The origins of Phad Thai are both fascinating and insidious in equal measure and are a testament to the power of food. Firstly, it may surprise most to learn that this ubiquitous Thai dish is relatively new to Thai cuisine. Conceived as a solution to a national rice shortage during World War II, the then fascist Thai government created and promoted Phad Thai as a symbol of Thai national pride and actively encouraged street vendors to sell it en masses – a government campaign with the dual objective of both reigniting a flagging sense of Thai Nationalism and addressing a crippling food shortage. In essence, Phad Thai is culinary propaganda at its tastiest.
Sadly, Phad Thai has to be one of the most corrupted Asian dishes in the World. Outside of it’s native Thailand, this wonderful noodle dish has been bastardised beyond recognition by dubious Thai takeaway joints in an ill-advised attempt to make it appealing to a non-Thai palette. I can only imagine the shock that must befall so many tourists who order Phad Thai in the back streets of Bangkok only to end up wondering what on earth they’ve been eating all these years! My version is by no means truly authentic but I’ve tried to replicate the original as best I can – the main difference between my version and the usual takeaway fare is that the only vegetables that are cooked are the bean sprouts and spring onions – the rest are served raw on the side. You can decide if you want to add chicken or prawns, the latter being the more authentic version, but the recipe works well without either.
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