Foodie culture is now part of foreign policy — It’s Gastrodiplomacy


– Within a half mile radius from where I’m standing, there are more than 15 Thai restaurants. In the last 20 years, Thai restaurants have taken off in America, Europe, and Africa. But that success is actually a little out of whack with the number of Thai immigrants around the world. In the US, there’s roughly one Mexican restaurant for every 650 Mexican Americans. But with Thai restaurants, there’s one for every 55 or so Thai Americans. – And it’s not just because Thai food is delicious. The explosion of Thai restaurants is paid for by the Thai government. The Thai government started a program promoting this food in 2002 and it was the first example of something that has become a trend in foreign policy. It’s called gastrodiplomacy. That means using food to extend a country’s cultural influence. Gastrodiplomacy exists at the intersection of two 21st century trends, globalization and foodie culture. It started as a way to strengthen nations, but it’s also expanding our national identity. I’m Isabelle Niu. This Is Quartz. – Oh, hot! Spicy! Last year, Chalisa Fitts took over this Thai restaurant in the heart of Washington, D.C. And one day a strange call came in. – From a Thai Embassy saying I was awarded, by Thai Ministry of Commerce, because my restaurant is authentic. I actually first thought it was a scam. It wasn’t a scam. A few days later, officials from the Thai embassy came and presented her an award called Thai Select. – I almost cried actually. There is only five out of 65 Thai restaurants in D.C. that were awarded. This Thai Select program is a part of Thailand’s multifaceted effort to promote its food globally. Since 2002, the government has trained Thai chefs, given out loans to restaurateurs who wanted to go abroad, studied the preferences of foreigners, and has even come up with three prototypes of Thai restaurants that would do well overseas. – Thailand was the first to really conduct a gastrodiplomacy campaign, and they helped spread Thai restaurants as a kind of a Thai Embassy if you will. Paul Rockower is an expert on gastrodiplomacy. – It’s a form of nation branding, of edible nation branding really, it’s a way of promoting soft power through promoting culture by focusing on cuisine as the way to connect people. And the Thai government’s efforts have paid off. Since the effort began, the number of Thai restaurants around the world has tripled to over 15,000. Helping Thai food go mainstream comes with huge economic benefits too. – People, you know, tried it more, visited Thailand more, and the tourism increased because of it. Today, Thailand is the most visited country in Southeast Asia. Travel and tourism accounts for more than 10% of its GDP. And one third of that tourism spending is on food and drinks. Thailand’s gastro diplomacy has inspired many other countries to follow suit. Several years ago, South Korea started what’s called Kimchi diplomacy. Spending tens of millions of dollars promoting its cuisine overseas. It’s made a ton of food related videos. There’s even an entire government-sponsored English K-pop album just about food. Other countries launching their own campaigns include Peru, Malaysia, Lebanon and Taiwan. These countries all have a lot to gain from gastrodiplomacy. They’re relatively small, and view food as a way to distinguish themselves. But even superpowers, like Japan and the U.S., are doing gastrodiplomacy. The Japanese government has even funded its own catchy music video promoting its food. All of these campaigns have helped diversify the food we eat. And that’s the kind of foreign government interference I can get behind. Another reason why governments are jumping on the gastrodiplomacy wagon has a lot to do with the rise of foodie culture around the world. – There is more of an interest in different types of food and in things that might be a little off the beaten path. And that interest has created opportunities for gastrodiplomacy on a much smaller scale, by people like 25-year-old Mustafa Nuur. – So right now we’re making our Somali samosas. Usually they’re very spicy, but this is the American version. We try to not to kill anybody when they come here. Mustafa and his family moved from Somalia to Lancaster, Pennsylvania about four years ago. The small city became known as the refugee capital of America for settling refugees at a rate 20 times that of the rest of the country. But after the 2016 election, Mustafa says attitude towards refugees changed. – The people who loved refugees became more passionate about it. The people who didn’t love refugees became more passionate about it. So he decided to start a program to connect refugees and Lancaster residents through food. – Hi. You Guys didn’t get lost. Come on in. Welcome please. – When you sit together with somebody, and there is an element of food, it usually diffuses the tension. Mustafa’s program lets Lancaster residents book a dinner with the local refugee family. The family then cooks their traditional food and eats with the guests. We are new to the neighborhood as far as being new refugees and immigrants. And the best way to introduce ourselves is through our food and our story. – Welcome to our home. – Thank you. He works with 16 refugee families in the area. Over 3,000 people have booked meals. I’m opening our doors and they are walking in our doors, which is equally nerve-wracking for both parties. – I’m sorry you went to the wrong house. – If there’s one that breaks apart you know which one it is. – You have some Somali in you. – 3,000 people had said, “I’m gonna go to a stranger’s house and I’m gonna learn about their culture.” So I will consider what the work I do gastrodiplomacy. It’s using food as a form of connecting cross-culturally, cross-faith, cross-country, so yeah. Mustafa’s program is part of a growing social movement. Organizations around the world see gastrodiplomacy as a way to help refugees and immigrants. It goes beyond seeing food as a symbol of nationalism. And that’s what gastro diplomacy can do: turn something that seems foreign and exotic into a part of our everyday life. – Thank you. – Thank you again. Appreciate it.

100 thoughts on “Foodie culture is now part of foreign policy — It’s Gastrodiplomacy”

  1. This is one of the most fascinating video I’ve watched. You just opened my eyes to something new! And at the end – the grassroots gastro-diplomacy, that just touched my heart. 😭💙💚 We should help raise the visibility of restaurants like this one, the one without millions of ad campaign dollars.

