These days, pad Thai is so ubiquitous you might think it’s been around forever. But as the keen-eyed folk at Priceonomics report, the dish really only dates back to 1932, when a military coup changed the course of the country’s culture (and cuisine) forever.
One of the people behind the coup was an ambitious chap named Phibunsongkhram. Once the dust of the resurrection finally settled, Phibunsongkhram made it his mission to unify the country (then known as 'Siam') by whatever means possible.
He began issuing a wide sweep of commands across the nation, and promised severe penalties for anyone who stepped out of line. Some of these orders remain in place today. He abandoned the name ‘Siam’, for instance, and changed it to Thailand. However, not all of his edicts have stood the test of time. A law requiring people to wear hats in public, for example, have since been abandoned.
But one of his more long lasting contributions was the recipe for pad Thai. Phibunsongkhram's government promoted the dish as a new national cuisine, distributing recipes and carts for selling the delicious noodles across the country, while simultaneously banning foreign vendors from selling their food.
Interestingly, the dish that was created to represent Thai-ness actually uses very few Thai ingredients. And its full name, ‘kway teow phat Thai”, is partially Chinese. Culturally unifying? Perhaps not. Delicious? Certainly.