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Bangkok Lures Visitors With Its Growing Gourmet Scene

In a plush Bangkok ballroom one evening in May, hoteliers, ambassadors, celebrity chefs and socialites gathered to dine on foie gras, oysters and sushi while they talked about promoting Thai cuisine.

Between helpings of Alaskan king crab, French wine and melt-in-your-mouth Parma ham flown in from Italy, the assembled crowd discussed ways of putting Bangkok on the international culinary map. Although a creamy mango pudding proved a hit, few other local dishes were served at the launch of Gourmet Asia, a five-day event last month that aimed to showcase the world's culinary talents in the Thai capital.

Despite the absence of the kingdom's famously fiery flavours, organisers of Gourmet Asia threw open the food fest with the words: "Bangkok is a true destination for gastronomes and food lovers from all over the world."

The Thai capital is building a reputation for the quality of its local and international cuisine, and the food alone is luring well-heeled gourmets, mostly from Asia's burgeoning economies. "Almost every cuisine is available here. I think the scene is very metropolitan and international, it has become a dining destination in Asia," says Cheryl Tseng, author of the bar and restaurant guide "Chic Bangkok".

Optimistic hoteliers and restaurateurs are hoping that Bangkok will soon rival Hong Kong, Singapore and Tokyo as the culinary capital of Asia. "Bangkok has started knocking the world's culinary cities and telling them, look at us," says Deepak Ohri, managing director of Lebua Hotels, who thinks Bangkok will rival Singapore and Tokyo in just five years.

Ohri's group made its own mark on Bangkok's gastronomic scene -- and some patron's wallets -- when it organised a one-million-baht (29,000 dollar) per head dinner in February featuring six Michelin-star chefs from Europe.

The so-called Epicurean Masters of the World event attracted 15 paying guests from around the globe,
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