One of the thrills of living in another country is discovering something from your homeland that you have absolutely no inkling of. When I first came into contact with lot chong Singapore* (ลอดช่องสิงคโปร์), a Thai iced dessert of green noodle-like strands doused in coconut milk, I remember feeling a slight embarrassment of not knowing my native cuisine well enough. But I’d quickly assumed that this pseudo-Singapore dessert was a Thai variant of the famed cendol that we all know so well in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. After all, this being Southeast Asia, there are lots of dishes, which are, in regional speak, ‘same, same but different’.
* This dessert also goes by various names, including lot chong naam kathi and lot chong thai, which are very similar desserts made of different ingredients. However, the impression I get is that most Thais use the different names interchangeably—and rather loosely.
Lot chong Singapore dropped off my attention radar and several years came to pass before my interest in it was piqued again. I couldn’t remember what sparked off the topic, but it was probably a spirited discussion of must-try dishes in Singapore with a colleague who was planning to visit the city, when I said something along the lines of “but you know, you can’t find lot chong Singapore in Singapore.”
Another colleague turned to me and said, “Well, that’s not surprising. Lot chong Singapore isn’t Singaporean. It’s Thai and it comes from an old stall in Yaowarat with the name Singapore.”
Really? Information is rather scarce in English, so I googled in Thai to find out more. Despite its namesake, lot chong Singapore’s provenance has nothing to do with the Little Red Dot. (Phew! So I wasn’t ignorant for not knowing because it didn’t originate from Singapore in the first place.)
Some 60 years earlier, there was a store in Yaowarat that specialized in lot chong, and patrons started calling its dessert lot chong Singapore as the shop was located near a building formerly known as the Singapore Theatre (later called Chalermburi Theatre). Since then, the name stuck and lot chong Singapore has been used to describe this particular Thai dessert. The store still stands—and sells lot chong—till today.
Last Sunday, I cajoled Mr. P, May and a friend of hers to join me, the only Singaporean in the group, to ‘unravel the mystery of lot chong Singapore.’ Aided by iPhone, we found the famed dessert venue, Singapore Potchana, without much problem. “Oh, there it is,” I exclaimed, when I saw the Chinese and Thai characters of ‘Singapore’ prominently displayed on its signages.
We ordered one glass of lot chong Singapore each. Filled with semi-translucent, pale-green noodles and jackfruit bits, this iced dessert was a refreshing thirst-quencher. The drink was sweet (but not overly so); the jellies were chewy; and the presence of jackfruit gave it a mild, pleasant fragrance. Unlike typical lot chong that uses rice flour for the jelly-noodles, Singapore Pochana’s version is made of tapioca starch and comes served with a small teaspoon—others use fat bubble tea straws instead—for scooping up the green ‘worms’, but you could request for a straw too.
Ah, so it seems like this food mystery is solved, but wait…
Interestingly, Mr. P recalls his mum calling tapioca flour as paeng Singapore (แป้งสิงคโปร์), which literally means Singapore powder in Thai. And that sent us on another round of information digging on the Internet. According to online sources, Thailand used to import tapioca starch from Singapore, and hence the reference to the island-state for this product. (Mr. P thinks it’s probably only the older generations who will remember using this name as he seldom hears the term paeng Singapore nowadays.) To differentiate the traditional lot chong, which uses rice flour, from the tapioca-inspired version, people started calling the latter lot chong Singapore.
So is lot chong Singapore is Singaporean or Thai? When did this dessert first appear in Thailand? It’s likely Thai in my opinion, but probably a traditional dessert given a new twist as Thai cuisine came into contact with different people, cultures and ingredients. The exact birthplace of lot chong Singapore seems to have gotten murky over the years, but if anyone knows the full story, do give a shout here! Whatever it is, I’m fascinated by Southeast Asia’s food heritage. ^^
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Singapore Pochana | สิงคโปร์โภชนา
Address: 680 – 682 Charoenkrung Road (opposite UOB bank),
Samphanthawong District, Bangkok, Thailand
Price: 18 baht per glass