Thai Is The New Latin Flavor Latinos are flocking to Thai restaurants, says Youth Radio's Evelyn Martinez, because they offer dishes with similar flavors to their own. In turn, Thai restaurants are catering to their Latino clientele by translating menus into Spanish, ultimately creating cross-cultural alliances.
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Thai Is The New Latin Flavor

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Thai Is The New Latin Flavor

Thai Is The New Latin Flavor

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Back now with Day to Day. It is Thursday, time for What's the New What, that's our weekly commentary series from Youth Radio.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

These are stories about what's new in the arts and politics and culture.

BRAND: This week, Evelyn Martinez reports on a new trend in some Los Angeles neighborhoods.

Ms. EVELYN MARTINEZ (Youth Radio): What's the new what? Check this out. I say that Thai is the new Latin flavor.

Ms. CIRIYAN PINPIYAN (Thai Restaurant Owner): We going to have some Thai food today. They have like a siku malis(ph), siku soup, and we have a roast pita con camaron.

Ms. MARTINEZ: Yup, you heard right, camaron is the Spanish word for shrimp. That's Ciriyan Pinpiyan (ph), co-owner of Koondom (ph) Thai Restaurant in Hollywood, where she says at least 70 percent of her customers are Latino, and that's why she translates her whole menu into Spanish.

It turns out that Thai restaurants all over L.A. are making adjustments for their growing number of Latino clientele. Here, Allured Rod (ph) Thai Restaurant in Korea Town, they have a huge neon sign that reads in Spanish sopa di siyeta maris (ph). According to a waitress, 90 percent of their customers are Spanish-speaking Latinos. Marta Jimenez (ph) is one of them.

Ms. MARTA JIMENEZ (Latino): (Spanish Spoken)

Ms. MARTINEZ: Marta Jimenez loves this restaurant. Why? Because she likes that it serves dishes similar to the ones she cooks at home. So why are Thai food restaurants all the rage among Latinos in Los Angeles? Ciriyan Pinpiyan says there are tons of parallels between Thai food and dishes from different Latino cuisines, including Mexican, Peruvian, and Colombian. Even the spicy sour and sweet flavor profiles are similar. My aunt started cooking Thai at home, and she didn't even need to buy new spices. But Pinpiyan says the similarity goes beyond the food.

Ms. PINPIYAN: I always think about like, I've been to Latino, they always say su casa mi casa. It means like your house - my house, right?

Ms. MARTINEZ: She tells me there's actually a similar saying in Thailand. I totally get what she means. The Thais and Latinos are teaching each other a lot about language and culture, like Pinpiyan learning her menu in Spanish. Mark Paduka (ph) is studying the role of food in L.A.'s tight community at the University of Southern California. He tells me this cross-culture exchange in restaurants could be a sign of even bigger alliances.

Mr. MARK PADUKA (Researcher, University of Southern California): The restaurants themselves are political spaces. Again, just by her, you know, learning Spanish, that's already a political commitment, right? As much as it can be a marketing commitment for her, it's still a very strong statement that she's making.

Ms. MARTINEZ: Mark says these kind of exchanges are how multi-culture communities evolve, and I'm all for it, especially if that evolution means more sweet and spicy lunches like this one.

(Soundbite of eating)

Ms. MARTINEZ: Mm! And as long as it tastes good, why not let Thai be the new Latin flavor?

BRAND: Youth Radio's Evelyn Martinez with this week's What's the New What.

CHADWICK: And if you have missed past Whats, you can find them at npr.org/what.

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