Pad thai is crunchy, sweet, spicy, savoury, and one of Thailand's national dishes. Unsurprisingly, you'll find it in every Thai restaurant worth its fish sauce.
The magic ingredients
Traditional pad thai is made up of rice noodles, scrambled egg and chunks of firm tofu, all stir fried with garlic, shallots and red chilli pepper. Flavoured with tamarind pulp, fish sauce and dried shrimp, it's plated up with citrus wedges and roasted peanuts.
Outside of Thailand, you're more likely to find it served with bean sprouts, chicken and prawns. Veggie versions will skip the fish sauce in favour of soy. Whichever version you go with, it's the flavour of tamarind that steals the show. Sweet yet slightly bitter, tamarind is brightened up with palm sugar and leaves your mouth tingling.
Where is pad thai from?
Despite literally being named after its country and widely embraced as a signature dish, pad thai has a surprising mix of Asian origins – Chinese, Vietnamese and Cambodian.
During the push for Thai nationalism, the prime minister chose pad thai as a national dish. Switching out the original Chinese wheat noodles, he introduced a new rice noodle, called sen chan. These thin rice noodles were named after Chanthaburi, an area on the edge of Thailand with strong Vietnamese and Cambodian influences. Pad thai is also cooked in a traditionally Chinese way – pan-fried in a wok.
A modern classic
The tamarind and lime provide the sour and sweet, fish sauce brings the saltiness and chilli adds the spice. But it's not just the flavours that make this dish a sensation – it's also the textures. The soft noodles, firm tofu and chicken contrast with the crunch of peanuts and fresh bean sprouts.
There's an unspoken rule to honour the traditions of pad thai, with many restaurants prioritising authenticity over innovation. Thaikhun stick strictly to the classic recipe back from when one of the owners had a food cart in Bangkok, so every bite tastes of Khao San Road.
At Thaiworks, it's served up with a delicate but eye-catching battered lattice balanced on top of it. And the folks at Thai Tanic stick to convention too, covering their dish in crushed peanuts and topping it with a lemon wedge. Grab your chopsticks and dig in.
Master of chopsticks, or still relying on your trusty fork? When you eat at home, nobody will ever know. Order pad thai to your door through Deliveroo.