7 things you need to know about Pad Thai

Here's the lowdown on everyone's favourite noodle dish, Pad Thai, which hits the perfect combination of flavour notes.

  • Rachel Gray
  • November 2019

Sweet and spicy with a hint of tangy tamarind, this noodle stir-fry may be Thailand’s national dish but it’s enjoyed enthusiastically all around the world. Here’s everything you need to know about Pad Thai.

What is it?

A popular dish of stir-fried rice noodles that’s sold on nearly every soi (street) corner, from the bustling metropolis of Bangkok to the provinces and villages populated with 70 million locals.

What’s it made from?

The original recipe included palm sugar, tamarin, dried prawns, fish sauce, Chinese chives, bean sprouts, peanuts and good thin rice noodles, according to David Thompson, Australian celebrity chef, restaurateur and global ambassador for Thai food. Today, chicken or pork is often added and vegan-friendly versions substitute tofu for prawns.

How do you eat it?

It’s ironic that, while Westerners often choose chopsticks, the Thais use a fork and spoon. Hold the fork in your left hand and use it to push food onto the spoon in your right hand. But be warned – putting the fork in your mouth or pointing it at people is considered bad table manners.

Unlike tourists, most Thais eat Pad Thai with a fork and spoon.

What’s the back story?

Siam was renamed Thailand in 1939 and soon after a competition was run to create a “national dish”. Pad Thai was the dish picked by Prime Minister Phibun, partly because the noodles made it a thrifty (and filling) choice during those tough World War II years.

Where’s it from?

It is one of the best-known Thai dishes but, says David Thompson, as the main ingredient is rice noodles, controversially, it originated in…China.

What’s the secret to an authentic Pad Thai?

When it’s sold in restaurants outside Thailand, the noodles are sometimes bright orange – that’s because sauces or spices, like paprika, have been used instead of tamarind. Authentic Pad Thai is a light reddish-brown colour.

An authentic Pad Thai should be a light reddish-brown colour, not bright orange.

Why is Pad Thai so popular?

David Thompson says this dish hits all the flavour notes – sour, sweet, bitter, salty and umami. He says, “A good Pad Thai should be made with prawns and deep-fried shallots and when made well, it is damn delicious.”