Same, Same…but Different!

Today is the day of the Lunar New Year 2011!  While China and other countries in Asia ring in the Lunar Year of the Rabbit, Vietnamese are purring about the year of the Cat.

For me, it does not really matter which one you choose to name this Lunar New year, Rabbit or Cat. Like the title of this blog post, it’s ‘same, same’ Lunar New Year ‘but different’ name.

What’s same, same but different?

If you have ever had the pleasure of visiting Thailand, on business or for holiday, chances are you have spent at least a few days in that most “amazing” of Thai places for shopping and eating, Bangkok.

And, although most people who visit Bangkok find learning to speak some Thai (with its 5 tones) quite difficult, many end up quickly picking up a few handy words and phrases—some of which are actually English, but not the kind of English heard anywhere else.

One of the most commonly used expressions is “same, same”.  Its meaning is nearly identical to the more standard English word said only once, “same,” or in everyday conversation something like, “I am or I feel the same (as you).”

Who knows where this strange habit of repeating the word “same” two times came from? But it is so common on the streets of Bangkok that there are even gag t-shirts with “Same, Same” on the front and “But Different” on the back.

‘Same, same but different’ is called Tinglish (US) or Thaiglish (UK) (also Thenglish, Thailish or Thainglish) is the imperfect form of English produced by native Thai speakers due to language interference from the first language

Although I am not a Thai, I can really relate with “Same, same but different” which I guess it means ‘the same but not exactly the same’. In my country we have a phrase ‘Serupa tapi Tak Sama’ literally means ‘Similar but not the Same’.

I noticed that the notion of things being the “same, same, but different” is equally common within the world of cooking.

In this post I want to show some examples of ‘same, same but different dishes’:

Babi Hong, one of Indonesian Chinese Lunar New Year’s dishes, is pork braised in dark soy sauce, often cooked with shitake mushroom. I learned that it is Hokkien food, also called “Hong Bak” or “Loh Bak”.

And there is another version of Babi Hong, same same (but different) which is cooked with salted mustard cabbage:

This version of Babi Hong looks similar to a Chinese dish called Mui Choi Khau Yoke (Braised Pork Belly with preserved mustard cabbage)

In Vietnam, Thịt Kho Nước Dừa , “pok stewed in coconut juice”,  is a traditional dish made of pork belly and medium boiled eggs stewed in a broth-like sauce made overnight of young coconut juice and nuoc mam.

Same, same (but different) with Sek Ba in Indonesia:

Bánh chưng (Vietnamese food): is a tightly packed sticky rice with meat fillings wrapped in Dong (Phrynium placentarium) leaves.

Same, same (but different) with Bacang in Indonesian: a tightly packed (sticky) rice with meat fillings wrapped in bamboo leaves.

Makizushi or ‘rolled sushi’ or nori roll (Japanese food): is a cylindrical piece, formed with the help of a bamboo mat, called a makisu, generally wrapped in nori but can occasionally be found wrapped in a thin omelette, soy paper, cucumber, or parsley.

Same, same (but different) with Lemper (Indonesian food): is a rolled  sticky rice with chicken meat filling, individually wrapped in banana leaf  and  steamed or grilled  before serving.

Sometimes lemper is also found wrapped in thin omelette and called ‘Semar mendem’.

Chè xôi nước is a Vietnamese dessert consisting of glutinous rice balls with mung bean paste fillings. The balls are served in a thick, sweet clear or brown liquid made of water, sugar, and grated ginger root. It is generally warmed before eating and garnished with sesame seeds.

Same, same (but different) with Wedang Ronde: a hot Indonesian dessert containing glutinous rice balls stuffed with peanut paste, floating in a hot and sweet ginger and lemongrass tea.

Es Campur is an authentic Indonesian dessert made of crushed ice with avocado, jackfruit, grass jelly and palm seed topped with syrup and condensed milk.

In the past, it used a special machine to crush the ice

Another version of Es Campur is called Es Teler

In Malaysia, they have Ice Kacang which is same, same but different with Ice Campur. Formerly it was made of only shaved ice and red beans. Today, ice kacang generally comes in bright colours, and with different fruit cocktails and dressings. Several varieties have also been introduced, those of which contain aloe vera in one form or another (e.g. jelly).

I believe there must be many more ‘same, same but different’ dishes across different countries in Asia……which I can’t cover all in this post.

And to close this post, it’s worth to mention that ‘Same, Same, But Different’ is also used as the title of a 2009 German drama film starring David Kross and directed by Detlev Buck.The script follows the Benjamin Prüfer’s 2006 article which was published in a magazine and later as a novel in 2007.

‘Same Same But Different’ is indeed an Asian-English phrase, mainly used in all South East Asia, although the film is set in Cambodia.

Happy Lunar New Year!


  • Wikipedia
  • Wikimedia photos
  • Different Food Blogs
  • Flickr photos
  • Vietnamese foods: Saigon cuisine

2 responses to “Same, Same…but Different!

  1. Yvette van de Meerakker

    Hi Wina,
    I love your website, the stories you right, the food you talk about.
    I also enjoyed the food of Vietnam last week when I was there. Although I do favour the Thai and Indonesia kitchen more.

    See you soon. Yvette

  2. All the stuff that you put here are not Indonesian dishes. Those are Chinese dishes cooked by Chinese in Indonesia. In addition, you may want to learn Hokkian so that you know the name.

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