The forgotten history of "Pad Thai"

By - herve
23.12.19 07:49 AM
8th January 2020

Pad Thai is unarguably one the most significant Thai dish known amongst visitors who come to the Land of Smiles wishing to indulge in the country’s cuisine. A popular street food sprawled across the streets of Thailand that bears a captivating history that most people don’t even know about!

Tasty plate of Pad Thai noodles from Amphawa floating market

Plaek Phibunsongkhram came into power in Thailand in the late 1930s in the wake of the 1932 revolution. This gave rise to the democratic system of constitutional monarchy that replaced absolute monarchy and still exists today. It marked the beginning of a series of big changes for Thailand which stemmed from his desire to create a strong nationalistic identity for the country.

Stamp carrying the portrait of Plaek Phibunsongkhram

He felt at the time that the nation had been weakened by a series of invaders, resulting in a lack of its own traditions and cultural traits.
As prime minister he embarked on several initiatives to transform the country and to distance it from its ties to China in particular, to basically reduce its influence.
All in the hope that this would overall in the long-term lead to the modernisation and Westernisation of Thailand.

Between 1939 and 1942, Phibun generated twelve cultural mandates which were designed to rebirth Thailand into a robust nation. One of the biggest changes noticed during this period was the modification to the country’s name, from Siam to Thailand.

Next, he held a public contest to discover a new national dish.
Winning this competition was a plate of rice noodles, preserved radish, peanuts, beansprouts and egg which amounted to the dish known and loved across the globe today: Pad Thai.

Street vendor - Thailand 1930

A dish which literally translates to ‘Fried Thai’ and deliberately steers away from Chinese wheat noodles which were the more popular choice at the time. 
To further promote and celebrate the dish Phibun banned foreign vendors, particularly Chinese ones, from selling their imported delicacies. Copies of the recipe as well as food carts were also distributed to stimulate the fast adoption of the meal across Thailand.

Ironically, despite attempts to create a unique image for Thailand, the Pad Thai actually carries several features which highlight that Chinese roots were still very much anchored in the country’s image.
Stir-fried food and noodles are both customary to Chinese cooking practices. Some people even believe that the creation of Pad Thai goes back to the 1700s with the arrival of Chinese Traders and immigrants in the Kingdom.

Pad Thai stir fried noodles

Still, what make this dish so popular and that embeds it in Thailand’s food culture is the fact that it abides by the traditional combination of spicy, sweet, sour and salty flavours. This blend of savours is what makes all Thai dishes so noteworthy. 

Pad Thai in Khao San Road

But above all else, during a period of instability Pad Thai, (along with all the other cultural initiatives!) gave the people of Thailand a sense of national identity and helped them feel unified.
It was something to be excited about despite the uncertainties the country faced, it did not matter that it had certain similarities with external influences still. And even now it is a dish that foreigners assimilate to Thailand, not any other place in the world!

A versatile dish cooked traditionally with shrimp and tofu but can accommodate different variations such as chicken and beef, or simply vegetarian. Get your taste buds wrapped around a piece of Thailand’s history from the comfort of your own kitchen with our deSIAM Pad Thai Noodles Cooking Set.

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