One of the changes that I’ve seen over my travels to Thailand, which commenced in 1992, is the increasing availability of Western-style baked goods. Donuts, croissants, cakes, white bread, cookies and similar food items can now be found at every mall, at most (even local) markets and, as in these pictures, at nearly every Skytrain stop. It’s not just baked goods: there is also a proliferation of Western fast food places, such as Pizza Hut, McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Burger king; I should include Dunkin’ Donuts and Krispy Kreme, as well.
(Click images to see larger version.)
This February (2011) when I was in Thailand I had an errand to run at Siam Paragon, a popular (and trendy) shopping center in Bangkok. When Kasma and I arrived, we saw a line of perhaps 30 or 40 people going out the door of the entrance. We were curious about what the people were lining up for; it turned out to be a Krispy Kreme donut shop. When we left the mall a couple hours later, the line was even longer. We saw several people with huge boxes of donuts walking away from the store.
Traditional Thai snacks are basically very healthy foods. Although they can be quite sweet, many of them are less sweet or are savory and they nearly universally include an ingredient that is quite healthy. For instance, Kanom Krok (Grilled Coconut Hotcakes) include coconut milk (a “functional” food that includes immune-system boosting Lauric Acid); Sangkaya (Coconut Egg Custard) includes both coconut milk & duck eggs; and Kao Niow Dtam (Black Sticky Rice Pudding) includes healthy, whole-grain black rice. Certainly Thai snacks with all empty calories exist but most of them include healthy ingredients such as coconut milk, pumpkin (or squash) or cassava root. (See my blogi on Thai (Sweet) Snacks – Kanom Wan
So the proliferation of Western baked goods is unfortunate because it replaces snacks that at least have some health benefit with goods made almost exclusively of white flour and sugar, which are basically empty calories that take more nutrition to process than they actually provide. See my recent blogs on A “Healthy” Diet and Thai Diet Changes for some of the references and information that indicate excessive carbohydrates are a major health issue.
These pictures show a few examples of the type of stalls that are becoming prevalent all over Thailand. It is almost certainly no coincidence that the mortality rate from heart disease is rising in Thailand at the same time.
2020 Update: The situation has only gotten much worse in the 9 years since I wrote this article. Western baked goods are everywhere now. And, not coincidentally, where before you rarely saw an overweight Thai person, now you see quite a few of them.
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Written by Michael Babcock, July 2011 & May 2020