“[It] is testament to Thailand’s reputation as a global gastronomy destination, and has helped enhanced awareness of the country as a quality leisure destination.”
For a people who routinely start conversations with the words: “Kin khao reu yang?” -- “have you eaten yet?” – it is unsurprising that Thais often have food on the mind.
From vibrant Bangkok to the smallest village, food options abound and the capital has become a global food destination in its own right with street food at the heart of its experience.
The increased popularity of roadside eateries has led to some real standouts – like local legend Jay Fai’s Thai-Chinese stir-fry and northern Thai import Ongtong – but also a new class of fine dining experiences.
Food tourism on the rise
“Today, food exploration is ‘in’ and represents people’s search for unique experiences they could never have back home,” said Jacob Holder, founder of Taste of Thailand food tours. Since its founding in 2013, his company has seen growth of approximately 20% year-on-year.
“Our operations started… at a time when we were virtually the only food tour in Thailand. Fast forward six years later and the industry has grown to include approximately 15 operators that offer food tours exclusively or as part of their packages.”
Michelin published the first edition of its Thailand guide at the end of 2017, furthering the trend of subverting its European and US guides by highlighting affordable options under its star and Bib Gourmand system – the guide has an unprecedented number of street food options, and in Jay Fai, only the third street food eatery to be awarded a star.
And since then, the trend for fine dining has blossomed. With no fewer than eight entries in the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2019, the capital has built on its culture of street food and the love Thais have for shared dining experiences.
Yuthasak Supasorn, governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, expressed that the international recognition is “testament to Thailand’s reputation as a global gastronomy destination, and has helped enhanced awareness of the country as a quality leisure destination.”
Putting Bangkok on the culinary world map
One man who knows the value of the Thai capital’s dining scene is Anand Gaggan, whose eponymous restaurant has solidified Bangkok’s reputation as a gourmand destination since its opening in 2010.
Anand Gaggan, who has often been credited for solidifying Bangkok’s reputation as a gourmand destination.
“Bangkok is becoming the next food capital of the world,” the chef told Travel Weekly Asia. He said the city’s unique food culture is a huge draw, especially “the street food, the flavours, the freshness and also the culture.”
Gaggan, which has consistently ranked high on restaurant lists, is famous for its 25-course tasting menu illustrated only by emojis – a way of breaking down language barriers, its creator says.
He made headlines when he announced his decision to close in 2020, making way for collaborations with chefs such as the German twins Thomas and Mathias Sühring, who have made a name for themselves with a “renewed vision of German gastronomy” in a modest 1970s Bangkok villa.
Elsewhere, Indian restauranteur Garima Arora similarly marries local ingredients and “age-old Indian techniques” to create what she terms “modern eclectic cuisine”.
Cutting her teeth first at the world-renowned Noma in Copenhagen, the Mumbai native was originally hired to open a restaurant in Mumbai on Gaggan’s behalf before opening her own Bangkok spot, Gaa, to great acclaim in 2017.
“One of the best things about Bangkok is the availability of international produce,” she said. “It’s always been a great tourist destination with an eclectic group of people coming into the country.”
She said Gaggan’s acclaim has helped the city’s culinary profile. “(Gaggan’s) restaurant is one of the most popular and famous in Asia. It attracts people to the city, which goes over to the other restaurants.”
While the influx of foreign cuisines has raised the bar of dining, it has also allowed Thais to compete at the Michelin level. Chef Thaninthorn Chantrawan, who helms Chim by Siam Wisdom, takes simple Thai favourites and adds his own flourishes.
Thailand will always have its street food. Nothing can replace the sour, umami-laden tang of a roadside Tom Yum Kung, but with pioneers like Gaggan, the Sühring twins and Chantrawan, Thais now have a fine dining scene to be equally proud of.