At various supermarkets, in the ethnic food section, you can find American made or even Thai made peanut sauce. It is everywhere and seems to get more popular by the day. People pour it on salad, eat it with rice or noodles and cook meat in it.
I find this kind of funny because my friends and family in Thailand don't know what 'peanut sauce' is. We don't have the 'peanut sauce' in Thai cuisine as the Thais in Thailand know it. We put ground peanuts, as just another ingredient, in a variety of dishes. The three dishes that are well known to Americans that havea sauce with peanuts are satay sauce, cubed tofu sauce and tod mun sauce. When you find both these dishes in Thailand, the peanuts are coarsely ground so that they're like thick grains of sand, and not mud or peanut butter.
In Thai cuisine, you have 3 choices for peanut sauce:
- Satay is a marinated meat grilled on skewers, served with curry like sauce and cucumber salad. The satay peanut dipping sauce is most likely what people think of when they think of Thai Peanut Sauce. It is made from red curry paste, coconut milk, fish sauce, tamarind, sugar and ground peanuts.
- Tod mun is a spicy fish cake, served with cucumber sauce. The sauce consists of sliced cucumbers, vinegar, ground fresh chilies, sugar and is topped with ground peanuts for texture. Cucumber is the main ingredient of the sauce, not the peanuts.
It must be that peanut sauce is American Fusion cuisine and part of its popularity comes from the sauce manufacturers who try to bring foreign tastes to your local supermarket. Linking it with Thai cuisine must have seemed like a good marketing idea. As long as Thai food doesn't get 'LaChoy'ed', that's ok.