Culture Minister Sermsak Pongpanich has brushed aside criticism about the "One Province, One Dish 2023" list of the Cultural Promotion Department, saying local food is a soft power item which the ministry wants to promote.
"It is a good project. What we lack is publicity that can help people understand the purpose of the project," he said.
The department launched the local food list covering 77 provinces on Aug 31. Many netizens are dismayed with the list because it names some dishes that are barely familiar even to locals in those provinces.
Some wonder how the department came up with the list while some asked why famous dishes from their provinces were excluded.
Pradit Pankaew, a chef who has a restaurant in Krabi, said the list was "nonsense". It names pla chuk khruang as a meal of Krabi. "I have been a chef for 30 years. I never heard of that dish," he said.
Sermsak: What we lack is publicity
As far as he knew, pla chuk khruang (stuffed deep-fried mackerel) is cooked in many coastal provinces along the Andaman Sea. It did not originate in Krabi.
In his opinion, when talking about Krabi food, his choice is hoi chak teen (winged shells), which are normally steamed and served with a seafood sauce.
For Phuket, nam chup muang lang kao yang (nine spicy dips of Lang city, where Lang is short for Thalang, a district in Phuket) is another rare dish. According to the Tourism Authority of Thailand's Phuket Office, the meal is hard to find as it is prepared mostly for ceremonies in Thalang district.
Department director-general Kowit Pakamart said the One Province, One Dish project is not about selecting famous meals from each province.
Instead, the idea is to preserve and promote traditional local food. Some of those dishes are hard to find, unique or have almost disappeared. Highlighting them will make them better known and encourage people to look for their own local food.
"Our focus is on traditional dishes, some of which may have been forgotten, which is why we call the project, 'Thailand Best Local Food: The Lost Taste'," he said.
The department launched the project around the middle of this year. The Bangkok office asked for cooperation from the Provincial Cultural Council in each province to select three traditional meals for the central expert committee in the capital to choose from. Within three months, the list was launched.
Wallop Namwongprom, vice president of the Chiang Mai Culture Council, said tam chin haeng (stir-fried sun-dried meat) may not be known by many locals in Chiang Mai.
"Many people in the committee proposed lab dip (raw minced beef mixed with blood, spices and herbs). However, the panel did not choose the dish because it is served raw. We considered many factors including health issues so we voted for tam chin haeng because it is full of local herbs. It is a traditional meal that might be gone soon," he said.
The Cultural Promotion Department will organise the Thailand Best Local Food seminar on Sept 20 to showcase the 77 dishes.
Another event called Local Wisdoms and Cultural Heritage will also be held to honour 77 local dishes, individuals and organisations that help promote cultural heritage at the Thailand Cultural Centre on Sept 21.
The department also plans to publish a book about the 77 meals of the One Province, One Dish 2023 list in the future.
"This is the first year we have launched the project. We will carry on the concept for next year and will come up with a new list to highlight other local food," said Mr Kowit.