Once in a while, good food can result from tough times. This seems to be the case with pad thai. By Encyclopedia BritannicaLuang Phibunsongkhram served as Prime Minister of Thailand from 1938 to 1944 and again from 1948 to 1957. After his militaristic rise to power, Phibunsongkhram sought to strengthen his country with ultranationalism.
The prime minister has autocratically attempted to “reform” his nation in a number of ways, including his cuisine. Priceonomics explains that Phibunsongkhram wanted to make Thailand appear cultured (by his and the West’s standards) to refute the idea that Thailand needed help. He therefore mandated the creation of a national dish. Dark Atlas notes that pad thai also aimed to promote nutrition and clean cooking.
The story gets a little hazy at this point, according to Priceonomics. Some accounts indicate that a contest was held, producing pad Thai. Others say the dictator’s family cooked pad thai long before it rose to prominence. Either way, “Noodle is your Lunch” has become a national campaign, while free noodle carts and pad thai recipes were distributed to people by the government. It caught on, and Phibunsongkhram’s son later dubbed pad Thai, “Thailand’s first fast food.”
Phibunsongkhram was finally ousted for the second time, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica. Either way, the pad Thai stuck. Another thing that stuck was Phibunsongkhram’s name for the dish, “kway teow phat Thai,” or pad Thai for short (via Priceonomics). History may not remember Phibunsongkhram fondly, but she looks kindly at pad thai.