Pakistan PM congratulates Asif Ali Zardari on re-election as president with 255 votes

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - BANGKOK: Thailand’s aromatic, spicy cuisine has long been a huge draw for visitors. Now, the country is focusing on creating halal versions of popular dishes to attract more tourists from the Muslim world.

Since predominantly Buddhist Thailand re-established diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia in 2022, there has been an increasing focus on attracting visitors from Muslim-majority countries to the popular tourism destination. Last month, the government announced a 2024-28 plan to promote Thailand as the “halal kitchen of the world” and Southeast Asia’s “halal hub.”

The main institution responsible for ensuring adherence to the rules governing halal food in Thailand is the Halal Science Center at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, which has developed a standardization system known as Halal Assurance, Liability-Quality System, or HAL-Q, which is used by more than 770 food factories and 7,000 restaurants in the country, allowing them to use the word “halal” in their marketing.

According to the center’s founding director, Dr. Winai Dahlan, there are 900 such restaurants in Bangkok alone — already “enough to welcome Muslim tourists,” he told Arab News.

“We work with the Central Islamic Council of Thailand,” Dahlan said. “We are trying to introduce halal Thai food as a soft power of Thailand.”

From the iconic lemongrass-flavored tom yum soup to pad thai, the savory noodles that are the national dish, the guiding principle of Thai cuisine is harmony. For Dahlan, having the food prepared in the halal way and certified as such, helps “boost the trust” of tourists, as more and more Muslim visitors have been arriving to the country.

At Sook Siam, an indoor floating-market-themed food hall at ICONSIAM Mall in Bangkok, the Kan Tang stand serves halal versions of the most famous Thai dishes.

“Tom yum is the best ... many people come (to have it) here,” said the stall’s attendant, Onk Natphuwanat.

But not all Muslim travelers know the relatively new food market, nor other places with halal vendors.

The Jodd Fairs Night Market in the Rama IX neighborhood is another location where halal food can be found — including seafood tom yum noodles, red beef curry, and pad thai. And in Bangkok’s Pratunam Market, a few stalls run by Thai Muslims offer halal food, though it requires some effort to find them.

A halal food stall displays its menu at Jodd Fairs Night Market in Bangkok, Thailand, Feb. 21, 2024. (AN Photo)

Some visitors, like Nani Rohayu, visiting with her husband and daughter from Thailand’s Muslim neighbor Malaysia, have been navigating the streets and alleys of Bangkok using culinary recommendations from social media.

For her family, following references they found online was a fun way of exploring the city and finding new halal bites.

“If you go from one street or alley to another, you will find halal (food). There is no problem,” Rohayu told Arab News, after a successful outing in search of tom yum, noodles, and mango sticky rice.

“There’s so much info on the internet,” she continued. “It is very easy.”

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