  2. Restaurant Owners "own" their restaurants. A RESTAURAUTEUR is a Chef de Partie position. The person with that specific designation is an "a la Carte" Cook. Someone who prepares the meals beside the guests' table.

  3. Certified-authentic – I think that’s a great way to promote true Thai food. I guess Thai Express won’t be getting that seal of approval anytime soon;)

  4. Nice documentary indeed. Wonder who's behind this show now? maybe good to show the credits and the crews?

  5. Gastro diplomacy is an amazing thing I didn't actually know about until this video. Thanks Quartz!

  6. I literally live 30 minutes from Lancaster….. I had no idea there were so many refugees! I'll definitely get involved as much as I can!

  7. These efforts are great for those that would be receptive anyway. I would like to see these efforts making headway in the red/rust belt.

  8. I love Thai food but I did not care for Thailand. Everything in the country was just a pain in the butt. So many places only accepted Visa but not Masters Card an vice versa. Tons of places charged extra if you used a card. However, more importantly it was very difficult to get around in comparison to other places I traveled to.

  9. I hate Thai food. Grow up on it, I prefer simple foods single flavours. Smoked flavours are so nice. Sandwiches are my favourite because you can eat and read at the same time. Can't do that with Thai food.

  10. Thai food is just ok, not that delicious…it has mixture of Chinese,Indian and some Vietnamese cuisine….so when people got tired of Chinese food (tasty but unhealthy), they go there to try the new 'exotic' Asian food. Normally Thai people don't eat with chopsticks, but most Thai restaurants now have have both chopsticks and folks

  11. Dear Ministry of External Affairs, India,
    Please for God's sake enter into foodie diplomacy. We need ASAP. We have the greatest vegetarian food and we need to make it popular a lot. Our food is underrated. Hope Modi government does something about this

  12. I have said this before, and I will say it again. The Thai government SLAYS in terms of international diplomacy and tourism.

  13. stopped over in thailand once on my way to australia, only there for a day or 2 but some of the most polite people ive ever met, one of the cleanest hotels i've ever stayed in and brilliant food. my only let down was ordering "serpents head" expecting to get to try snake for the first time and then finding out its the name of a fish XD

  14. Malaysia is guilty of gastrodiplomacy as well.

    So the Thai government has money to promote their food but do they have the money to support public education? I am genuinely curious.

  15. the best way that my philippines could do this is to promote indigenous, exotic,healthy, natural or sweet snacks like halo halo, durian candy, dried mangoes, sinampalukang manok, turon, banana cue

  16. Vacation is just wandering around between meals. I can see how promoting food probably brings lots of tourists.

  17. lol it’s because a lot of non Thai (mostly Lao) open up “Thai” restaurants. Not cause 1 in 55 Thais open up a restaurant.

  18. This is pretty much the old adage "the best way to a man's heart is through his stomach" applied on a global scale.

  19. Thai food is amazing. Its like Mexican food, Chinese food, Indian food and Japanese food, yet all together and done way better than they are separately.

    Thai green curry is the best curry in the world, imo. Thai food is light, fresh, spicy, fast and cheap. How can it not be a world standard food.

  20. I hope my country do the same but with good chef only. If the food not delicious it's not promoting your value, it's embrassing your culture. 😂

  21. It's also because; like Japanese, Korean, and every other Asian cuisine, the Chinese swarm every Asian cuisine and open up restaurants like mad

  22. It’s Ali’s becuase it’s delicious. If you try it with like British food, it ain’t going to work

  23. What if you don't like refugee food. Why make this about them when it was supposed to be about delicious Thai food

  24. Every Chinese restaurant in America not only has general tso’s chicken but also has pad Thai. But the thing with pad Thai is that they make it pretty decent lol. I had some trash pad Thai in Thailand as well so I know

  25. for a while, I've always wonder why the country where I live didn't do much of that kind of promotion. Didn't know there's a term for it.

    Really learn a lot about gastrodiplomacy from this video.

  26. What I learned from this video.

    Step One: Start a Thai restaurant. Or some other food restaurant from another part of the world.

    Step Two: Get paid for it.

    Step Three: Own a foriegn funded restaurant chain and laugh evilly as you rake in the cash from your brilliant food scheme.

  27. My own government tried this with our Dutch food, but it was regarded as the gastrodiplomacy equivalent of being spat in the face.
    "Mushed carrot onion and potato anyone? How about some lovely kale? Raw herring?"

  28. Where can I find out more about the research done here. Need research or at least reading material.

  29. Anybody know what the Japanese food music video is? (I assume it's Hatsune Miku, even if it looks a bit different than what I remember)

  30. This is brilliant! We all love food and its a great way to connect and familiarize yourself with a culture in a way that is very friendly.

  31. i love the idea of inviting people in for dinner to help them relate to refugees
    no one can feel bad after a homecooked meal

  32. Can we all take a moment and appreciate the production quality of "Quart" it felt heartwarming at the same time educational. Sure they need a lot more subscribers than this.

  33. Got the creeping suspicion Lebanon was doing this when I saw the title. Glad to know it's true. Love Lebanese food

  34. I don't get why Indian govt doesn't do this
    Though PM has assured us a bit to ro so
    But no governmental help

  35. By making their cuisine popular, Thai ingredients will be sought after which is probably their main goal since Thailand is a major agricultural exporter as well 🤔

  36. i've never had thai food. in fact i haven't had any asian food at all since i had sushi when i was like 5.

  37. Why did the Muslim refugee family feel the need to prostitute their religion with those stickers on their wall?

  38. To be honest, we have to thank Anthony Bourdain and countless of foodie and cooking Youtubers because those are what started this Thai food's boom in the US.

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