the true history of Pad Thai
February 23, 2013 7:16 AM   Subscribe

"In between surviving multiple point-blank-range assassination attempts and a failed kidnapping in which he emerged alive from the burning wreckage of a battleship his own air force had just bombed, Pibulsongkram decided that Thailand needed noodles that would advance the country’s industry and economy."
posted by moonmilk (35 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

 
I love Pad Thai. However, like most Asian dishes, I have no idea if the Pad Thai in front of me is "authentic" or not. I just have nothing in my life to reference to. But, I know tasty.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:33 AM on February 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Bad Pad Thai should be a felony.
posted by R. Mutt at 7:35 AM on February 23, 2013


I love Pad Thai.

Also, Bad Pad Thai is a great punk rock band name.
posted by Fizz at 7:37 AM on February 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


Pad Thai was one of the first Southeast Asian dishes I ever tried making from scratch when I moved near a really good Asian market. I still make it now and then.

...I actually figured out a good way to fake it by using peanut butter, fish sauce, and hot chili pepper jelly for the sauce; the jelly has vinegar for the sourness, sugar for the sweetness and heat from the chilis, so that takes care of a lot of the flavors in one fell swoop. Not authentic and someone's Thai grandmother would be disappointed in me, but if it's just me eating it I don't care.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:43 AM on February 23, 2013 [5 favorites]


I have thought of pad thai as a dish ordered only outside Thailand. I don't recall seeing a dish by that name in my two monthlong trips there, but I spent most of my time in the north. Yum, noodles...

Volksnoodle would be a great band name.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 7:59 AM on February 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Volksnoodle". Heh.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 7:59 AM on February 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, Bad Pad Thai is a great punk rock band name.

What if the Bad Pad Thai was slightly hallucinogenic? Then you'd have a Bad Pad Thai High.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 8:03 AM on February 23, 2013 [7 favorites]


Hmm. This kind of proves what I've been saying for years, that there really is no authentic Pad Thai. It's just a basic framework for everyone to do something unique. Every place has their version. I have found that a good way to judge the quality of a Thai restaurant is to try their Pad Thai. If they do a poor Pad Thai, everything else will be poor. I suppose that is not a particularly surprising idea.

I still remember my favorite Thai place in LA. I think it was on Beverly, sort of near Silverlake. My girlfriend and I used to go there and ask to sit near their huge salt-water aquarium full of brightly colored fish and sea anemones, lit by black lights. I particularly loved their modest altar with a bronze statue of Buddha, up in the back corner where it was obviously a personal altar and not really intended for public display.

I remember they were boarded up after the Rodney King riots in 1992 and didn't reopen for months. When they opened up again, we rushed there to have dinner. I was shocked, the aquarium was gone, and they had cheap folding chairs and different tables. The room was freshly painted and all the artwork on the walls was gone. We looked around, and the elderly Thai woman who always greeted us, recognized us and she was obviously glad to see some of her regular customers returning. She smiled but looked like her eyes were becoming teary. At the point where we always asked to be seated in our regular spot, I couldn't help but ask, "What happened to the aquarium?" The poor woman burst into tears and blurted out, "the riot!" and ran back into the kitchen. Oops, me and my big mouth. My girlfriend and I almost cried ourselves.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:06 AM on February 23, 2013 [10 favorites]


I'm in favour of nation building via food versus the more traditional military action.
posted by arcticseal at 8:11 AM on February 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


Wait? Pad Thai is from Thailand?

*mind blown*
posted by Mezentian at 8:13 AM on February 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


EmpressCallypygos, can I come to your house for lunch?
posted by TedW at 8:30 AM on February 23, 2013


MEET UP AT EmpressCallypygos house!
(As long as there is a vegetarian dish.... and I will cook that if no one else will, but I have a heap of chillies to use up and ... that could end badly).
posted by Mezentian at 8:37 AM on February 23, 2013


Favorite pad thai recipe! That whole website is all-around awesome too, Loha-Unchit has a real love of Thai food and its inner workings.

I cook up a big batch every weekend and eat the leftovers for lunch at work. Yum. I've found that turkey works pretty well in it; its stronger taste really carries the spicy-sweet-sour in a way that chicken can't (though chicken is still delicious in it, just different; a bit sweeter, softer).
posted by fraula at 8:50 AM on February 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I went to Pok Pok Phat Thai in Manhattan a few months ago. It's supposed to be more authentically authentic than restaurant pad thai. I don't know if it really was, but it was different from any other pad thai I've had, and really good.

