The government is moving to spice up the country's culinary scene next year with a plan to blend world-renowned Thai street food with its tourism promotion policy to attract visitors and boost the economy.
The government is collaborating with the private sector to organise a series of street food festivals in major tourist destinations, starting in February in central Bangkok.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Tuesday presided over the launch of the "Thailand Street Food Festival 2020'' publicity campaign.
The festival comprises six street food festivals, with vendors laying out the first feast on Silom Road in Bangkok on Feb 1-2.
The banquet will then move on to Ayutthaya on Feb 29-March 1, before rolling into Chon Buri's Pattaya on April 3-6, Chiang Mai on April 25-26, Khon Kaen on May 1-3, and Phuket on May 30-31.
"Thailand's street food is world-famous. CNN has declared Bangkok to be the world capital of street food. Street food is scrumptious and varied and tourists can find it any time, any place and at cheap prices,'' Gen Prayut said.
CNN named Bangkok as the city with the best street food in the world in 2016 and 2017.
According to research firm Euromonitor International, revenue from Thailand's street food was estimated at 276 billion baht in 2017, up by 4.3% from 2016. That figure is expected to increase to 340 billion baht in 2021. In 2016, there were an estimated 103,000 street food stalls across the nation, accounting for 69% of all places to eat.
Tourism and Sports Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn said that the street food festival project offered a good opportunity to boost revenue from tourists. More than 500 million baht is expected to be generated during the first festival on Silom Road, Mr Phiphat said.
Foreigners who list the attraction of street food as a major reason for visiting Thailand are mainly from China, Russia, the UK, Malaysia and the US, Mr Phiphat said, adding that promotion of "gastronomy tourism" will be a boon to the economy.
Prasarn Wangrattanapranee, vice-minister attached to the Prime Minister's Office, said that the six provinces chosen as venues for the street food festivals are major economic hubs renowned for their nightlife, which makes them popular with foreign and Thai visitors.
Tourism Authority of Thailand governor Yuthasak Supasorn noted that the tourism sector plays a crucial role in the country's economy, as it accounts for 10% of gross domestic product and generates about 2 million jobs.
Citing data from the World Trade Organisation, he said that Thailand earned a record 1.65 trillion baht from tourism in 2016 and 2017, ranking third on the list of countries with the highest revenue generated from tourism.
Early this year, the country's tourist income rose to 3 trillion baht, Mr Yuthasak said. Bangkok also ranked third among cities for visitor spending on food and beverages, and sixth for spending on shopping, according to the Mastercard's Global Destination Cities Index 2018, he added.
"I'm confident that the street food festival project will be a major event in attracting more foreign visitors, which will in turn boost the country's gastronomy tourism," Mr Yuthasak said.
Chatchai Payuhanaveechai, president and chief executive of the state-owned Government Savings Bank (GSB), said the bank is supporting efforts to improve the livelihoods of street food vendors. It has also launched a reality show called the GSB Street Food Contest, to improve vendors' skills in cooking and presenting dishes.
Meanwhile, Chomkamol Poompanmoung, chief executive of WP Energy Plc, a SET-listed liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) trader, said the company was planning to set a world record for the largest Pad Thai, which will be cooked in the world's longest pan.
She said the pan will be 110 metres long and 99cm wide. A total of 100 cooks will fry up the Pad Thai, which will weigh about 2,200 kilogrammes and be served to 22,000 people. Gen Prayut will preside over the event, she said.
Chumpol Jangprai, who heads a working panel on the street food project, said that under the project, Thailand Professional Qualification Institute will help train street food vendors as professional operators to ensure their food stalls comply with hygiene and environmental standards.
Mr Chumpol, co-founder, managing director and chef at R-Haan, one of two Thai restaurants which became the country's first two-Michelin-starred eateries this year, said that more than 100 street food vendors and 400 food shops from across the country will take part in the street food events.