More like meta-cooking question, but I believe it fits here better than on travel stack.

All around the world, one of the symbols of Thailand is Pad Thai. And multiple versions of curry.

But when I wander around Bangkok or other Thai cities, I see pad thai served mostly in tourist areas like Khao San Road and its surroundings, around the Royal Palace, etc. When I look and most food street carts there are plenty of sticks (meat/fish/sausages/balls/seafood put on short wooden sticks and grilled over fire), soups (tom yum based, clear soup with noodles, wonton's), many kinds of meat, seafood, noodles (though not strictly pad thai I think) and so on. Not that many curries either, but in more in-house restaurants you can find them.

So my question is - is the pad thai really Thai? Maybe I'm just overlooking it, or search in wrong places. Or is it a dish once found by a western traveller, made famous in the West and then its renown came back with the travellers.

  • I once asked a similar question (about supposedly Chinese cuisine) on the travel stack: travel.stackexchange.com/questions/30178/… – Andrew Grimm Nov 14 at 2:13
  • All around the world, one of the symbols of Thailand is Pad Thai. Most probably because (1) the name contains the word "Thai", which suggests that it is some sort of national dish in Thailand (which I do not think it is -- indeed the presence of the word "Thai" suggests its foreign origins); (2) the name is easy for Europeans to remember (and hence order); (3) it is unobjectionable to most Europeans (so long as it's not too spicy). To people in Asia, it is just another fried noodle dish. A dish that is much more uniquely Thai is tom yum. – Kenny LJ Nov 14 at 5:24
  • @Stephie deleted an answer talking about how peanuts got to asia with some comments about how it doesn't answer the question ... but peanuts are one of the ingredients in pad thai, so it's actually on topic. Maybe it's be better as a comment then an answer, but here's what PeanutGallery posted : " 0 down vote Or take peanuts, a staple of many Thai foods: from South America, taken to Central America, trade (including slave trade, I am afraid), took it to Africa starting from 1500s, from where it was taken to Southeast Asia and China." – Joe Nov 15 at 15:03
up vote 44 down vote accepted

It's Thai, but it's a relatively new dish as it doesn't date back when the country was called Siam, and it uses Chinese style noodles and preparation (with Thai flavors).

There was a coup against the monarchy in 1932; in 1938 Plaek Phibunsongkhram (aka Phibun) came to power as prime minister. Phibun ordered the creation of a new national dish, "Gway Teow Pad Thai" (Thai fried rice noodles). The thing was, noodles weren't popular in Thailand before that, but there are stories that as this coincided with World War II, it was a way to get people to eat less rice. (although, it's rice noodles, so I don't understand that part)

The government pushed for the dish, including subsidizing food carts (and banning non-Thai food cart vendors, so there wasn't competition from the Chinese noodle vendors)

...

But they're not the only country where foods we associate with them are relatively new -- potatoes and tomatoes are "new world" crops, not European, and untrusted (as they're part of the nightshade family along with capsicums (peppers), eggplant, and tomatillos). So Irish and Italian cuisines before 1500CE (aka 1500AD) were extremely different from what we think of as their cuisines today.

  • 38
    More interestingly, chillis are also new world crops. Therefore all those hot, spicy, Thai, Indian, Malay and Filipino foods are actually modern - invented after the Portuguese or Dutch introduced chilli peppers to Asian cultures – slebetman Nov 13 at 3:55
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    Pineapple is another new world food that is often associated with the pacific. – GdD Nov 13 at 11:07
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    I don't know to what extent any of this is correct but the argument, at least, is that rice noodles are made from lower quality rice, that (presumably) would not otherwise be consumed by people. – Strawberry Nov 13 at 11:51
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    @slebetman I was discussing this with an Indian, and saying how different Indian cuisine would have been before the discovery of the foods from the America's. "Yes", he replied, "I think the thing I would notice most would be the lack of potatoes." (As a Westerner, I was expecting "chilli" to be the most quintessentially "Indian" ingredient.) – Martin Bonner Nov 13 at 14:09
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    @slebetman: "all those hot, spicy, Thai, Indian, Malay and Filipino foods are actually modern". That is possibly a common myth that I do not think is true. You are correct that the chili plant is from the New World (in particular Mexico). But the chili plant was (and still is) not the only way to produce hot and spicy flavors. A simple example of this that Westerners will be familiar with is the Japanese wasabi. – Kenny LJ Nov 14 at 5:51

It is Thai.

Pad thai has its origin from chinese noodle. It can be found every where even outside tourist area. Actually you can find it anywhere in the country. It is definitely not a new dish recently discovered. According to wikipedia it has been introduced since Ayutthaya period (about 300 years ago). It is different from original chinese noodle style by usage of tamarind juice for sourness, palm sugar for sweetness etc.

One of the pad thai restauant receive Bib Gourmand from Michelin Guide.

Google has a doodle for it.

  • 2
    According to the BBC article "The Quest for the Perfect Pad Thai," which is Wikipedia's source for the assertion you are making, Chinese-style noodle dishes in general were introduced to Thailand roughly 300 years ago, but the specific dish now known as Pad Thai dates to the late 1930s, as stated in Joe's answer. (The Wikipedia article does not do a good job of explaining the difference between these two things.) – zwol Nov 13 at 22:25
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    “There isn’t much documentation on how Phibunsongkhram came upon pad Thai – some historians trace it back to a cooking competition he organised – but suddenly the dish began popping up all over the country.” I interpret this paragraph as the dish was there but not well known. Phibunsongkram made it well know, not create it. And I don’t like the fact that the author misspell the name of the restaurant twice in his article. – vasin1987 Nov 14 at 0:56

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