I'm so hungry now.
posted by moonmilk at 8:50 AM on February 23, 2013


It's true pad thai is an invented dish - but the sticky-sweet red sauce drenched "pad thai" served in some restaurants outside of Thailand is certainly something I would describe as "not authentic." My parents are from Thailand; growing up in the US, we sometimes made pad thai at home, and while it wasn't exactly the same as the pad thai from Bangkok street stalls, it still had the same elements: a bit of tang from tamarind sauce and squeezed limes, the crunch of peanuts, a bit of spice from crushed pepper. I remember being delighted at all the Thai restaurants when I first moved to Toronto as there were none to be found in my hometown, then being dismayed at what they called "pad thai."

Pok Pok's pad thai is not bad - probably the best rendition of the dish I've had in Manhattan. I remember their mussel omelette (hoy tod) being surprisingly good.
posted by pravit at 9:33 AM on February 23, 2013


Yes, Pok Pok is wonderful.
posted by R. Mutt at 9:41 AM on February 23, 2013


Bad Pad Thai should be a felony.

Prisons over run with bad Pad Thai chefs and pot smokers is I imagine, a dream to some of the less enlightened members of our society who don't want those dangerous drug addicts and foreign foods to poison their children or something.
posted by juiceCake at 10:56 AM on February 23, 2013


I kinda disagree that it's hard to find authentic-ish Pad Thai in the US. At least in the SF Bay Area, from Thai restaurants outside the tourist zones it isn't too hard. After a trip to Thailand I even started making my own, with pretty good results. It's not nearly as good eaten as leftovers, so you want to make it for a group of people who will consume it immediately.

I would say that the main difference between good US restaurant Pad Thai and Bangkok street Pad Thai is the completely sparkling freshness of the ingredients of the dish obtainable from the nice lady who assembles your dish from her pushcart while you watch. Same goes for all Thai street food, actually. Now I'm going to be sad about not being born in Thailand.
posted by telstar at 12:27 PM on February 23, 2013


Then you'd have a Bad Pad Thai High.

Which, of course, would drive you insane, making you the mad Bad Pad Thai guy. Sad--especially if it happened in Baghdad in a rad pad.
posted by yoink at 12:41 PM on February 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


but "pad" in "pad thai" doesn't rhyme with "bad"! ;)
posted by pravit at 1:05 PM on February 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


That article was pretty interesting. But then when I saw there was a recipe I got really excited. I'm on a kitchen experiment binge lately so I can now add this to the list.
posted by sio42 at 1:06 PM on February 23, 2013


Two thoughts, one from the article, one from the MeFi comments.

1. Pibulsongkram survived "a failed kidnapping in which he emerged alive from the burning wreckage of a battleship his own air force had just bombed..." presumably he left the wreckage wailing on an electric guitar, because that's the most Metal thing I've ever read.

2. Remember, boys and girls: in cuisine, as in so many endeavors, authenticity is bullshit. Even if you don't take it to insane extremes, it's still not helpful. There is good and there is bad, and the "authenticity" of the dish doesn't affect that. And of course, there's the problem of "authentic what?" General Tso's Chicken isn't "authentic Hunanese cuisine," but it is absolutely "authentic American Chinese cuisine." It's not a virtue unto itself.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 1:29 PM on February 23, 2013 [5 favorites]


I disagree that authenticity is bullshit. There's nothing inherently superior about "authentic" food and vice versa, but authenticity is a perfectly valid descriptor of food like anything else.

There's nothing misguided in wanting to eat X food that tastes like it does in X country, maybe because you're from that country, or you're of X descent and you grew up eating the food, or you traveled there, or whatever.

Personally, I love eating authentic Hunanese food, but that doesn't mean I don't enjoy chowing down on some sticky-sweet Americanized Chinese stuff every now and then. They're completely different cuisines and of course there can be good and bad renditions of both. But when I feel like eating the former rather than the latter, that's when it becomes useful to know whether the food is "authentic" or not - it isn't always obvious from a restaurant's name.
posted by pravit at 3:19 PM on February 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm craving some Pad Thai now. Thanks for the recipe, fraula.
posted by homunculus at 3:47 PM on February 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


The best Pad Thai in Sydney is at the Doytao Thai chain, though I always feel a bit guilty ordering the same cliche dish every week. There's a place that does duck Pad Thai, which is also great.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 4:06 PM on February 23, 2013


A good friend of mine married a wonderful Thai lady who studied royal Thai cooking in Bangkok. This is her food blog. Everything is delicious and once you get used to the ingredients, pretty easy to cook.
http://subincooking.blogspot.com/
posted by real_paris at 4:45 PM on February 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


sorry about the link not working.
posted by real_paris at 4:45 PM on February 23, 2013


but "pad" in "pad thai" doesn't rhyme with "bad"! ;)
posted by pravit


Crap! Another delicious food I can't order anymore because I can't pronounce it - I dream of a Greek restaurant with numbers next to dishes so I can order a gyro.
posted by 445supermag at 6:14 PM on February 23, 2013


I was kind of amused by "If you want to go totally vegetarian or avoid fish sauce, you can experiment on the umami end with some salty seasoning sauce like Maggi, but it is pretty much guaranteed to not taste as good. If you don’t have tamarind concentrate, you can use regular white vinegar as a substitute."

