The Anlan Style of Thai Food
“Basil Ultraviolet,” a wine with Basil leaves; “Tom Yum Forest,” a wine with lemon leaves and lemongrass which tastes like Tom Yum Soup; “Ruby,” a wine with rose snow....
All these fancy names came from a Thai girl at Red Basil Thai Restaurant, who rendered the giant menu her own creative touch.
This Thai girl, Wipawee Kruakam, has a Chinese name Anlan. A decade ago, she had yearned to be in the city of Wuhan in China. In 2007, she studied at Khon Kaen University in Thailand, where she met her Chinese teacher from Wuhan University, from whom she learned about the vast East Lake, the beautiful romantic cherry blossoms, and the ceaselessly rolling Yangtze River.
During the summer vacation in her junior year, she came to Wuhan University for the first time for a two- month exchange program. In 2011, Anlan returned to Wuhan University to pursue her post-graduate degree in business management. Three years later, she learned by chance that a Thai restaurant called Red Basil was opening in Wuhan. She applied and successfully became the “cultural ambassador” of the restaurant, acting as a translator between the Thai chefs and the Chinese customers and staff. Since then, Anlan has started a whole new life, and she has become determined to introduce Thai foods to China.
In order to make the customers know and accept Thai food, Anlan racked her brains. “Names of the dishes should be crystal clear instead of being confusing or unintelligible.” Anlan says this because when she first came to China, she was confused by many dish names. “Where is the fish when the name is ‘Fishy Pork’?” “Oh my God, what is ‘ Couple’s Lung Slices’? Is that even edible?” “Are there Ants in ‘ Ants in the Tree’?”… Anlan still felt astonished when recalling all these.
So, Anlan has been very careful with the translation of dish names. She intends to make the names easy to remember and understand, blending Chinese culture and Chinese people’s customary understanding into it, so that it sounds enticing and inviting. Not long ago, the restaurant launched a deepfried shrimp dish, which is made from “Tamarind” juice from the Thai fruit of the same name. The juice is added to the fried big shrimp, making the shrimp taste more delicious. Anlan named it “Tamarind Fried Big Shrimp.”
Anlan understands that China has an extensive and profound food culture, which includes various ways of cooking such as stir- frying, steaming, braising, stewing, deep-frying, frying, roasting, and so on. Therefore, in order to accurately translate the dish names, Anlan often refers to her Chinese dictionary as well as her Chinese colleagues over and over again. Sometimes she also consults her guests and passes on accurate opinions to the chefs so that a mutual understanding can be reached over the form and content of a dish.
With her language proficiency in Chinese, Anlan may easily become a teacher and ambassador for Chinese-Thai cultural exchange in Thailand, but that’s not what she hopes for. “I like the life here in China. I also enjoy
making friends with Chinese people. In the future, even if I return to my hometown, I will choose to work in a Chinese factory.”
We learned later that Anlan’s feelings towards China were actually planted at a very young age. Her grandmother was Chinese, and she told her and her sister a lot of Chinese stories when they were little. Today, her younger sister has also learned Chinese well and is now a Chinese teacher at a high school in her hometown.
(Translation: Lu Qiongyao)
Anlan (right) with Thai actress Mo Amena (middle) in Red Basil