BANGKOK — “What’s this?” a friend asks, pointing to kanom piak poon on a menu. “A Thai dessert,” comes the reply. They then point at kanom thuay foo and kanom naam dokmai in succession. “That’s also a Thai dessert, and another one.”
Those tired of being at a loss for words to understand or explain Thai food or confused by contradictory explanations of what they are eating can now turn to their cleverphones.
Thai Food Terms is a series of apps with 1,600 entries in English, French, German, Italian, Spain, Chinese and Japanese, produced by the professors at the Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University.
Search the app for terms in Thai or another language to find the corresponding translation. Entries are also organized by category of food item.
“Some words were more difficult to translate, such as the types of Thai baskets,” David Guiterrez, a professor of Spanish who translated many Thai terms into Spanish said. “In Spanish, we have one word: cesta. So I had to describe it by how it looks, calling it a pequena cesta, grande cesta, ancha cesta and so on.”
The app and its translations were done by language experts at the Chalermprakiat Center of Translation and Interpretation. Some words are transliterated (e.g. tom yam koong), some are translated (kratong thong dessert becomes Golden Cup), some menus were described in English (gai hor baitoey becomes Chicken Wrapped in Pandanus Leaves) while new names were made up for names that would not have translated well (kang kao puek becomes Triangle Taro instead of Bat Taro). Poh-taek soup can be called Spicy Seafood Soup, but a more artistic option is available: The Fish Trap Bursts.
Not only are dish and drink names translated, but the app also identifies the English names of local vegetables, fruits, spices and edible flowers. Culinary terms and kitchen utensils are named for less fumbling around in the kitchen. Pictures of food items, as well and audio in both Thai and the downloaded language, accompany every entry.
“When we meet foreigners, we talk about languages first, then trade our Line IDs second, and of course third we talk about food,” Chai Wutiwiwatchai, director of the National Electronics and Computer Technology Center who developed the app said. “Language and tech cannot be separate.”
That means no more translating all red-colored curries as “red curry” for hungry friends.
“The application will also be useful for the general public and professional alike, from translators and interpreters to university students, tour guides, airline employees, hotel staff, Thai food-related business operators as well as tourists and visitors to our country,” said Kingkarn Thepkanchana, faculty dean.
The Thai Food Terms app for all seven languages, both the free and paid versions will soon be available. The ones currently available on the iOS store are: the free Spanish, Japanese and German versions and the paid English, Chinese, Japanese, and German ones. All seven languages are available for download in the Google Play Store, with the full range of translations available via in-app purchases. The free versions have about a tenth of the 1,600 terms, while the full versions cost B99.