Auto Bulk, Community, education, Lao American, Lao Diaspora, Lao Food, Laos
comments 17

WTFung?

FungBrosLaoFood

My brother recently tagged me in a video about Lao food posted by the infamous FUNG BROS., a YouTube duo who produce hilarious videos highlighting Asian American themes, especially food. They’re pretty popular, too, netting over 900,000 subscribers on YouTube. My first thoughts were, “Holy crap, the FUNG BROS. made a video about Lao food?! Maybe the #laofoodmovement is a real thing.”

When I watched the video, I was not only sorely disappointed, but annoyed and offended by a lot of the misinformation. As a proud Lao American, I know the Lao community does not get the same exposure that other communities receive. So when a chance like this comes along, sending the right message is not only important, but necessary. The Fung Bros. not only missed an opportunity to showcase the flavors and combinations that make Lao food unique, but they failed to provide correct information on the Lao community, leading me to think WTFUNG?! Here are 5 problematic moments in the video:

FungBrosKaPraoFriedRice

Not only is Ka Prao Fried Rice a Thai dish, but if you look closely, the thumbnail on the left is actually Nem Khao, a completely different dish with Lao origins. Once again, Lao is NOT Thai. #doublefail

  1. They went to a “Thai” restaurant and ordered predominantly Thai dishes.

Most of you are probably thinking, “But most Thai restaurants are actually owned by Lao people!” Yes, this is probably true. But going to a restaurant that brands itself as “Thai” and not “Thai/Lao” or “Lao” almost guarantees that you will get mostly Thai dishes with water-downed Lao dishes at best. And indeed, most of the dishes featured in the video are more Thai than they are Lao. Crying tiger? Green curry? Kra pao fried rice? Thai dishes. The desserts? All Thai. Granted, Lao people do eat these dishes, but Lao food isn’t just Thai food with added fermented fish. There are plenty other options that are more traditional and unique to Lao culture like gang nor mai, or lam, mok pa, and different types of jaew, that aren’t featured at all. Even their choice of noodle dish – Lao pho – is a miss; khao piak or khao poon would have been better options to showcase. They also fail to acknowledge how important sticky rice is the Lao people and how it sets us apart from a lot of other cultures, including Thai culture. Aside from padaek, which is actually mentioned multiple times throughout the video, sticky rice is probably the essence of Lao cooking and Lao life.

  1.  Lao-shuns or Lay-o-shuns?

The in-house Lao expert in the video opens by saying, “traditionally, we pronounce it Lao-shun, not Lay-o-shun,” which sent a lot of shocks throughout Facebook and YouTube. So what’s the correct way to say it? Well, the confusion probably comes from the term itself. “Laotian” is an English term Americans derived from the French term, “laotien” or “laotienne,” meaning “of or originating from Laos.” The French pronunciation sounds more like the “Lao-shun” mentioned in the video, while the English pronunciation is “Lay-o-shun.”

Many who are ethnically Lao prefer to use “Lao” as their identifier instead of Laotian and to erase the use of the Westernized/colonialist term. “Lao” is also the term Lao people use in the Lao language. However, Laotian is still widely used in mainstream because it can refer to any of the diverse ethnic groups originating from Laos (be it Lao, Hmong, Tai Dam, Lue, etc). Again, this is because it derived from the French word meaning “of or originating from Laos.”

  1. The difference between Lao & Thai language

I have to admit, this is a hard question to answer, even for someone who has studied both languages. The answers they gave in the video, though, left me squirming in my seat. “Lao is less formal,” “Thai people enunciate more,” and “Thai people say thank you after everything.” These statements really just make Lao people sound like we are an uncivilized people who slur our words, and don’t like to say thank you. Actually, the Lao language is a beautiful language with a long literary history. For those who are interested, here’s a great breakdown on the difference between the two languages.

FungBrosNoLastNames

  1. Lao people did not have last names before coming over to the U.S.

My first reaction was, “Wait, WTF?! Where the heck did they get this from??” Lao people are known for their ridiculously long last names. Remember Kahn Souphanousinphone from King of Hill? Granted, there may have been folks who came from the country side and had to fill out paperwork for the first time during the immigration process. These groups most likely had to invent their last name if they didn’t have one. But, this is more of an exception rather than a general rule. Other people most likely had to change their names to stick together with relatives or wanted a more simplified name to assimilate into American culture. After all, “Hsu” is clearly less intimidating and easier to pronounce than, let’s say, “Chanthaphasouk.”

  1. The Lao are a “dying species.”

While it may be hard to find other Lao people, particularly in Southern California, this makes it sound like the Lao are some ancient culture on the brink of extinction. Actually, California boasts the largest Lao population in the U.S. with about 55,000 Lao in the state alone. In total, there are more than 200,000 Lao living in America, with diaspora in various countries around the world. Laos as a country has a population of 6.77 million, with a couple more million living in Northeastern Thailand. We may be a small community compared to other Asian countries, but we are definitely #laostrong.

