Ever notice that Thai restaurants are popping up left and right recently. Well, there’s a reason for that, and the government of Thailand has a big hand in it. It’s called Gastrodiplomacy and it’s a way for non-Thai people to learn about Thai culture and a smart way to get people to visit Thailand, according to Quartz. But this Thai restaurant boom isn’t just located in the United States. Europe and other countries are seeing a record number of Thai food joints in the name of Gastrodiplomacy.
According to the Pew Research Center, there are around 300,000 people of Thai ethnicity living in the United States. It’s relatively a small population as there are over 21 million Asian Americans living in the U.S today. But the ratio of Thai restaurants to Thai Americans is the highest of any Asian ethnicity or really any other ethnicity.
According to Vice, there are an estimated 5,342 Thai restaurants in the United States. So for every 56 Thai Americans, there is one Thai restaurant. Contrast that to Chinese Americans who have a population of about 5 million, according to the Pew Research Center. And in the United States, there are around 41,000 Chinese restaurants. This beats out the number of Mcdonalds worldwide. This means that for every 121 Chinese Americans there is one Chinese restaurant in the United States. Or if Mexican restaurants in the United States are factored in, there is one Mexican restaurant for every 650 Mexican Americans.
According to Quartz, the Thai government started to promote its food starting in 2002. This was a great time as foodie culture and globalization was taking off. The Thai government recognized early that food was the first foray into a culture and it wanted to use that to get people interested in its culture.
So in 2002, they used three methods to promote their food. First, they trained Thai chefs. Second, they loaned money to restauranteurs who wanted to set up shop in the United States. And finally, they studied what westerners liked in their food and developed three prototypes to attract non-Thai people. The three were called “Golden Leaf” which was high end and classic, “Cool Basil” which was contemporary and fusion, and “Elephant Jump” which was fast food and adaptable.
“Thailand was the first to really conduct a Gastrodiplomacy campaign, and they helped spread Thai restaurants as a kind of a Thai Embassy if you will,” Paul Rockower, an expert on Gastrodiplomacy told Quartz.
“Its a way of promoting soft power through promoting culture by focusing on cuisine as the way to connect people,” Rockower continued.
There are now over 15,000 Thai restaurants outside of Thailand. This was one factor in helping Thailand becoming the number one tourist destination in Asia. According to Bloomberg, Thailand collected $57 billion in tourist dollars last year beating out heavyweights like Japan and China. Globally, Thailand comes in fourth place in terms of tourist bucks, only trailing the United States, France, and Spain.
Thailand’s Gastrodiplomacy has been so successful that other countries like S.Korea and Japan are joining in. If effective, it could create a huge economic boom for their tourism economy.
This is great for everyone who loves food. Pad Thai and Pad Kraw Pao with some Thai iced tea can’t be beat. More Thai food is always a good thing and since they’re everywhere, the less it’ll cost to take an Uber.