In the last two decades, Thai food has become a contender for one of the most popular cuisines in the United States, imported by Thai immigrants to the American shores. While the sheer number of Mexican and Chinese restaurants is to be expected given the amount of representation the heritages have in America, Thai food has no such demographic backing.
As new restaurants continue to open and become staples of the takeout scene, especially in big cities like New York and Los Angeles, it begs the question – why there are so many Thai restaurants in the first place?
With only about 300,000 Thai Americans present in the country, they make up a mere fraction of the number of Mexican Americans, but with nearly 5,000+ Thai restaurants across the country, they have a proportionally stronger culinary impact. The reason is not that Thai immigrants are any more interested in opening restaurants than Mexican or Chinese Americans.
Their cuisine has proliferated in America due to what’s called ‘gastrodiplomacy,’ meaning the Thai government has allotted a portion of its revenue for training chefs and restauranteurs in order for them to bring more Thai food to America.
While initially planned as a global chain of Thai restaurants with three different models for three varying levels of price point, independent restaurants operated by Thai nationals trained in Thai government-funded programs have taken hold.
The government has not only trained a vast number of chefs to come to the US, they’ve also helped to teach them how to adjust their recipes for local taste, as well as facilitated the conversation between Thai chefs and foreign business investors who may have more capital on hand. As a result, Thai restaurants have been opening up the world over, bringing the delicate flavors of galangal and lemongrass to an ever-increasing audience of people.