“Gastronomy is a powerful tool for diplomacy to improve relations between countries through cultural exchanges such as exhibitions and meetings between foreign diplomats.” – H.E. PRAK Sokhonn
Last month, the National Institute of Diplomacy and International Relations (NIDIR) held an event highlighting the importance with a special training session on the preparation of Num Banh Chok Khmer (Cambodian rice noodle soup) before an assembled group of spouses of ambassadors posted to Cambodia and those of Cambodian diplomats posted abroad.
The event was led by Thalias Hospitality founder, Chef Luu Meng who, together with a team from the Cambodian Academy of Culinary Arts, prepared the flavourful noodle soup while explaining its origins and recipe before everyone was able to enjoy a delicious tasting of this classic Cambodian dish.
The training was part of NIDIR’s 2021-2023 economic diplomacy strategy to promote Cambodia’s tourism and culture, including culinary arts, on the international stage.
According to H.E. PRAK Sokhonn, “gastronomy is a powerful tool for diplomacy to improve relations between countries through cultural exchanges such as exhibitions and meetings between foreign diplomats.”
H.E. Dr. NHIM Khemara, Secretary of State at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, expressed his appreciation for the event and hoped that diplomats and chefs at missions abroad would endeavour to apply what they had learned in order to further promote Cambodian cuisine as a means of cultural diplomacy.
This form of diplomacy, called ‘gastrodiplomacy’ since The Economist magazine coined the phrase in 2002, has grown in importance over the last decades as countries all over the world seek to foster relations between nations, but also to raise awareness and interest among populations of a particular cuisine and the appeals of the country behind it.
Many countries have followed this strategy, most notably Thailand, whose efforts The Economist was describing in its 2002 article. The Thai initiative aimed to expand the number of Thai restaurants in the world from 5,500 to 8,000. Their multifaceted approach included making it easier for restauranteurs abroad to import food from Thailand, including the use of soft loans, and agreements with foreign countries that made it easier for Thai chefs to secure work visas.
Many other countries have followed suit since then including South Korea, which focused on kimchi as part of its initiatives, Taiwan and Peru, the last of which succeeded in creating a global boom for Peruvian food.
As distinct from the grand occasions one might normally associate with gastronomic diplomacy, one of the endearing features of gastrodiplomacy is that anyone can play a role given the right audience. No need to starch your suits and dresses, just to keep the cooking fires burning.