The world can’t seem to get enough of Pad Thai. That one is true. In all corners of the world, Pad Thai – a Thai-style stir-fried noodle – is likely to be available for your cravings. For the debut food clip that we are doing in this column, I can’t help featuring this iconic dish of my country.
Ask any Thai, and you’ll notice that we don’t reckon Pad Thai as our staple as much as rice dishes. After all, as anyone knows, rice largely equals Thai food. But Pad Thai – the dish prepared mainly with rice noodle – appeared in our history as something of a tasty adaptation.
Story has it that back in the World War II, Thailand was having a serious rice shortage. Everything was expensive, but instead of applying rations in our food supply system, our then Prime Minister Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram or Chomphon Por touted an idea of nationalism in a dish. The wartime creation of Pad Thai was a recipe for survival back the day. We borrowed the rice noodle from the Chinese kitchen and stir-fried it with Thai local flavours.
Throughout the years, Pad Thai has slowly been introduced to the world. We now see many adaptations of the dish. But whatever it becomes, the backbone of the dish remains the same – rice noodle, eggs, tofu and dried shrimps. As for the sauce – the raison d’être of the dish – consists of a balanced nuance of three tastes: saltiness from either fish sauce or soy sauce, sweetness from palm sugar, and sourness from tamarind juice. The sauce used to be homemade by simmering the three aforementioned ingredients, some kitchens with extra herbs such as shallot and garlic, some with dried chillies, until tasty even when diluted in the wok and with other ingredients.
Pad Thai are adapted into a variety, too, especially in Thailand. To make it more interesting and perhaps fitting the current vision of health, Pad Thai is now being made with leaner, or in some case heartier, substitutes. We see Pad Thai with deep-fried wontons replacing the noodle. We see green papaya, shredded into noodle strings, we see glass noodle.
The choices of protein differ from place to place, too. In Phetchaburi and Chumporn, for example, layman Pad Thai is prepared with minimal meats. Pork and dried shrimps are the choices to keep the cost low. But for places known for more extravaganza tastes, Pad Thai is served with something a bit more grandeur. River prawns, for example, are synonym for luxurious Pad Thai in many local restaurants.
For me, though, I am a stickler for all things original. I still prefer my Pad Thai made with good rice noodle, stir-fried quickly with all the taste, but not too soggy. I also like the way a good plate of Pad Thai acts like an open-end meal where one can add condiments to one’s tastes. Toasted chilli flakes, for example, along with a good squeeze of fresh lime are always sublime.