors.

The Teochews come from Swatow (Mandarin: Shantou) district in Guangdong Province, and constitutes the largest Chinese dialect group in Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia. In Singapore, the Teochews are the 2nd-largest Chinese dialect group after the Hokkiens, and Teochew influences are evident in local street foods in Singapore (koay chiap, p’ng koay, oh-chian, etc.). In Malaysia, the Teochews are a sizeable community in Penang (behind the dominant Hokkiens) and Kimberley Street in old Georgetown is known as “Swatow Kay” (or Swatow Street) due to the large presence of Teochews there. A famous old stall on Rope Walk (near Sawtow Kay) still sells “yu tiao” (油條) and “pak thong ko” (白糖糕) side-by-side.

In Thailand, however, the *real* “pak thong ko” (白糖糕), i.e. the steamed cakes, proved unpopular amongst the local Thais, and died out – leaving those same street-food vendors selling only the deep-fried crullers or “yu tiao” (油條). However, local Thais had by then mistook the name “pak thong ko” (白糖糕) to refer to the deep-fried crullers – perhaps because the itinerant street-vendors in the old days would cry out “Pak Thong Ko, Yau Char Kwai” and the folks only picked up on the first item. Anyway, that was how “yu tiao” (油條) came to be known in Thai as “Pa Thong Ko” (Thai: ปาท่องโก๋) . To the Chinese, this is as odd as a non-American referring to a burger as a hot dog :-D

The most popular Pa Thong Ko stall in Thanon Yaowarat is located near the Chinatown Scala Sharksfin restaurant (that would be near 483-5 Yaowarat Road, Corner Chalermburi, Samphanthawong) – you won’t miss it as the cruller are freshly deep-fried and customers would be crowding around the stall.

There’s another Pa Thong Ko stall, near the Kapoh Pla Rert Rot stall which I wrote about in another thread:
http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/832511

But this stall grills pre-fried – not as crisp/fresh-tasting, and then topped the grilled & cut-up morsels with your choice of topping: sangkaya (pandan-scented egg custard), chocolate, strawberry or sweetened condensed milk. I actually preferred to eat Pa Thong Ko plain, freshly-fried, still hot and crisp.

 
 
 
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  1. Fascinating!! A very good read, informative and quite entertaining too. Thanks.

    I guess the green goo in that last pic is the sangkaya? Even that name is interesting - "sang" + "kaya"? So is "sang" the same as 'pandan' in Thai? Or the equivalent of "green" (or Cantonese "cheng"/"chaeng" ?)

    2 Replies
    1. re: huiray

      Well, I do apologize for the plodding, repetitive, error-ridden description in my post above - I was making notes on my Moleskine diary amidst the hustle & bustle of Yaowarat, and also had limited Internet time to update my post onto Chowhound.

      With regards to "sangkaya", it's actually one word in Thai, i.e. just like our "kaya"!

      The Thai word for pandan is "bai toey", A pandan-flavored kaya would be called "sangkaya bai toey" in Thailand.

      1. re: klyeoh

        Surely you jest. :-)
        You were quite eloquent.

    2. I just served some yu tiao to my mahjong kakis today, one of whom is a Thai-Chinese from Bangkok. When I told her to try the pak tong ko, she smiled so widely. My other friends were laughing. We had such a fun time laughing over these naming "idiosyncrasies". Isn't amazing how food travels?

      4 Replies
      1. re: M_Gomez

        Interestingly, I found a place here in KL (basement food court area of Mid-Valley Megamall) which served Thai-style "Sangkaya", but with steamed bread.

        There is also a "yu tiao" place nearby (called "I Love YU") so one can buy the fritters from the other stall to dunk into the "sangkaya" from this stall. DIY Thai "pa thong ko" dessert!

        1. re: klyeoh

          SBread - that's the name of the outlet in KL's Mid-Valley Megamall which sells Thai "sangkaya" - I was back there again yesterday evening. Absolutely delish!

          Thai "sangkaya" tend to be more liquid than Singaporean or Malaysian "kaya", and less eggy & sweet.

          SBread normally served its "sangkaya", which comes in either "pandan" or taro flavors, with steamed bread, the way they do in Thailand. The last time I was at the Erawan Tea Room in Bangkok, they served a marvellous version of steamed white bread with "sangkaya" dip.

           
           
          1. re: klyeoh

            I think Thai sangkaya is an acquired taste, klyeoh. I first tried it in Bangkok a few years ago and didn't quite like it. I tried it again at Mid-Valley last night. Still don't like it:- too liquid and not tasty enough -- no strong pandan smell or rich egg taste.

            Anyway, we were passing through on our way to Genting Highlands with some visiting relatives, so I didn't have time to call or catch up with you. Next time you come to Penang, we catch up?

            1. re: penang_rojak

              P_R, try not to compare sangkaya to kaya, and you'll appreciate it for what it is. I know it's difficult, as the 2 items obviously share common origins somewhere, somehow, some time ago.
              Enjoy Genting Highlands casino - don't lose your shirt! :-D

      2. klyeoh, are there any good Thai restaurants in Yaowarat Road that you can recommend?

        1 Reply
        1. re: makanputra

          I can only think of Chinese-Taechew (潮州) restaurants in that area (on Thanon Phat Sai, which runs parallel to Thanon Yaowarat) - not sure if those are what you'd be looking for: (1) Tan Jai Yun, (2) Sin Kwang Meng, and (3) Jim Jim. It *is* Chinatown, after all ;-)

           
           
           
        2. haha i looked at the pictures before i finished reading the whole thing and was like that is not 白糖糕 what is he talking about?

          4 Replies
          1. re: Lau

            Fascinating, isn't it? :-)

            Wonder what other food stuffs anywhere else in the world are wrongly labelled when adopted by another culture, and described in another language.

            1. re: klyeoh

              haha it really is fascinating

              1. re: Lau

                Lau, talking about my earlier statement above:

                "Wonder what other food stuffs anywhere else in the world are wrongly labelled when adopted by another culture, and described in another language."

                Have you been following this thread on the General Topics board? Apparently, in NY, "chow mein" does *not* have any "mein" (noodles) in it :-D
                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/629916

                1. re: klyeoh

                  i have not, but i just took a look at it and i think something got lost in translation, but chow mein definitely has mein in it haha