Have you ever tried to discover the best that Thailand has to offer? It’s not the pristine beaches or the vibrant nightlife. Nor is it the soothing bliss and peace to be found in the temples. While these elements make Thailand a beauty hard to surpass compared to other countries, its real gem is found in a small bowl, served with a warm smile from the heart. It’s a simple but incredibly delicious dish: Pad Thai.
At first glance, a bowl of Pad Thai seems modest and ordinary. However, it hides many mysteries. Not only is it a treat for the taste buds, but its origins are also fascinating. Let us reveal the secrets that make Pad Thai the best noodle in Thailand and the world.
1. What is “Pad Thaï”?
Pad Thai, a Thai culinary treasure, has gained international fame and was even added to the Oxford online dictionary in 2022, joining the ranks of words such as “sushi” or “banh mi“. According to the Oxford definition, ‘pad thai’ is described as a Thai dish prepared with rice noodles, spices, eggs, vegetables and sometimes meat or seafood.
Pad Thaï is a delicious preparation of fried noodles, topped with tofu, garlic, green onions, chives, prawns, meat and eggs, among other ingredients. All these elements are sautéed in a tasty sauce made with Thai fish sauce, chilli powder, tamarind vinegar and much more. To sublimate this culinary marvel, the Thais sprinkle the dish with crushed roasted peanuts and add a dash of lemon juice.
There are different variations of this dish in some regions, incorporating chicken and beef to attract Western customers. For vegetarians, an interesting option is Vegetarian Pad Thai. Although it is lower in fat than the traditional version, vegetarian Pad Thai appeals to consumers thanks to its vegetable-based composition, particularly beans, which are extremely beneficial to health. What’s more, it retains the delicious spicy, tangy and sweet flavours that characterise this iconic dish.
2. Is Pad Thai originally from Thailand?
The history of Pad Thai reveals both its cultural heritage and its enduring popularity as a culinary symbol of Thailand. Its origin is surrounded by questions, not least because of its original name “Kway Teow Pad Thai”, where “Kway Teow” is a Chinese term meaning “rice noodles”, suggesting a Chinese influence.
Some believe that a similar version of Pad Thai was introduced to the kingdom of Ayutthaya by Chinese traders in the 18th century. The rest of the name also offers clues: ‘Pad’ means ‘stir-fry’ and ‘Thai’ refers to the Thai style.
Whether the dish originated in Thailand or China, it was during the Second World War that a shortage of rice led to the development of Pad Thai as a mainstream dish in Thailand.
At that time, Prime Minister Phibun encouraged the Thai people to consume national ingredients, such as rice, to cope with the country’s difficulties. Rice noodles then became a common ingredient and were incorporated into Pad Thaï as the main ingredient.
3. How did Pad Thai become national dish of Thailand?
Even then, Phibun was looking to promote Thai culture on a global scale and organised a national competition to find the country’s national dish. Pad Thai prepared using only local ingredients and flavours, emerged victorious, becoming a galvanising symbol for the Thai people and their sense of nationalism.
Later, when the Michelin guide’s culinary experts arrived in Thailand, they were pleasantly surprised to discover “Thai fried noodles”. This easy-to-make dish has a unique flavour that is uniquely Thai. Of the more than 100 restaurants listed in the Michelin guide in Thailand, more than 10 offer variations of Pad Thai, testifying to the considerable appeal of this dish.
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4. What makes pad Thai so delicious and distinctive?
In the “Land of Smiles”, Pad Thai is always served with a warm smile. In fact, that smile guarantees that you’re about to enjoy a bowl of happiness. Some locals even claim to have been denied the experience of enjoying a delicious Pad Thai in the absence of that welcoming smile.
Pad Thai is a dish made up of rice noodles, which form its base, accompanied by tofu or meat, depending on your choice. But what makes it so unique, despite these simple ingredients? Pad Thai contains tamarind, fish sauce, garlic, dried prawns, palm sugar and red chilli. These simple ingredients give Pad Thai a combination of five flavours: salty, sweet, sour, bitter and umami, a true “essence of deliciousness”.
The wonderful taste of the sauce has also made this dish famous, not just in Thailand, but all over the world. The noodles soak up the spices, creating a harmony of flavours, while the soft texture makes every bite unforgettable.
As soon as you put that spoonful of hot Pad Thaï soup in your mouth, all your senses are immediately stimulated. The perfect marriage of flavours and textures transports you on a culinary journey that awakens your taste buds and satisfies your appetite.