FungBrosDontKnow

“But it’s just a fun video! Chill! Besides, at least Lao food is being represented.” I hear you. I also get super excited whenever folks Laopresent. But keep in mind, this may be the ONLY video that people see about Lao food and/or Lao people, and that’s why it’s so important to get it right. How come most people in America don’t know about Laos? Because we’re not adequately taking advantage of opportunities such as this one to tell our stories – stories that reflect our unique culture, experiences, and our constantly changing community.

Fung Bros., thanks for the exposure. This is definitely a good start and it’s sparked a lot of dialogue and conversation on Lao identity. If you’re interested in indulging in more authentic Lao cuisine, sipping on some award-winning Beerlao, and talking Lao culture, hit me up. I’ll make sure to take you to my favorite Lao restaurant in Orange County, not too far from the 626.

-Leslie Chanthaphasouk, lchanthaphasouk@gmail.com

17 Comments

  1. Ok so I stumbled onto this post prior to the video and read the post prior to viewing the video. So I had somewhat of the inverse experience, I was expecting to be appalled by the level of Lao misinformation on the level of King of the Hill. But after viewing the video there certainly are some hits and misses, but I wouldn’t say I was disappointed. Here’s my take and bare in mind this is not to be argumentative, but just responsive to the post.

    1. They went to a Thai Restaurant and ordered predominantly Thai dishes.

    Yes and No. Yes they went to a Lao owned Thai restaurant and ordered mostly Thai food, some even Americanized food (Tiger Beef or whatever that was). Most of the foods they ate were foods common to both Lao and Thai, but that doesn’t mean all of Laos or all of Thailand. If you’re from the Mekong river area there are many shared dishes that are both Lao and Thai as the eastern area of the Mekong (Issan) used to be part of Laos. However, if you go to other areas of Laos, you will find dishes common to both Lao and Vietnam or Cambodia, depending on where the area borders. My family eats many things that are considered both Lao and Thai because we are from the Mekong region bordering Thailand. I have been to other Lao families homes from other regions bordering Cambodia and Vietnam and they have served dishes I’ve never had in my own home.

    2. Pronunciation of Laotion

    I didn’t think much of this, I think your explanation pretty much explains it pretty well. The French influence had alot to do with it, my family in France would pronounce it as you explained.

    3. Lao v. Thai

    This was a very casual and informal observation but it could be true to an extent. Many times when we as Lao think of Thai language we think about the proper grammatical Thai spoken on Thai TV, and yes it is true Thais seems to say “Kop” after every sentence, in my experience anyways. However, this doesn’t make Lao any less formal. If you’ve ever watched Lao TV or speeches they are also spoken very formal Lao, much different than our everyday conversational Lao, that even I have difficulty understanding at times. Similarly, many Thais I know also speak a much more casual dialect in conversation, many Issan pretty much sound Lao to me. On the flip side, when most of left Laos we came speaking the language of our time. Just like everything else, the language has changed. Even the conversational Lao spoken in Laos today is not the same as the conversational Lao my parents speak and have taught to me. When my family from Laos comes to visit, particularly the younger relatives, I find that we do speak differently. We can still speak to and understand each other fine, but there are certainly differences. Sometimes I laugh at them sometimes they laugh at me.

    4. No Last Names

    Yes and No. I have discussed this at length with my parents and there is truth to this. Many of us have traditionally long Lao last names but it is true many Lao people in Laos back in the day did not have last names. For instance I have my paternal Grandmother’s last name because my Grandfather did not have a last name. My Great Grandparents immigrated to Laos from China so although they adopted Lao culture they never took a Lao last name. When my Grandfather married he took my Grandmother’s last name. On my Mother’s side, both my maternal Grandfather and Grandmother had very prominent Lao last names. But I often go online and see many people with Grandfather’s last name who have no relationship to me. I asked my Mother about this. Apparently, when many former soldiers started coming to America as refugees and seeking asylum many of them did not have last names. Many of them took on the last names of their commanding officers believing it would help them get through the process easier if they had the same last names as a high ranking military official. Many also did have last names and chose to endorse their commanding officers last name for the same reason. My Grandfather was a high ranking Colonel in the Royal army. Many of his soldiers took on his name when they came over thus there are many people with the name who aren’t actually of the lineage. This was not uncommon, one of the most common Lao surnames is Insixiengmay or a variation of that spelling. The original Insixiengmays were a prominent military and political family back in Laos. Today there are many forms of the name in use by refugees. Insisienmai, Insisingmay, etc.

    5. “Dying Species”

    I think this was just said as a joke but even things said in jest have some truth to them. In my part of the country there are very few Lao families. Often we do marry outside of our Lao heritage just because there such a limited selection of Lao people to date and marry. So sometimes it does feel like our legacy is slowly diminishing. But as you mentioned Laos as a country isn’t going anywhere so there will always be Lao people to keep reproducing, but here in America, we are becoming a rare bloodline if you’re talking about pure Lao.

