Sunday, August 14, 2011

Fake true Thai

I do not get angry very often so before I explain why I'm mad at Trader Joe's "True Thai Tom Yam Soup," I should probably say something about why I named my dining establishment True Thai Restaurant. In Thailand, people say "true Thai" like an American would say "made in America." To be "true Thai," you must be true to everything that is Thailand. That is not an easy thing to do.

What is Thailand? Thailand is the biggest, most fertile agricultural exporter in Asia (not counting India, China or Japan and yes, Burma is bigger but mountains don't count and Indonesia is also bigger but it's broken up into all those islands). There are 64 million Thai. A quarter of the people in Thailand are not entirely Thai. Most of those are ethnically Chinese, a few (like me) ethnically Vietnamese, or Lao or Cambodian, and the rest are members of hill tribes, much like the Hmong before they came to the U.S. But the influence of Thai culture on everyone who lives in Thailand is enormous.

People have lived in Thailand for 40,000 years! Modern day Thailand emerged from the ancient Khmer Kingdom in the 1200s. Thailand is unique among Asian countries in that it was never colonized by the West. Japanese cooking is influenced by the Portuguese. Indian cuisine was subject to British preferences as are some Chinese dishes. Europe changed everything about Asia except Thailand, so when someone says something is true Thai, that means something.

So, about this so-called "True Thai Tom Yam" Trader Joe's is peddling. [I am sitting here tapping my foot as I write this post because I am not amused.] Read the label! True Thai cooking does not include wheat flour as the second most used ingredient! (Water is Trader Joe's primary ingredient.) Thais do not cook with wheat, wheat flour or wheat anything! We are a rice-based culture. We make our bread from rice, our pastry from rice and if it goes into an oven, it probably has rice in it. Thailand grows rice! Thailand does not grow wheat!

I will be fair. The rest of the ingredients (spinach excepted) are very similar to what True Thai Restaurant puts in our Tom Yum soup. Trader Joe is missing some key ingredients and I have my doubts about the quality of some of their spices, but I cannot forgive them for putting wheat in their so-called Tom Yam. Americans with Celiac disease know that Thai restaurants are safe to eat at (watch out for soy sauce but otherwise we're gluten-free). Trader Joe's Tom Yam is not gluten-free, and, frankly, it's not Tom Yum — it's just another rip-off fake Thai food from a German company doing business in the U.S.

True Thai Restaurant works very hard at using only authentic Thai ingredients in our dishes. ข้าวสาลี (wheat) is not an ingredient you see on Thai labels. Wheat is an ingredient you see on Trader Joe labels and I do not think they have any right to call anything they sell true Thai.

OK, I am less mad now but that is partly because I've been listening to music today and it's hard to be mad when you're listening to Sade.