5. Eat pad Thai like a local
Thais have a particular way of eating Pad Thai. Traditionally, they start by adding lime, dried chilli and roasted peanuts to the noodles, then season with fish sauce and sugar to taste. Then a few vegetables are added to the noodles and everything is carefully mixed together.
When it comes to savouring it, there are a number of different ways. Although you can opt for chopsticks, Thais generally use a spoon and fork to enjoy this delicious dish.
6. Where can you eat the best Pad Thai in Bangkok?
Love it or hate it, Pad Thai is one of the most popular and well-known dishes in Thai cuisine. Tourists love it. Many locals (even if they don’t always say so openly) love it. And in general, it’s a dish that’s not at all difficult to find in Bangkok.
6.1. Pad Thai Thip Samai
- Address: 313-315 Maha Chai Road, Samran Rat, Phra Nakhon
- Opening hours: Monday to Sunday, 9am to midnight
If you ask anyone living in Bangkok where to try the best pad Thai, 9 out of 10 people will tell you Thip Samai. Also known as “Pratu Pee” (meaning the ghost door), this place is considered to be the birthplace of Bangkok’s most famous dish.
Thipsamai is without doubt Bangkok’s most popular, best-known and arguably most legendary Pad Thai restaurant. It’s really, really famous for its Pad Thai, and claims to be the oldest Pad Thai restaurant in the country (a reputation that dates back to before the Second World War). Today, beyond the massive queues, you can find a varied and classic menu, including classic vegetarian and prawn Pad Thai, as well as ‘Pad Thai Song Krung’ made with fresh deep sea prawns, crabmeat, sliced squid and sliced mango. The restaurant even sells ready-made Pad Thai sauce and preparation kits for customers to take home.
6.2. Baan Pad thai
Address: 21-23 Charoen Krung 44 Road, North Sathorn Road
Baan Phad thai is a restaurant dedicated to Thailand’s famous noodle dish. Baan Phad Thai literally translates as “house of Pad Thai”. Located in the charming Charoenkrung district, it is run by Chef Aom, chef of Michelin-starred Saawaan. Prepared with a secret 18-ingredient sauce, Pad Thai uses sen jan rice noodles and offers interesting toppings, such as fresh swimming blue crab, grilled pork and grilled chicken. The interior is decorated with antique Ayutthaya wooden partitions, with nods to the old days in the form of commemorative paintings and photos on the walls. An ideal setting for Pad Thai, with equally satisfying dishes.
At Baan Pad Thai, you can enjoy pad thai prepared with high-quality ingredients, as well as creative variations such as Pad Thai Phoo or the extremely popular pad thai served with traditional grilled pork (Moo Yang).
6.3. Pad Thaï Fai Ta Lu
- Address: 115/5 Dinso Rd, Baworniwet, Phranakorn
- Open: 10 am – 8 pm
Discover Pad Thaï Fai Ta Lu, a Michelin Bib Gourmand award-winning restaurant in Bangkok. Run by renowned chef Andy Yang, this is considered one of the best places to enjoy Pad Thai in the city. Dishes are prepared with premium ingredients such as homemade rice noodles, organic duck eggs and Berkshire pork (also known as Kurobuta).
6.4. Pad Thai Mae Am
- Address: 2879 Rama IV Rd, Khlong Toei, Bangkok
- Open: 11 am 0 8 pm
Pad Thai Mae Am has been around for over 30 years, serving traditional Pad Thai made with local ingredients. Placed on a banana leaf and wrapped in egg, Pad Thai is a real classic, much loved especially for its noodles. Located along Rama IV, come to Pad Thai Mae Am for the noodles, but also stay for the desserts: they have glutinous rice with mango and durian, to name but a few.
6.5. Mayrai Pad Thai Wine Bar
- Address: 22 Maha Rat Rd, Phra Borom Maha Ratchawang, Phra Nakhon
- Open: 12 pm – 9 pm
We end our list with the most elegant of them all. Run by Ton, the Du’s chef, and his brother Tam, Mayrai Pad Thai Wine Bar specialises in Pad Thai and Khao Soi, as well as a wide selection of natural wines. Under the sweltering red lights, enjoy your Pad Thai with grilled pork belly, wagyu beef or huge river prawns. Mayrai has recently opened a second branch on Wireless Road, in chef Ton’s other casual Thai restaurant, Baan.
Our last words
Considered Thailand’s national dish, pad thai is often part of everyday meals, whether in markets, street food or upmarket restaurants. It can also be found outside Thailand, in Asia and even in Europe. So if you have the chance to visit Thailand, be sure to try this dish!