THAILAND: Why are there so many Thai restaurants?

I was looking up Thai restaurants near me, and I noticed there were a LOT of locations – about 11 within a 20 minute walk from my house. Now, I do live near an entertainment district, so there are a lot of restaurants in general, but that’s a lot, given that there isn’t really a significant Thai population in Canada. There are only about 20,000 Thai-Canadians, compared to 240,000 Vietnamese-Canadians (with 4 restaurants in the same area).

It turns out there’s a reason why there’s so many Thai restaurants – the Thai government encourages people to open restaurants abroad as part of gastrodiplomacy. Thai government departments help Thai restaurateurs get loans and find suppliers, offer culinary training and restaurant prototypes, and even give the “Thai Select” award to restaurants of particularly high quality and authenticity. Vice news has an excellent article on this in the US context, as well as the video below from Quartz:

This is an important soft power move, as it helps encourage tourism, exports of Thai products, and general goodwill and familiarity. Thailand is not the only country to do this – South Korean, Peru, and Taiwan (and to much less success, North Korea) all take part in this kind of gastrodiplomacy, but Thailand was the first country, and has been disproportionately successful at it.

The Thai government publishes its lists of Thai Select restaurants, including for Canada. I see that not only are there several here in Ottawa, but some of them are right down the street. I know where I’m getting dinner!

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