Thailand’s Favorite Dish: Pad Thai

One of Thailand’s most popular national dishes, pad thai is known the world over. In fact, the best Thai restaurants in world capital cities like New York City, London, and Paris could hardly be worth their salt without a signature version of the dish. Although food scholars debate the true origins of the dish, most believe that it probably hails from China.

Description of Pad Thai

The main ingredient in pad thai are noodles — specifically, fried rice noodles. The dish is a Thai-style stir fry that traditionally includes accompanying ingredients like chopped tofu, eggs, fish sauce, tamarind pulp, shallots (or garlic), shrimp, red chili pepper, and palm sugar. Then, it’s garnished with roasted peanut and lime slices. Yet, many different versions of pad thai exist in Thailand and around the world. These might include other ingredients like bean sprouts, chicken, squid, or crab. Pickled turnips and radishes are not uncommon additions. There are also vegetarian versions that employ soy sauce as a substitute for fish sauce. Of course, the common thread in these many versions are the stir-fried rice noodles.

History of Pad Thai

The history of pad thai begins with the introduction of rice noodles to Thailand. It’s thought that Chinese merchants introduced these noodles to Thailand’s Ayutthaya Kingdom during the 16th century or thereabouts. Rice noodles have a long and ancient history in China where there is evidence that they were eaten during the Qin Dynasty around the year 206 B.C. Over subsequent centuries, they spread to other areas of Southeastern Asia where they are still popular today.

As for Pad Thai, it became popular during the years before and during World War II when Thailand experienced a rice shortage. Though made from rice, the noodle could be consumed at half the amount as plain rice, which allowed Thailand to effectively export more of its rice crop to alleviate the financial straights it was in. However, the prime minister at the time was also searching for a way to reflect Thailand’s unique cultural heritage. By promoting rice noodles rather than Chinese wheat noodles, which were popular at the time, he was able to inspire the development of a truly unique Thai cuisine.

Preparation Instructions

To prepare pad thai at home, you’ll need a wok and rice noodles. Though you can add vegetables and other ingredients of your own choosing, the following recipe will help you create a traditional pad thai dish:

Ingredients

12 ounces dried rice noodles

¼ cup fish sauce

2 tablespoons tamarind paste

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

¼ cup white granulated sugar

2 teaspoons minced garlic

¼ cup distilled white vinegar

3 beaten eggs

½ cup chopped chives

1 ½ cups bean sprouts

1 cup coarsely ground peanuts

½ pound large shrimp

1 lime sliced into wedges

To prepare this authentic dish of pad thai, let your rice noodles soak in room temperature water for about 45 minutes. Then drain.

Next, whisk together your fish sauce, vinegar, sugar, and tamarind paste over medium heat in a sauce pan until it reaches a simmer.

Then, add your vegetable oil to your wok (or a skillet will do) and heat it up. Add your garlic and shrimp. After a minute or two, add your eggs, allowing them to scramble. Then, add your rice noodles and tamarind paste mixture. Cook for about 4-5 minutes and then add to a serving dish. Top with your chives, peanuts, sprouts, and lime wedges.

Variations

Remember, you can add other ingredients to create your own version of pad thai. For instance, instead of shrimp and bean sprout, you can opt for chicken and sliced bell peppers. You can add broccoli, pea pods, or green beans. Although pad thai appears to require many different ingredients, it’s actually a breeze to make once you have your ingredients assembled—and it prepares quickly, making for a convenient weeknight meal.

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