    • Hi Joe! Thanks for all your thoughtful comments. Your words remind me that there many ways of being Lao and that’s why it’s so important for us to add our own experiences. Keep commenting, keep the dialogue going, and keep educating! ~Leslie

  2. APH says

    Well said! I too felt uncomfortable with some of the comments made by the ‘lao’ experts.
    Glad someone was able to articulate what I felt.
    However I feel like some of the questions could yield various answers depending on who you ask.

    • Hi there! I absolutely agree that people have their own take on the the questions that were asked in the video. Joe’s comment above really reflects why we need more voices in the conversation. Thanks for reading and commenting. Keep the dialogue going! ~Leslie

    • Thanks for reading! Feel free to comment and add your own perspectives! Stay Lao’d! ~Leslie

  3. Souksada Phimpasouk says

    Always happy to read what is happening in our Laos communities. And always happy to read and know about exciting things that happened in them.

  4. Jeannie says

    I’m not Laotian, but half Thai/ Chinese. My dad grew up in Thailand (Khon Kaen), and I was born in BKK. My dad actually changed his last name to a Thai last name after being made fun of for having a chinese last name (My grandfather is from China). My husband is from Laos… despite my dad eating foods from Thailand, I wasn’t exposed to it much since my mom is Chinese, but grew up in Vietnam, so we ate a lot of Chinese/Vietnamese dishes… if I ate Thai food, it was if the “thai” church that I went to growing up would provide some meal… They made Khao poon, but since I was from TX, I didn’t care much for noodle soup…and there’s the sticky rice, papaya salad… I tried it, but still felt uncomfortable since we never ate it at home…

    NOW, while being with my husband and eating his traditional Lao foods, I find it has way more flavor than Thai food. I don’t even want to go to a thai restaurant since when we tried, I always think the restaurants put too much sugar. Even if my friends want to go, and I try the food, I still think it has no flavor, depth, distinction… my husband is actually surprised at all the dishes that I’m willing to try.. aside from nam khao, khao poon, khao piek, and even the raw type of laab with the blood, etc… I’ve even had the fried bugs… LOL

    As for the girl whom I’m assuming is “Laotian”… I didn’t like her comment of when she was asked what the difference between Lao/ Thai… She really made Lao people seem “low class” and “uncivilized”, and I was pretty offended. My husband and his family struggled after the communist took over in the mid-70’s and even though I’ve never experienced the struggles, searching for food (survival), amongst other things that they had to go through, it just makes him a stronger person.

    I know the Fung Bros are trying to make their show entertaining while trying some dishes…but come on. Show some respect.

  5. Souvany says

    Thai food has had more exposure in mainstream society. To be mainstreamed, the Thai restaurants have watered-down their food to bow down to the mainstream palate. Many people get that watered-down version unless you grew in a Lao community. I grew up in Northern California and ate authentic Lao and Thai food.
    We have to give credit to the Fung brothers for trying out Lao food and sharing that Lao food is yummy.
    I think that the Lao girl didn’t know her Lao food and culture facts–some by-product of being raised in America. People have different misconceptions based on how they grew up-in a Lao community or on the outskirts. The Fung brothers needed a Lao girl who was more knowledgeable. Remember, when they do these shows, the brothers are learning about the culture too. So, the Lao rep showing them the ins-and-outs of Lao food really matters. Because we got some Lao stereotypes and misinformation. That’s why some people were offended. That is why we need to keep up with our people, culture and community. Now, that I am in Texas, the only place to get authentic Lao food is in the community when I don’t have much Lao family nearby.
    Great job on the article Leslie. I enjoyed it!

  6. I think all the new travel and food shows make it easier to serve more authentic foods now, not just for Lao but all ethnic cuisines. I have seen more restaurants moving away from the mainstream and serving home cooked style meals and doing well. Many of the more authentic restaurants serving more traditional Lao food are doing well my area now.

  7. Dianna Syharath says

    Great article! When I first viewed the YouTube video I got excited that the Fung bros were getting in on “Lao Food”. But I was sorely disappointed when they chose dishes like fried rice, gaeng kiew and pho to highlight.

    Fried rice is a common Asian dish. Anyone can make fried rice. My moms take on it is using sa ew and frying with scallions/green onions..
    Gaeng kiew I usually associate with being a Thai dish. My mom did not make this for me ever. Maybe because she’s from a little country village (Banh Nong Pum, Savannakhet)?
    And pho… Everyone has their take on pho – spices and herbs put into the broth can make it Thai style or Viet style.

    I like how you mentioned the gaeng nor mai and the or lam — and jaews! Those are without a doubt Lao foods!
    Stew or soup with dry meat and vegetables, a jaew plus kow niew – Doesn’t get anymore Lao than that.
    Thanks again for this article!
    P.s. Mom finally got into her pa daek that she made in 1992 — good stuff!

  8. V.P says

    Just stumbled on this article but have seen this video when it just got released.
    What I was mostly disappointed about was not the Fung Bros as they were there to learn as well, but with the Lao girl that was suppose to inform them well. She just didn’t seem to know her culture AT ALL.

    Other than that, great read!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.