– 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.