13 votes

The surprising reason that there are so many Thai restaurants in America

3 comments

  1. MimicSquid
    Link
    Previous discussion here. The thing that really interests me about this is that it's an explicitly government-supported endeavor. Chinese restaurants had the same sort of structural support, but...

    Previous discussion here.

    The thing that really interests me about this is that it's an explicitly government-supported endeavor. Chinese restaurants had the same sort of structural support, but it was engineered the other way around, with local immigrant-support groups training new Chinese immigrants how to run a restaurant. The Search for General Tso is a great documentary that touches on that process.

    For Thailand to explicitly fund restaurants to enhance their soft power is a clever thing. People may know nothing about the country, but with positive experiences with the food comes a little bit of friendliness that may not have otherwise existed.

    10 votes
  2. [2]
    skybrian
    Link
    From the article: [...] [...] [...]

    From the article:

    Using a tactic now known as gastrodiplomacy or culinary diplomacy, the government of Thailand has intentionally bolstered the presence of Thai cuisine outside of Thailand to increase its export and tourism revenues, as well as its prominence on the cultural and diplomatic stages. In 2001, the Thai government established the Global Thai Restaurant Company, Ltd., in an effort to establish at least 3,000 Thai restaurants worldwide. At the time, Thai deputy commerce minister Goanpot Asvinvichit told the Wall Street Journal that the government hoped the chain would be “like the McDonald’s of Thai food.” Apparently, the government had been training chefs at its culinary training facilities to send abroad for the previous decade, but this project formalized and enhanced these efforts significantly.

    [...]

    The Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Industry, the Thailand National Food Institute, the public Kasetsart University, and the Ministry of Agriculture were all involved in the push to bolster Thai food abroad, from training chefs to inspecting exports to researching new recipes to appeal to foreign tastes. A special visa was even established in New Zealand specifically for Thai chefs.

    [...]

    In addition to doubling as taste testers, Thai diplomats in the US have been charged with supporting Thai restaurants in both logistics and strategy. “When we received the award, the Ministry of Thai Trade actually came to my restaurant and we discussed about how we can promote more and how they will support us in getting more products from Thailand,” said John Sungkamee of Emporium Thai in LA. “She suggested I should look into promoting the Thai rice berry. She also recommended the suppliers to obtain them from.” Sungkamee told me that he and other Thai restaurant owners across the country maintain a group chat, and the now-former Thai Consul General in LA has been an active member.

    [...]

    Inspired by Thailand’s success, South Korea, for example, has earmarked tens of millions of dollars beginning in 2009 for its Korean Cuisine to the World campaign. Taiwan has followed suit, as has Peru with its Cocina Peruana Para el Mundo (“Peruvian Cuisine for the World;” quite creative) initiative, as well as Malaysia (“Malaysia Kitchen for the World 2010”—clearly there’s a pattern here).

    5 votes
    1. Greg
      Link Parent
      Huh! I knew the background for Thai restaurants but I wasn’t aware that others had done the same. Now that I’m thinking about it, there does seem to be noticeably higher representation around me...

      Huh! I knew the background for Thai restaurants but I wasn’t aware that others had done the same.

      Now that I’m thinking about it, there does seem to be noticeably higher representation around me for Korean food in general and Taiwanese fried chicken places specifically compared to a lot of other cuisines, although that could also be coincidence or confirmation bias at work. I can only think of two Peruvian restaurants, but that’s compared to zero for most South American countries.

      Come to think of it, if bubble tea specifically was a government play then that’s got to be a success story for the ages!

      5 votes