Friday, September 23, 2011

What's in a name

So many people who come to the restaurant to talk to me want to know more about Ped. Maybe the most interesting story about him is how Anousone Phanthavong came to be known as "Ped."

To begin with, Ped is not the nickname his family gave to him. They called him Pec. Pec is not a Lao word because it comes from the name of an American plane. Just as Anousone was born, a bomb exploded close by. People who saw the plane said the name "The Inspector" was painted on its side. From "The Inspector" came "Pec," Anousone's nickname. Pec as in boom!, a bomb just exploded.

I am not exactly sure how Anousone went from Pec to Ped when he started working at True Thai, but I think it is almost like a bad pun that his nickname went from boom to duck, which is what Ped means in Lao. Duck as in the bird, but in English it also means to take cover, a good thing to do when a bomb goes off.

It's OK when people say Ped's name the way it looks, but Ped is actually pronounced more like "bet," and Pec like "bek."

• • •

Thanks again to everyone who has (or is planning to) donate to the memorial fund for Ped's family. Recent news reminded me that this is not the first memorial fund I have promoted on my blog. More than a year and a half ago I encouraged readers to donate to the Seward Market Memorial Fund.

I was reminded of that terrible crime because the trial of accused murderer Mahdi Ali has just gone to jury.  A verdict will bring closure to the families of Osman Elmi, Mohamed Warfa and Anwar Mohammed, the three men killed at Seward Market and Halal Meats. Another man, Ahmed Ali has already pled guilty to three counts of attempted aggravated robbery.

The verdict is in.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


I don't usually announce personnel changes on my blog, but I'm sure you'll all be happy to learn that Ped's nephew Shawn and his nieces, Cindy and Tiffany, are now working at True Thai. Having plenty of Phanthavongs around is a good thing.

True Thai: Lao powered since 2002.

That is kind of a joke. Yes, True Thai has always had Lao employees. And Hmong employees and Cambodian and Burmese employees, as well as some actual Thai, myself included. I know some foodies think that makes us less Thai, but I do not think they understand Southeast Asians very well. Having a Lao cook in a Thai restaurant is like finding out there's a Canadian in the kitchen at Perkins.

As the Buddhist teacher Atisha once said, "Do not be jealous of other's good qualities, but out of admiration adopt them yourself."

Yes, there are differences in how Americans and Southeast Asians run restaurants. In Thailand, hiring a new cook — even under tragic circumstances— means new dishes. In America, most restaurants "break" their cooks in, teaching them their recipes.

In Thailand a restaurant owner wants to see what new dishes the new cook brought with them. The owner and the other cooks sample everything and decide which ones should go on the menu. Sometimes there is spontaneous collaboration and a new cook's dish is modified to better complement what is already on the menu, other times it's a quick thumbs up or thumbs down vote. If you can't decide, you tinker with the recipe until you're happy (or not). You like a dish or you don't. Food can be hard to prepare, but it should never be hard to eat.

We recently updated our menu insert to add two new appetizers: crunchy Mini Sesame Balls and chewy Prawn Puffs. Now we need to update it again to make room for a saucy new seafood entree, True Tilapia, a filet of tilapia served with an irresistable sauce.  We're also adding a change of pace (for us) entree: Grilled Lime Chicken. Chicken, sliced lime, red bell pepper, cilantro and a light, slightly sweet sauce. Served with jasmine white rice. It's not like anything else on our menu, so I think this is a good dish to add.

More new dishes coming soon!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Thank you

Thank you to so very many people. 

Thank you to all of you who have donated to the memorial fund.

Thank you to all of you who sent flowers.

Thank you to all of you who sent cards.

Thank you to all of you who sent emails.

Thank you to everyone who had kind words to say.

Thank you to the police officers from the very busy Third Precinct who stopped in to give us their condolences. 

Thank you to Jim Schwebel and his law firm who have done everything in their power to guide and assist Ped's family during this difficult time. 

As of today, over 10,000 people have read the posts about Ped on this blog, and tens of thousands have read the Star Tribune's reprint of my post and eulogy for Ped. As the truth about that night comes out, the comments being left on news stories have grown increasingly supportive of Ped's family. Negative comments now seem to be focusing on the family's attorneys, but that is OK because Jim Schwebel will not be distracted. After meeting with Jim, I think he is always mindful of this Zen Buddhist teaching:
These reported events are like an arrow shot at my heart, but it lands at my feet. I choose not to bend over, pick it up, and stab myself with it.
Ped was not an angry man. I think he would have been dismayed by all the anger there has been in the wake of his death. I think he would wish to remind us that, as the Dalai Lama has said, "In the practice of tolerance, one's enemy is the best teacher." But he would also remind us that the Dalai Lama also said, "Where ignorance is our master, there is no possibility of real peace."

The peace Ped's family and friends seek is the same peace that the Senser family seeks. In time, what is hidden will become known for the Buddha has told us that "three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth." The truth shall set us all free.

The Buddha also told us that "holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it someone else; you are the one who gets burned." I hope that this post helps to bring peace to those who read it. We will continue to strive for answers and justice, but I pray that there will be peace in our hearts as we do so.