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China develops a taste for neighbor's cuisine

China Daily | Updated: 2022-11-25 09:00

HANGZHOU — The aromas of milk tea and curry waft from a quaint restaurant as enthusiastic diners feast on authentic Thai dishes.

The restaurant, in Shouchang Ancient Town, Zhejiang province, is owned by Kenny Yang, a Thai chef with over 30 years' catering experience. After working in a number of Chinese cities for 10 years, Yang settled in Shouchang, his wife's hometown, in 2019.

As business exchanges between China and Thailand have deepened in recent years, restaurants like Yang's, featuring distinctive Thai elements, have sprung up all over China.

In Hangzhou, Zhejiang's capital, there are over 1,000 restaurants offering Thai food either as the main cuisine or as side dishes, according to Dianping, a popular Chinese review and rating service. Popular Thai restaurants can be found in almost all of the city's major business districts.

In a shopping mall alongside West Lake, a major commercial area, 20 tables at the Motai Thai restaurant were already taken before 5:30 pm, and a line had already begun to form.

"Diners in Hangzhou are very fond of Thai food. During peak hours, they sometimes have to wait more than an hour for a meal here," one restaurant manager said.

Yang's restaurant is far from the city center, yet it still attracts many foodies in search of the authentic taste of Thailand. Every weekend, diners from the surrounding areas and downtown Hangzhou flood in.

"In order to recreate the authentic taste of Thailand as closely as possible, many ingredients have to be imported," Yang said.

Thanks to the increasing popularity of Thai food and close business exchanges between the two countries, it's getting easier to find fresh ingredients.

Yang said that it used to take two to three weeks or even longer to import ingredients from Thailand, but the development of logistics means there are now many more importers and suppliers.

"Now, Thai ingredients and seasonings can be delivered by my suppliers in Shanghai and Guangzhou (in Guangdong province) within two or three days," he said, adding that the convenient logistics bolstered his confidence in opening a Thai restaurant in a small town.

He decided to open a restaurant in Shouchang because of the town's resemblance to his home.

"The pleasant environment, the leisurely pace of life and the taste for spicy food are very similar to Nakhon Pathom," Yang said, adding that the town's beautiful scenery, friendly people and comfortable life also contributed to his decision.

In addition to the rapid growth in Thai restaurants, more imported Thai foods are finding a market in China.

Data from retail platform Hema Fresh show that sales of imported Thai coconut water doubled in the first 10 months of the year, compared with the same period last year.

At the same time, sales of fresh Thai coconuts have grown 2.5-fold on the platform since 2018. This year's sales are expected to reach around 140 million yuan ($19.6 million).

China is Thailand's largest trading partner, its largest export market for agricultural products and a major source of foreign investment.

In recent years, economic and trade cooperation between the two countries has increased despite the pandemic. Last year, the bilateral trade volume exceeded $100 billion for the first time, and is expected to hit a new high this year.


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