The Europeans have their Michelin guide originating in France, awarding a number of stars or other distinctions to top notch restaurants in all continents. In the US they have their Zagat. Thailand makes it pure simple. They use the principle of crediting good eateries, but that´s about were the similarities with their more famous overseas brothers and sisters ends. The Shell Shuan Shim seal is given to the best thai food vendors. You either have it or you don’t have it.
Is it good guidance? From my experience with the Michelin Guide and Zagat, which really isn’t very consistent, it is truly a recognition of the food quality served with that vendor. Look for the green bowl on a white background with a date and a signature on. The literal translation of Shuan Shim is “Welcome to Taste”. And you should.
The Shell in front of it is just a heritage from the former days when it was sponsored by the oil and gas company Shell. Many years ago, a certain Thanadsri Swaddiwasd (Thai Public Relations Executive) at Shell, well-known for his discriminating pallete, embarked on a food tasting mission in Thailand. The restaurant that met his approval, was awarded the Shell Shuan Shim seal. Shell Co. promoted the project, and then the public became aware of the seal’s significance. The guy actually had a great palate. So, if you see the green bowl, along with the signature and a date, you know the vendor serves delicious food which has been tasted and awarded the highest honor. The seal is taken quite seriously in Thailand, so you can expect to see the Shell Shuan Shim prominently displayed wherever it’s been awarded.
Passing the huge amount of street side food vendors in Bangkok, some that triggers your hunger and some not, wondering if you should taste that colorful something on display that you really don’t recognize from a short glimpse of your own memory, it can be a good guidance for sitting down. Personally I’ve had some truly positive experiences with just siting down and taste whatever it is that comes out in a bowl or on a plate. That said, there are plenty of street side stalls that serves fantastic food without having the seal, so don’t be biblical about it. An alternative will of course always be to follow StreetsideBangkok.com and their guidance.
By the way, the Shell Shuan Shim separates itself form the Michelin Guide and Zagat in another way as well, it can also be awarded to excellent tasting product. More about that later.
Update May 2017: After I wrote the above article, almost two and a half years ago, The Michelin Guide has announced that they in December 2017 will launch a guide for Bangkok 2018. Please see my article The Michelin Guide hits the street on Bangkok in 2017 for tips on where they will look. I am pretty sure they will look at the existing Shell Shuan Shim awards to get some inspiration. At least, they should.