Prawn Pad See Ew isolated on white background. Pad See Ew is thai cuisine dish with rice noodles, prawns, soy and oyster sauces and greens. Thailand food. Isolate
The Complex Political History Behind The Standardization Of Thai Restaurant Menus
By Christina Garcia
The Thai government has seen food as a way to raise its diplomatic profile by creating and standardizing cuisine for export and studying regional food preferences across the globe.
Thai menus were somewhat optimized for adoption in foreign lands. For example, Pad Thai may have more Chinese roots as they invented and introduced noodles to Thailand.
Dating back to World War II, Pad Thai was promoted as a nationalistic exercise in unity and duty but transformed into an exported dish tailored to outsiders' palettes.
In 2002, the Thai government created the Global Thai Program, a successful bid in what The Economist dubbed "gastro-diplomacy.” This subsidized Thai restaurants around the world.
The program defined three types of Thai food service and quality standards that could earn foreign restaurants a Thai Select award and trained cooks to become culinary ambassadors.
Success may have been measured in exports of Thai food, the number of Thai restaurants abroad, or other intangible qualities of diplomatic relations.
It's important to note that Thai restaurants existed in America long before 2002 and were popular among celebrities in Hollywood in the 1980s.
Though the Global Thai Program set its own standards, some, like Alexandra Domrongchai in Food & Wine, argue that it also inadvertently limited expressions of authentic Thai food.
Dee Dee of Austin, Texas, challenges the prevailing expectations of American Thai food, serving food from the northern border and going big on flavor and herbs instead of protein.