I first tried Pad Thai several years ago in a restaurant in London. It was my first experience of Thai food and I had no idea what to expect. Shortly after ordering, I was presented with a plate of thin noodles, vegetables and tofu, topped with group peanuts and lime. The dish was beautifully presented and it seemed a shame to demolish it, but I was glad that I did. The food was delicious; full of rich flavours, interesting textures and just a little bit spicy. For me it was love at first bite.
When I first arrived in Thailand I was delighted to discover that the Pad Thai I had enjoyed in London for 5 pounds UK could be bought for as little as 20 Baht – 35 pence! Not only that, but the delicious dish can be sampled right on Khaosan Road, allowing you to soak up the atmosphere while you eat. Of course, the price varies according to the quality of ingredients and where you eat it, but a large serving of Pad Thai made with quality ingredients can be bought for 40 or 50 Baht, which is about 1 pound.
I quickly discovered that the ingredients, flavours and presentation of Pad Thai dishes vary significantly between restaurants and areas. Before long I had sampled the dish at most of the restaurants in my area of Bangkok and found my favourite places to eat.
I have found that the tastiest Pad Thai is located not in fancy restaurants but in small, traditional Thai restaurants or from carts on the street. Eating on the street also provides the opportunity for people watching, always a welcome diversion.
One of my favourite places to eat and watch the world go by is on Soi Rambhutri in the heart of Bangkok’s Banglampu. Here, the blend of Thai people, seasoned travelers and hapless tourists makes interesting and often comical entertainment.
One of the very first people I met in Bangkok was Tip as I was wandering down Khao San Road looking for refreshment. The vibrant Thai woman drew me to her with her bright smile and the mouth-watering aroma coming from wok and told me to sit at one of her folding tables next to the curb. I watched as she tossed noodles, sauce, vegetables, tofu and dried shrimp into her wok, talking animatedly with a friend as she cooked.
Within minutes, Tip had produced a large plate of Pad Thai. It smelt great and was very tasty – slightly spicy with the deliciously contrasting textures of chewy noodles and crisp vegetables. Tip stood watching me eat, smiling broadly when I showed my appreciation.
When I finished eating, Tip told me that she had been cooking Pad Thai at her stall for over 15 years. The stall was given to her by her husband’s parents as a marriage present. Tip gradually bought the tables and chairs from her profits and has gradually been adding little touches to personalise the stall.
“I don’t make much money,” Tip told me. “But I am very happy. I can talk to many foreign people and practice speaking English every day.” Tip told me that the best part of her job is watching people enjoy her food. “Everybody likes to enjoy,” she said with a broad smile.
Noodles were first brought to Thailand by Chinese immigrants. They also brought chopsticks and woks, essential equipment for enjoying Pad Thai. However, Thai people traditionally eat rice three times a day and noodles were overlooked for a long time.
The Prime Minister of Thailand, Luang Phibunsongkhram; introduced Pad Thai and made it a national dish during World War II. Thailand was faced with a rice shortage and budget crises at this time and the Prime Minister promoted the eating of Pad Thai to combat the problem.
Today, Pad Thai is enjoyed all over Thailand and indeed all over the world. It is loved by Westerners because it is not spicy like many other Thai dishes and can be eaten at any time of the day or night.
In Bangkok, many Westerners consume Pad Thai after a few beers. As veteran backpacker Dan states; “You can’t beat Pad Thai. It’s cheap, tasty, and the women who cook it are easy on the eye, too!”
About the author:
Kirsty Turner (Kay) is a freelance writer currently living in Bangkok. She has kindly agreed to write for KhaoSanRoad.com and share her love of all things Thai and, especially, all things Khao San Road!