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Why Thai food never took off

05 Jan, 2015 by Vir Sanghvi

Why Thai food never took off

Fifteen years ago, every restaurateur and market researcher believed that Thai food was the Next Big Thing. It was a cross between Indian and Chinese, so how could it fail?

In fact, much of the early optimism has now proved to be premature. Hotels have closed their Thai restaurants. Baan Thai shut down at the Oberoi and The Blue Elephant at The Lalit failed. Even the fancy standalones have vanished as have some of the cheaper places.

Why should this be so? It is the easiest thing in the world to open a Thai restaurant in Delhi. Bangkok is near enough (and cheap enough) for restaurateurs to find chefs and ingredients.

So why has sushi taken off where Som Tam and Pad Thai have failed?  

Nobody has any good answers but one view is that Indians have no real interest in cuisines that look like our own but taste different. Given a choice between a Goa prawn curry and a Thai green curry, most Indians seem to prefer the Goa curry.  

Nor are we keen on salads, an important component of Thai food or on the flavour of nam pla, the fish sauce that appears in Thai food again and again. This would explain why other Oriental cuisines have found the going tough: we’ll take biryani over nasi goreng and rogan josh over rendang.

Nevertheless it is still possible to find good Thai food in the NCR, but usually at multi-cuisine restaurants. Tian at the Maurya does a killer green curry and Set'z has a chef from the Bangkok Peninsula who turns out the best Thai food in the region. In Gurgaon, there’s a well-regarded branch of Bombay’s Thai Pavilion and a little further away, the Radisson Blu’s Thai food has its fans.

But if you want great Thai food, take a plane to Bangkok. It’s cheaper than going to Bombay and the restaurants cost much less!

Written By

Vir Sanghvi is India's best-known food writer and TV host. His book, Rude Food won the Cointreau Award for Best Food Literature book in the world and his food and travel shows on channels such as TLC and NDTV Good Times have won numerous awards and continue to be watched by millions.

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