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  • Writer's pictureSpicy Eyes

Episode 1: How Thai Food Became A 'Thing' In Las Vegas

Updated: Mar 20, 2019

Pad thai noodles being stirred in a wok outdoors
Photo by Jeff Scheid

Hey everyone! We'll be updating the blog with a post for each episode that contains links, photos, and maybe a story or two from behind-the-scenes. For our first episode, we explore just how Thai food became a "Thing" in Las Vegas. When we asked ourselves what off-the-Strip food everyone talks about in Vegas, Thai food was at the top of the list—seriously, everyone we know in town has a favorite Thai place.

But that got us thinking: Just how did Thai food get so popular here in the first place? Our research led us to Mark Padoongpatt, Professor and Director of Asian and Asian American Studies at UNLV. He's the author of Flavors of Empire: Food and the Making of Thai America, a fascinating book that traces the rise of Thai food and Thai immigrant communities in the U.S. In other words, he was the perfect person for us to talk with. Here's a clip with just a snippet of the many insights he shared:

We also interviewed Saipin Chutima, chef at Lotus of Siam, with her daughter Sabrina. You'll hear more about it in the episode, but Lotus of Siam is the restaurant that put the Vegas Thai food scene on the map after the revered late L.A. Times food critic Jonathan Gold called them "the best Thai food in North America." (Spoiler alert: They're really, really good.) Unfortunately, we don't have a link to JGold's original review, but here's the 2012 Saveur article we quote in which he looks back on "the enduring allure of Lotus of Siam."

Kristy Totten and Sonja Swanson with Lotus of Siam owner Saipin Chutima
Your hosts with the Lotus chef herself! (We promise to take better photos in the future)

Lastly, we open and close the episode with our visit to Chaiya Meditation Monastery, a Thai Buddhist temple on the southwest side of town. They hold a food festival fundraiser on the last Sunday of every month from 8 a.m. to noon. Get there early, they sell out fast! Dishes average about $5 each, and you pay by exchanging cash for tokens at the gate. You may want to call ahead to double check as their website isn't updated very often: (702) 456-3838

Many thanks to our friends Kal Muangchoo and Tas Upright (and Mark!) for joining us at the monastery and helping us eat the insane amount of food we ordered. We all tried spicy level 10 papaya salad and no one died. Special thanks to photographer Jeff Scheid for documenting the food festival and sharing the photos with us. He'll be joining us on several other Spicy Eyes adventures so look out for more of his work soon. Here's a sample:

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