From London to Edinburgh, Thai food is taking Britain by storm

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There are more to come, the most anticipated being John Chantarasak’s AngloThai, inspired by his dual heritage, and Thai-American Kris Yembangroong, who opened a Thai-American fusion pop-up called Chet’s and plans to become permanent. These are just the tip of an emerging iceberg in Thai cuisine.

There are clear reasons for this. Although companies such as Deliveroo are reluctant to share their data, it is widely recognized in the food industry that Thai has been among the most popular orders throughout the pandemic. As Farrell tells me, “I think people now travel a lot more, are a lot more curious, and a lot more able to eat chili. Thai cuisine is now the most popular.

The trend came a long time ago. Ten years ago I started looking at the data on the popularity of Thai food and at that time it was always seen as ‘the next big thing’, despite having been a staple in pubs for about 30 years. In non-pandemic times, around a million Britons visit Thailand each year and return with a taste for its food. According to James McAllistter, writing for the food industry website Big Hospitality, between 2013 and 2019 the number of Thai restaurants in the UK more than doubled.

The very first Thai restaurant in the UK, Bangkok, opened on London’s Bute Street in 1967. As good as it was, the food was slow to catch on. Arguably the real breakthrough came when the owner of the Churchill Arms in Kensington, Gerry O’Brien, took a risk and started serving Thai food in 1988. It was a huge success, one that rival publicans have imitated.

O’Brien had a secret weapon: a real Thai chef, “Ben” Songkot Boonyasarayon. Its emulators often didn’t, resulting in ‘Thai’ pub spicy fishcakes that had nothing to do with Thai fishcakes and bad spring rolls with sweet chilli sauce. (Thai food, for better or worse, is now almost ubiquitous in London pubs.)

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