First, vegetarian fish sauce alternatives exist. Second, tamarind tastes nothing like white vinegar. Nothing.

pravit: "but "pad" in "pad thai" doesn't rhyme with "bad"!"

Can't speak for anyone else, but to most Americans it does.

fraula beat me to Kasma Loha-Unchit's pad Thai recipe, so I'll offer the Chez Pim version instead: Pad Thai for Beginners.

My favorite Oakland pad Thai is at Green Papaya Deli on International Blvd. near the lake. They're Issan, so the menu includes both Thai and Lao dishes. Family-run (with Grandma in the kitchen, as far as we can tell). Tiny, unprepossessing appearance, but very nice people and excellent food. (And the tom ka gai is so good, especially when one's recovering from a cold.)
posted by Lexica at 6:15 PM on February 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


I recall a Thai friend telling me that the "Thai" in Pad Thai is not the same as the "Thai" in Thailand. Rather, it means something like "mixed". I always thought of pad thai as akin to Chinese fried rice - a generic kind of dish but without any one specific "authentic" recipe.

"Pad" to my ears is pronounced more like "bud" than "bad".
posted by Alnedra at 6:48 PM on February 23, 2013


pravit: "It's true pad thai is an invented dish"

Are you implying some dishes were not invented? Were they divinely inspired? Did they spring fully-formed from the brow of the Lord?
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 11:31 PM on February 23, 2013


This may or may not be the most authentic/best Pad-Thai recipe, but it is my favorite.

Vegan Black Metal Chef: Pad Thai
posted by happyroach at 1:56 AM on February 24, 2013


Joakim Ziegler: "Are you implying some dishes were not invented? Were they divinely inspired? Did they spring fully-formed from the brow of the Lord?"

Most dishes, as far as I can tell, evolved and developed over time as they were prepared by many, many different people. Who made the first marinara sauce? Who first put rice-and-stuff together and made tagine/biryani/pilaf? When were peanuts and tiny red death peppers first combined to make Kung Pao anything?

There are not that many dishes for which it's possible to identify exactly when it was first created and by whom. Caesar salad comes to mind. Nachos. Chocolate chip cookies. And, apparently, pad thai.
posted by Lexica at 9:26 AM on February 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Are you implying some dishes were not invented? Were they divinely inspired? Did they spring fully-formed from the brow of the Lord?
posted by Joakim Ziegler


I know you're just being facetious, but I'm happy to clarify what I meant anyway; it obviously wasn't the best phrasing, but I thought it made sense in the context of the article linked in the OP. I meant that people have been making various dishes with rice noodles in Thailand ever since they were introduced by Chinese immigrants hundreds of years ago. But it wasn't until the mid 1940's that Mr. Phibunsongkhram decided to invent the name "pad thai", promulgate a specific recipe to street vendors, and actively encourage its production. So in contrast to dishes that organically arose through local cooking traditions that we can't trace back to any one creator, this dish that we call "pad thai" was kind of artificially developed and made popular, sort of like those recipes that arose in the WW2 period because of rationing, or recipes made popular by food manufacturers - like the green bean casserole Americans often eat at Thanksgiving.

And so I see where people are coming from when they say, "there's no such thing as authentic pad Thai, because a dish by that exact name didn't exist before the 1940's." Which is true, but all I know is the dish called "pad thai" served in a lot of North American restaurants doesn't taste like the dish called "pad thai" in Thailand. It's called "pad thai", but it tastes so different from the dish in Thailand as to be a completely different dish entirely. And of course there can be good and bad versions of this Americanized version, and it should be evaluated on its own merits. Now if restaurants were to do us the favor of specifying whether they are making "American-style Pad Thai" or "Thai-style Pad Thai" (and I have actually been to one that does), there wouldn't be any confusion. But because most of them don't, that's why sometimes I have to ask people if a restaurant's pad thai is "authentic" or not. It's not because I think the American version is inherently inferior, sometimes I just want to eat the Thai version.

All this talk about American-style food is actually making me hanker for some American fried rice. One of my favorite Thai "invented dishes."
posted by pravit at 9:33 AM on February 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


What if the Bad Pad Thai was slightly hallucinogenic? Then you'd have a Bad Pad Thai High.

And if you went around exhaling with satisfaction while only slightly intoxicated you would become known as the Bad Pad Thai Tad-High Sigh Guy.
posted by univac at 9:44 AM on February 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


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