Mental Floss

The Political Origins of Pad Thai

Michele Debczak
Richard WF Chen/Shutterstock
Richard WF Chen/Shutterstock / Richard WF Chen/Shutterstock

Unlike many other famous foods, pad thai didn't originate in home kitchens. Thai Prime Minister Plaek Pibulsonggram—or Phibun—introduced it in the 1930s in an attempt to create a national dish for Thailand. He even had the government hand out a standardized recipe to street vendors in order to increase its popularity. His plan worked: Soon, pad thai was being enjoyed in Thailand and around the world. The dish is so successful today that few people remember its complicated origins as a propaganda tool.

In the latest episode of Food History, we explore the history of Thailand's iconic noodle dish. It may not have taken a conventional path to restaurant tables, and it may be less authentically Thai than its creator wanted, but the appeal of the staple menu item is undeniable. You can learn all about the dish in the video below.

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