Pad Thai is the most misunderstood noodle. Its best incarnations are difficult to find outside of Thailand, even as the basic ingredients are now readily available abroad. I think back to the Pad Thais of my childhood, freshly made at a Bangkok street stall and packaged to go in banana leaves and a newspaper outer layer. A good Pad Thai slowly reveals itself: sweetness with bursts of salty and tart, depending on what is being bitten—preserved radishes, dried prawns, and bits of peanut or omelet. Here in the U.S., Pad Thai usually arrives a pile of noodles plated in a puddle of oil. Many taste as sweet as a lollipop and come stained red by ketchup.Go read the whole thing! And let me know if you figure out how to pronounce that guy's name :)
Yet it’s not entirely fair to complain about the authenticity of Pad Thai. It’s the noodle that’s the most Thai, and at the same time, the least. Before the 1940s, Pad Thai didn’t exist as a common dish. Its birth and popularity came out of the nationalist campaign of Field Marshal Plaek Pibulsongkram, one of the revolutionary figures who in 1932 pushed Thailand out of an absolute monarchy and into a Game of Thrones-style democracy, where coups and counter-coups have become the norm.
Monday, February 11, 2013
Pad thai noodles are a favorite of mine. I think of them as quintessentially Thai food, and I've rarely met one that I didn't like. But I was very surprised to read the story of their (recent!) origin, which starts with this: