By Xinhua Writer Lin Guangyao, Zheng Mengyu
HANGZHOU, Nov. 21 (Xinhua) -- The aroma of Thai milk tea and curry wafts out from a small quaint restaurant, as enthusiastic diners feast on authentic Thai dishes.
The restaurant, in Shouchang Ancient Town in east China's Zhejiang Province, is owned by Kenny Yang, a Thai chef with over 30 years of experience. After working in many Chinese cities for more than 10 years, the Thai settled down in Shouchang, his wife's hometown, in 2019.
In recent years, as business exchanges between China and Thailand deepen, restaurants like Yang's -- featuring distinctive Thai elements -- have sprung up in China.
In Hangzhou, capital city of Zhejiang, there are more than 1,000 restaurants with Thai food as either the main cuisine or side dishes, according to Dianping, a popular Chinese review and rating service provider. Popular Thai restaurants can be found in almost all major business districts in Hangzhou.
In a shopping mall alongside West Lake, a major commercial area in the city, more than 20 tables in the Motai Thai restaurant were already taken before 5:30 p.m., and a queue had already begun to form.
"Consumers in Hangzhou are very fond of Thai food, and during peak dining hours, they sometimes need to wait for more than an hour for a meal here," a restaurant manager said.
Yang's restaurant is far from the city center, and yet it still attracts a large number of foodies seeking an authentic taste of Thailand. Every weekend, diners from the surrounding areas and downtown Hangzhou flood into the restaurant.
"In order to re-create the authentic taste of Thailand as closely as possible, many ingredients in the cuisine are imported," Yang said.
Thanks to the increasing popularity of Thai culinary culture in China and close business exchanges between the two countries, the procurement and transportation of fresh ingredients are continuously improving.
According to Yang, it used to take two to three weeks or even longer to import ingredients from Thailand, but with the development of logistics, importers and suppliers have greatly increased.
"Now original Thai ingredients and seasonings can be delivered from my suppliers in Shanghai and Guangzhou to this town within two or three days," he said, adding that convenient logistics have backed up his confidence in opening a restaurant in a small town.
Yang first decided to open the restaurant here due to a resemblance between Shouchang and his hometown.
"The pleasant environment, the leisurely pace of life and the taste for spicy food are very similar to my hometown in Nakhon Pathom, Thailand," Yang said, adding that the beautiful scenery, friendly people and comfortable life in the town all contributed to his decision.
In addition to mushrooming Thai restaurants like Yang's, an increasing number of imported Thai food products have also been well received by Chinese people.
Data from China's retail platform Hema Fresh showed that the sales volume of imported Thai coconut water under its own brand had doubled in the first 10 months of 2022, compared to the same period last year.
At the same time, since 2018, sales of fresh tender coconuts from Thailand have shown a 2.5-fold increase on the platform. This year's sales value of Thai tender coconuts is expected to reach around 140 million yuan (about 19.6 million U.S. dollars).
Another popular Thai product is seaweed rolls. "Among all seaweed products, my favorite is Thai seaweed rolls," said Wang Yiming, a young consumer from Hangzhou. "The fusion of seaweed's freshness and the refreshing spicy taste of Thai chilies can linger in the mouth for a long time."
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 COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, the bilateral trade volume exceeded 100 billion U.S. dollars for the first time, and this year the amount is expected to hit a new high.