Everything is not as straightforward as it seems for this seemingly Thai-invented staple.
Living in Thailand and writing about food, I thought I had tried everything; sucked, slurped,poked, prodded, scooped up every little morsel in this ravenous city. Well, I thought I had.
When a friend visited from England recently, he was keen to explore Bangkok’s street food, to get down and dirty amidst the wealth of sweaty vendors and wheeled noodle carts. His first question: “Where’s a good pad
I set myself a personal mission: to find Bangkok’s best pad Thai, but from the go, faced obstacles and contradictions. I had always believed the recipe to be, well, Thai, but this seems much contested. The country’s national dish, might not be very Thai at all, a point that fuelled my interest even further.
The year was 1938 and six years earlier, Phibunsongkhram—better known as Phibun—played a prominent role as a military officer in a coup that stripped Thailand’s monarchy of its absolute powers. Phibun, worried about his country’s independence, disintegration, and, most of all, support for his rule, decided to transform the country’s culture and identity. He changed the country’s name from Siam to Thailand, and, wanting to create a strong, nationalistic, and modern state; announced a competition to create of a new national dish, from which, pad Thai emerged. Phibun’s son maintains that his family cooked the recipe before Phibun made it government policy, although he does not remember who invented it.
The pad Thai recipe though may have an even longer history. The use of stir-fried rice noodles, not to mention a wealth of other ingredients—bean sprouts, shallots, fish sauce, prawns and peanuts—and varying spices, appears to have its roots in Chinese cooking. Its full name is
To help popularise the dish, the government supplied people with a basic recipe, encouraging vendors to make use of their carts, selling on Bangkok streets. And, because carts move so easily, pad Thai became a convenience food. It may even be the original fast food in Thailand. From the streets it spread to rural villages, with locals preparing, selling and sharing the new Thai staple.
My mission to locate the best pad Thai will likely be an eternal quest. Recipes and ingredients differ from place-to-place, but whether