Is pad thai actually Thai


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.

Best Answer

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.