Thai food is one of my top 3 favorite cuisines, as my appetite is always down to indulge pad see ew or tom kha soup. In my homes of New York City and Los Angeles, there are countless Thai restaurants throughout these cities especially in the small cultural enclaves in Hells Kitchen (NYC) and East Hollywood (LA). But I’ve always wondered, with all these restaurants, where are all the Thai people? I would expect that the abundance of restaurants mirrored a thriving community, but it was rare for me to meet someone of Thai decent outside of a restaurant setting.
Vice Media’s Munchies also pondered the same thing and dove right into the question. Mexican and Chinese restaurants are more prevalent in the US, but that could be a direct correlation to the number of residents who fall within these demographics. There are 36 million Mexican Americans and 5 million Chinese Americans, which help create a supply and demand for these respective cuisines. However, there are only 300 thousand Thai Americans. So what’s the cause for the high restaurant to individual ratio? The Thai government.
The government created the Global Thai Restaurant Company, Ltd in 2001 with the goal of establishing at least 3,000 Thai restaurants worldwide, investing and funding those nationals who hadculinary aspirations. The strategy was to drive export and tourism revenue through gastrodiplomacy. It was hypothesized that ff someone outside of Thailand loved pad thai, they could potentially have a higher inclination to take to Bangkok and indulge in the real deal. This investment has led to an influx of business in the United States, as there are over 5,000 Thai restaurants in the country.
The next time you hit up your favorite Thai spots, try to see if they have a “Thai Select” certificate, which was given out to select restaurants by the Ministry of Commerce to denote quality and authenticity. Read the full Munchies article here.