Finding Authentic Thai Food In The US
Asia’s Best Cuisine
In the darkness, on a boat in the middle of the secluded Sekyoner River in Indonesia, I am asked by a fellow traveler what Asian country has the best food. “Thailand, hands down. It’s the best”, I blurt out before remembering the company I am in. I am with local Indonesian guides and members of the Indonesian tourism board in Indonesia. Oops. “Indonesia has the nicest people” I quickly say, trying my best to recover from speaking without thinking. It’s too late, my big mouth has already spoken the truth about Asian cuisine, and no one has bothered to argue otherwise.
Underwhelmed By American Thai Restaurants
Thai cuisine has long been the gold standard for Asian cuisine. Something about it awakens all of the senses, and pleases the tastebuds. I love traveling to Thailand for the culture and the people, but nothing lures me to book a ticket back to Thailand quite as strongly as the food.
When I am home in Los Angeles, I order in Thai food once a week, as I’m constantly craving the delectable flavors of one of my favorite destinations. Over the years it has taken some trial and error to find authentic restaurants that serve up the same mouthwatering dishes that I am accustomed to eating while traveling throughout Thailand. After you’ve tried the real thing, there is no going back. My craving for authentic Thai food in the US has left me underwhelmed more often than not, due to the plethora of inauthentic Thai restaurants.
How to Find Authenticity
Authenticity is the key to a delicious Thai meal in the states. Often in the US, traditional Thai foods become Americanized. Flavors are lost, ingredients are substituted and quality is sacrificed. This means more often than not, Americans are dining on inauthentic, water-downed versions of once delicious Thai meals. As a frequent traveler, I have gained the ability to pick up on authentic dishes, but not without trial and error.
Thankfully, there is now a much better way to learn the authenticity of Thai restaurants before you walk in and spend your money. The Thai Trade Center New York and the Royal Thai Government have teamed up to judge and award restaurants with the Thai Select Certificate. Thai Select is a rating system for authenticity, (not completely unlike Michelin or Zagat), designed to help food-lovers find delicious and authentic Thai restaurants.
According to the press release issued by TTC:
“The Thai Select certificate is designed to be the official acknowledgement that identifies a restaurant as properly using the correct ingredients in their dishes with no substitutes, preparing the food in the traditional Thai style of cooking and overall taste.”
Thai Select Ratings & Eligibility
Restaurants are graded on a 5 star scale. Restaurants scoring 85% or higher receive 5 stars, while 3-4 stars are awarded to restaurants with a 75-84% score based on the authenticity of cooking methods, and ingredients, as well as the percentage of authentic dishes on the menu.
According to the Thai Select website, for eligibility, restaurants must meet the following criteria:
The restaurant must have been in operation at least six months prior to the date of application
At least 60 percent of dishes offered on the menu must be authentic Thai cuisine and the cooking methods must be the same or very similar to those in Thailand
Head chefs may be either Thai or other nationalities, and in case of non-Thai head chefs, the chefs must produce proof of at least a 2-year experience in cooking Thai food or possess a Thai cuisine training certificate from an accredited institution
Using Thai Select to locate a restaurant near you is easy, as you are able to search by state. As a traveler that strives for authenticity, I think that this is an excellent tool to not only help travelers relive memories of their favorite dishes while visiting Thailand, but also an excellent way to introduce foodie to the Thai culture in an authentic manner.
Now, if only there were a rating system like Thai Select for all other ethnic cuisine in the US.
This post and video were created in partnership with Thai Select. As always, opinions expressed here are entirely my own.