Every wonder why there are so many Thai restaurants? Given the proportion of Thai folks in the US, they punch WAY over their weight class in terms of ubiquity of cuisine (which is awesome), but how did that happen?
Turns out, there’s a thing called “gastrodipolmacy:”
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 McDonald’s of Thai food never quite materialized as a government-operated megachain, but the broader goal of a government-supported increase in the number of Thai restaurants abroad has. The Thai government has continued earmarking funds for the global proliferation of galangal root and fish sauce, and it’s paid off.
The strategies for achieving this increase were manifold, run in parallel by various departments of the government. The Ministry of Commerce’s Department of Export Promotion, most likely run by bureaucrats rather than restaurateurs, drew up prototypes for three different “master restaurants,” which investors could choose as a sort of prefabricated restaurant plan, from aesthetic to menu offerings. Elephant Jump would be the fast casual option, at $5 to $15 per person; Cool Basil would be the mid-priced option at $15 to $25 a head; and the Golden Leaf prototype would cost diners $25 to $30, with décor featuring “authentic Thai fabrics and objets d’art.” (Does your favorite Thai spot have objets d’art? The restaurant may have been built from a government prototype.)
This is brilliant and awesome.