A symbol of Thai people's own cuisine

Pad Thai

Pad Thai: The untold History of the symbol of Thai cuisine

Pad Thai is a famous street food always connected with Thailand and is actually from the place it’s named for! Thai people feel so proud of the dish that they regard it as a symbol of their own cuisine. Pad Thai even enjoys high popularity all over the world, but the legend of its origin is the one you might not know.

What is it made of?

Taken more often as a satisfying snack rather than a meal in Thailand, Pad Thai is easily found throughout the country. The noodle dish has a base of stir–fried rice noodles, fish sauce, sugar and then a handful of dried shrimps, plus crushed peanuts and some vegetables such as bamboo shoots thrown into it. It is great Thai food that appeals to nearly everyone.

In local people’s mind, whenever they try Thai food, they try Pad Thai first because that is a way to judge how good a restaurant is.


Pad Thai


Pad Thai: meaning of the name

Pad Thai was born, ironically from a dish with Chinese origins. The original name for Pad Thai, was ‘Gway Teow Pad Thai’. ‘Gway Teow’ is a Chinese word meaning rice noodles, while ‘Pad’ refers to ‘fried’ and ‘Thai’ refers to ‘in Thai style’. Some people believe that a similar creation to Pad Thai was brought to Siam ( the former name of Thailand) by Chinese businessmen in the 1700s.

World War II influence

Thailand suffered a shortage of rice during World War II. Together with some natural disasters, it was necessary that alternative food should be used to protect Thailand’s rice resources. Noodles are cheap and economical to produce and could be dried and kept for a long time. The amount of rice used to make noodles was 50% of what would be consumed if it was eaten directly, thus noodles essentially doubled Thailand’s rice stores.

Farewell to Rice. Hug Noodles. Welcome Thailand’s New National Dish

Here a special men should be mentioned. In 1938, a man called Phibunsongkhram, better known as Phibun in the West, just played a prominent role as a military officer in a coup which dethroned Thailand’s monarchy and, after rising through the ranks of government, became Prime Minister (dictator). But Phibun was worried about the situation in Siam, as Thailand was then known, the country was an ethnically diverse one with strong regional identities, and without the monarchy, there was little to hold these disparate groups together. So the the dish ‘Pad Thai’ was created by Phibun government to relieve the rice shortage and to unite the whole country as well.

Phibun - Who Ruled Thai Cuisine

Phibun - who ruled Thai cuisine


National campaign“Noodle is Your Lunch”

There was a heavy promotion campaign for Pad Thai across the whole country with the resounding slogan “noodle is your lunch”. There were many specific measures as the Public Welfare Department provided recipes of the dish to restaurants and people willing to sell Pad Thai in the streets could get free carts from the government. The propaganda-led menu change told the Thai people they were “helping the war effort” and “supporting their country” while reducing the influence of international powers within the country. Meantime, other kinds of foreign and Chinese street vendors were quietly prohibited from selling.

What you need to make Pad Thai:

It seems there are a lot of ingredients for the dish but don’t get scared by the appearance! Most of the ingredients are not difficult to find and can be got ready in minutes. The preparation work is not complex or in some case you can do it without preparation, just putting all the ingredients together to make one delicious meal.

  • Rice noodles -  flat noodles are the best but any width will also make it.
  • Oil - you will want a mild oil to use, for example vegetable oil, such as olive oil, avocado oil, peanut oil, coconut oil.
  • Garlic - added enhanced flavor.
  • Shrimp - uncooked, small and tail on or off. You can also alternatively put chicken or beef strips in too.
  • Eggs - scrambled together.
  • Bean sprouts - this is a classic Asian vegetable. Shredded carrots can be also added along with it.
  • Red bell pepper - going well with an Asian dish.
  • Green onions - a little spice, crunch and color.
  • Cup roasted, salted peanuts - brings out the crispy texture in the dish.
  • Limes - an added touch for serving
  • Chopped fresh cilantro - added garnish that brings out color and flavor.


Pad Thai ingredients


The 12 Cultural Mandates

In an effort to build a true national identity and more importantly consolidate his power, Phibun determined to transform the country’s culture and identity. From 1939-1942, Phibun passed 12 Cultural Mandates that would hopefully encourage the Siamese people to be productive, well-mannered, and proud of their country.

Phibun’s mandates were really nationalistic, and like a lot of modern-day legislation, were aimed to curb foreign influence within Siam. Some of his mandates, like his desire for everyone to wear hats in public have gone with the wind. But his decision to change the name of the country to Thailand has stuck, and his ambition to build a true national identity has lived on.

One mandate legalized the importance of honoring the Thai flag and the royal anthem. So you can witness this demonstration of respect everywhere in Thailand today, as people stand still for the play of Thai national anthem in public. It also required people to admonish anyone who was not showing enough respect to the king and the country!

Appearing with Phibuns mandates, Pad Thai has also lived on. The Thai people adopted Pad Thai and started eating it regularly. Phibun’s push to unite the Thai people under his nationalist plan succeeded and the Thai nation started to become the country what it is like today. So, the moment you order pad thai from your local Thai, can you imagine it was once the delicious idea of a dictator?