Pad Thai: The Forgotten History Of Thailand’s National Dish

Pad Thai is one of the Thailand’s most popular street food. There’s no restaurant in Thailand you won’t find this dish on the menu. However as popular as it is, few people actually know the history behind the famous noodle dish.

What is Pad Thai made of?

Pad Thai

The delicious dish consists:

  • rice noodles;
  • fried with tofu;
  • tamarind paste;
  • eggs;
  • dried shrimps;
  • fish sauce;
  • garlic;
  • palm sugar; and
  • and red chili pepper.

It is often served together with bamboo shoots, lime wedges, raw banana flowers, spring onions, and topped with a sprinkle of peanuts.

If you have been to Thailand and you haven’t tried this, then you’re missing out on the most delicious meal the country has to offer.

The history behind Pad Thai:

Pad Thai history

The original name of Pad Thai is Gway Teow Pad Thai. Gway Teow means “rice noodles in Chinese” which proves that there are some elements of China in the dish. It is believed that a similar dish was brought to the Ayutthaya kingdom by Chinese Traders in the 1700s. But the present name tells us all about the famous dish. ‘Pad’ means ‘fried’ and ‘Thai’, means Thai style.

World War II efforts

There was a shortage of rice in Thailand during the Second World War due to bad flooding which in turn lessened the production of rice in the fields. So to better preserve the rice in stock, the Thai government under the governorship of the prime minister and the military dictator, Plaek Phibunsonghram, started promoting noodles amongst the Thai people. Since noodles used up only about 50% of the rice grain, they were able to better manage the available stocks.

Noodles is Thailand’s new national dish

Pad Thai with Beansprout

The Pad Thai dish was created by the government to better manage rice produce in the country. They informed the general public on the logic behind eating Pad Thai. Which is to help save the country from starvation. However what they didn’t know was that the prime minister, Plaek Phibunsonghram also wanted to introduce some variety into the Thai diet. By encouraging people to eat noodles instead of rice, he was promoting unity and a sense of national identity amongst the people of Thailand.

History also hinted that there was actually a competition in Thailand. It required people to create a national dish using noodles of which pad Thai emerged the winner.

“Noodle is your Lunch”

Another Pad Thai

There was a time in history where the government came up with a campaign slogan that says “noodle is your lunch”. To better promote the Pad Thai dish, the public welfare department gave out recipes for the now famous dish to restaurants. They also gave out free carts to citizens willing to sell the Pad Thai in the streets. However, during that time, foreigners and Chinese street vendors were banned from selling the dish.

The 12 cultural mandates

During 1939 all through to 1942, the prime minister of Thailand, Phibun, issued a chain of ‘state decrees’. The decrees were intended to create a uniformed and a more civilized country. This will ultimately assist their fight in the war. However, on the flip side, he was doing this to limit the influence of the Chinese immigrants in Thailand.

There are about 12 of these cultural mandates but some have faded over time. The first mandate was to change the name of the country from Siam to Thailand, which has stuck till now. These mandates gave rise to the pad Thai dish and the aim like the other mandates was to strengthen the Thai identity.

Another aim of the mandate was for the people of Thailand to put the nation first before any other thing. And putting the nation first means not revealing state secrets to foreigners. Or assisting them to buy landed properties and opening businesses. It also means working really hard for the nation. The mandates also encouraged the Thai people to only eat locally produced food, study and speak only the Thai language, wear hats in public, exercise for one hour every day, stop chewing betel nuts and get at least6 hours sleep every day.

Another mandate encouraged honoring the Thai flag and the royal anthem. This can still be seen in the Thai people as they stand still each time the national anthem is being played in public. It also called on people to reprimand anyone who fails to show respect to public figures and the country.

The most famous Pad Thai restaurant in Thailand

Pad Thai Restaurant

(Image taken from Love Thai Maak).

Today all around Thailand, you see the people of Thai and even foreigners enjoying the famous pad Thai at restaurants and even street food stalls. However, there is a restaurant famous for serving the pad Thai in Thailand. It is the Thipsamai Restaurant on Mahachai Road in Phran Nakorn in Thailand. So in case you’re in Bangkok and you’re looking for a good restaurant that serves the best pad Thai, then you can head over to Thipsamai Restaurant and you’ll be glad you did.


Although there are many contradictory stories and several other interpretations to the origin of pad Thai in Thailand, we found this one to be the most fascinating of them all. And now you’ve become one of the few people that know the history of the delicious pad Thai dish.

As much as visiting new places and trying out new foods is awesome, you must also be very careful when you try out new things. When trying out a new dish, for example, there is a big possibility that your body might react badly to it. You might end up having food poison. For that singular reason, you need to get travel insurance before going on any trip. Getting medical assistance can be expensive abroad, but when you have insurance on your trip, any medically incurred expenses will be handled by your insurance company. Remember if you get insured, you will enjoy your trip more, as you would have nothing to worry about.