Meanings of the Term ‘Farang’ (ฝรั่ง)

We’ve all come across the word ‘farang‘ (ฝรั่ง) in some context or other. We all know that in Thai it describes a European person. However, what are the origins and the meanings of this term? It is an assured fact that the word derives from ‘Frank’, a word that originally referred to a Germanic speaking people in the region of today’s France.

The Farang

Western tourists in Thailand (photo credit: Siwaphong Pakdeetawan, Instagram@knack66)

Western tourists in Thailand (photo credit: Siwaphong Pakdeetawan, Instagram@knack66)

Nevertheless, this term was also widely used in medieval Greece, Egypt and further Mediterranean areas attributing to West European people generally. In addition, similar expressions can be found in other languages as well. For instance, there is the Persian ‘farangg’, the Hindi ‘farengi/farangi’, the Tamil ‘pirangi’, the Arabic ‘frangi’ and the Polynesian ‘palangi’. These terms all sound very similar and point to a common origin.

Reminiscence of Portuguese in Siam: Bangkok Santa Cruz Catholic Church (photo credit: Sayompoo Setabhrahmana, wikimedia.org)

Reminiscence of the Portuguese in Siam: Bangkok Santa Cruz Catholic Church (photo credit: Sayompoo Setabhrahmana, wikimedia.org)

In fact, the Thai word ‘farang’ was borrowed from Muslim Persian and Indian traders during the Ayutthaya period (1350-1767). During that time this term referred to the Portuguese who were the first Europeans to visit Siam. Later, the term became a generic Thai word for other Europeans as well and finally to all Caucasians generally. What is more, ‘farang’ describes the West in general. Thailand’s neighbouring countries Cambodia (‘barang’) and Laos (‘falang’) also know this term.

Westerners in Thailand (photo credit: Siwaphong Pakdeetawan, Instagram@knack66)

Westerners in Thailand (photo credit: Siwaphong Pakdeetawan, Instagram@knack66)

Thus, we may say that ‘farang’ is a Thai word referring to ‘Otherness’ whereby there is no specification of culture, nationality, ethnicity and so on…Hence, this word is in fact neutral, even though it might be used as an insult in some contexts. There is for example the expression ‘farang khi nok’ to describe an ill-mannered European. Literally translated this term means ‘guava tree or fruit growing out of bird’s dropping’ since ‘farang’ also means guava which originally came from South America and was brought to Thailand by the Portuguese.

A farang temple guard at Wat Pho (photo credit: Ian Gratton, wikimedia.org)

A European-looking temple guard at Wat Pho (photo credit: Ian Gratton, wikimedia.org)

Nevertheless, ‘farang’ is also used as a classifying category to describe things that come from the West. These may be fruits, vegetables, animals, goods or inventions. For instance, think of ‘man farang’ (potato), ‘mak farang’ (chewing gum) and ‘nang farang’ (Western movie). In fact, we may say that things labelled as ‘farang’ sometimes not merely indicate their foreign character but also their alluring character or in other words, the allurance of ‘farangness’. This may be interpreted as signifing some superior qualities in comparison to the Thai counterparts.

In terms of 'farang', a European in Bangkok (photo credit: Siwaphong Pakdeetawan, Instagram@knack66)

In terms of ‘farang’, a European in Bangkok (photo credit: Siwaphong Pakdeetawan, Instagram@knack66)

Summing up, we may say that ‘farang’ is a cultural signifier of cosmopolitanism that also reflects how Thai people have dealt with Western Otherness and incorporated some foreign aspects into their own culture.

Yours, Sirinya

(Reference: Rachel V. Harrison & Peter Jackson eds. The Ambiguous Allure of the West. Traces of the Colonial in Thailand, 2010)




Thai Pumpkin Custard – Sankaya Dessert

Thai pumpkin custard (Sankaya, สังขยา) is a popular Thai dessert which is often sold in fresh-food markets and as street food. To prepare this dessert, we stuff a whole pumpkin or kabocha (Asian winter squash) with a sweet coconut milk and egg custard which is then steamed. This is a very beautiful and aesthetic dessert with balanced textures which also show the influence of the Portuguese on Thai food.

In fact, due to Portuguese influence in the 1600s, eggs were added to Thai desserts and sweets. In Thai, this dessert is also called ‘Sankaya Fak Thong’, ‘Fak Thong’ referring to ‘golden squash’ (ฟักทอง). This dessert is also known in Cambodia where it is called ‘Sankhya lapov’. The Khmer word for pumpkin is ‘lapov’.

Thai Pumpkin Custard

Thai pumpkin custard (photo credit: verygoodrecipes.com)

Thai pumpkin custard (photo credit: verygoodrecipes.com)

 

Ingredients for 4-5 portions:

  • 1 pumpkin (400-600g)
  • 4 eggs
  • 200ml coconut milk
  • 300g palm sugar
  • 2 TSP rice flour
  • 1/s TSP salt
  • 1000ml limewater
  • 3-4 pandan leaves or pandanus flavour

Preparation:

First prepare the pumpkin: wash it and cut out the top, then remove all the seeds and stringy insides from the pumpkin. In the next step, soak the pumpkin in 1 litre of limewater for 20-30 minutes.

Then prepare the custard: put the four eggs in a large mixing bowl, add salt, coconut milk, rice flour and palm sugar. Add also your pandan leaves or pandanus flavour and mix everything well by hand. It is important that the palm sugar is completely dissolved. Then stain the mixture with cheesecloth and afterwards fill your pumpkin with this custard mixture and put it in a steamer with boiling water. That is to say, place the pumpkin inside the steamer basket and steam for about 40-45 minutes.

Finally take the pumpkin out, let it cool down and you’re ready to serve! Your pumpkin is now like a pie, simply cut a piece out 🙂

Thai pumpkin custard like pie (photo credit: Takeaway, wikimedia.org)

‘Sankaya’ dessert like pie (photo credit: Takeaway, wikimedia.org)

This recipe for steamed pumpkin custard comes from the marvellous cooking channel WhatRecipe.tv. In the following video, you can easily learn how to make this dessert.

I think Thai pumpkin custard is an amazing dessert that may also be a nice exotic pie for Halloween 🙂

Hope you’ll give this a try!

Yours, Sirinya

(P.S. for more information, check out my Thai Food Dictionary)