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Flavors of EmpireFood and the Making of Thai America$
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Mark Padoongpatt

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780520293731

Published to California Scholarship Online: May 2018

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520293731.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM CALIFORNIA SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.california.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of California Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CALSO for personal use.date: 19 September 2021

Too Hot to Handle?

Too Hot to Handle?

Restaurants and Thai American Identity

(p.85) Three Too Hot to Handle?
Flavors of Empire

Mark Padoongpatt

University of California Press

This chapter explores the Thai restaurant boom in Los Angeles in the 1970s and 1980s to show how Thais grappled with U.S. racial, gender, and class structures through the food-service industry. The boom, coupled with new patterns of discretionary spending, turned Thai restaurants into culinary contact zones where sensory experiences reestablished racial boundaries and sustained racial thinking and practices. To distinguish Thai food from other Asian cuisines, Thai restaurateurs—along with white food critics—used race, ethnicity, and nation to produce novelty and product differentiation in the marketing of Thai cuisine. In explaining to the American public how Thais were unique from other Asians based on what they cooked and ate, they relied on taste and smell to construct Thais as an exotic non-white Other. The chapter also discusses how Thai restaurants reinforced, created, and masked gender and class divisions within the community through labor practices behind the kitchen door.

Keywords:   Thai restaurants, Los Angeles, food critics, Thai restaurateurs, culinary contact zones, sensory, novelty, taste, exotic, non-white Other

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