Thailand–The Land of Smiles.
I’ve never been to Thailand, but Thai food is one of my favorites in the world of international cuisine, with pad Thai ranking right up there as one of the best dishes. A little bit of spicy heat, with a touch of sweet, sour, salty and bitter all in one dish. Yes, the perfect balance of flavor. Yin and Yang.
The teens I work with also love Thai food, with pad Thai and chicken satay being a common request. Both of these dishes are easy to prepare and speedy to cook–the perfect combination when cooking with teens because they’re ready to eat when they walk in the door.
And since I love a good story, even better for me is all the history that comes with pad Thai and how it came to be Thailand’s national dish.
So where did pad Thai come from?
There are many theories about the origins of pad Thai, but the most popular one credits Thai leader Plaek Phibunsongkhram, who was also known as Phibun or Pibul, as being the creator.
Phibun came into power during the 1930s, with the goal of “westernizing” the country and making its people more “civilized.” His goal was to make Thailand appear to the rest of the world as progressive nations and a great military power.
Phibun implemented laws or Cultural Mandates regarding such things as a national anthem, dress codes (much more conservative), wearing hats, physical exercise, and even the number of hours of sleep a Thai citizen should get (6-8 hours in case you were wondering). He even changed the name of the country from Siam to Thailand.
And as a way to separate Thailand from the influences of China, he created pad Thai–a dish to be recognized by the world as Thailand’s NEW national dish.
Standing the Test of Time
Although many of Thai leader Philbun’s mandates have gone by the wayside, a few have remained, including Thailand’s national dish, pad Thai.
Pad Thai–Thailand’s first fast food. Street vendors transitioned from selling pad Thai from their carts instead of the Chinese dishes they had been serving. It continues to be one of Thailand’s most popular dishes.
Let’s Get Cookin’
So what’s in Pad Thai? Starting with rice noodles (rice is Thailand’s “cash crop”), bean sprouts (rinse them really really well), turmeric (a brain protector), red pepper curry paste (SPICY), fish sauce (made with ANCHOVIES but tastes so good), Yin and Yang (balance of flavors), and Umami (means yummy to me!).
Then on to cooking pad Thai. First carefully remove the rice noodles from the package. Rice noodles seem fragile and break easily. “Cook” the noodles by soaking them in boiling water.
Here is a link for a detailed explanation on prepping rice noodles, Rice Noodles 101
Once the noddles are soaking, it’s time to practice those knife skills (because you can’t cook without them). First the veggies. Chop up a bunch of green onions, julienne a few carrots, and then thinly sliced a couple of chicken breasts. Everything was lined up and ready for our wok (mise en place).
Chicken Pad Thai
8 ounces rice noodles
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 eggs, slightly beaten
2 Tablespoons rice vinegar
3-4 Tablespoons fish sauce
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
2 Tablespoons lime juice
2 Tablespoons white sugar
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 teaspoon peanut butter (cream or crunchy)
3 green onions, chopped
1 cup bean sprouts
cilantro for garnish
SOAK rice noodles in boiling water for 10 to 20 minutes, or until soft. DRAIN, and SET aside.
HEAT 1 Tablespoon oil in a wok or large heavy skillet. SAUTE chicken until browned. REMOVE, and set aside. HEAT remaining oil in wok over medium-high heat. CRACK eggs into hot oil, and COOK until firm.
STIR in chicken, and COOK for 5 minutes.
ADD softened noodles, rice vinegar, fish sauce, soy sauce, lime juice, sugar, red pepper, peanut butter. Adjust seasonings to taste. Continue to MIX while cooking, until noodles are tender.
(May need to add a little chicken broth or water if mixture is too dry). ADD bean sprouts and green onion. MIX for another 4 minutes.
Notes: I like to double the sauce because I like it saucy.
A couple of shopping notes: Most of the ingredients can easily be found at any major grocery store.
The Fish Sauce we used was Red Boat 40N Fish Sauce (because I LOVE it). It’s voted by many to be the best, but it may not be so easy to find locally. The Thai Kitchen Premium Fish Sauce is definitely a good substitute.
A HUGE thank you to the Arthur Public Library for hosting the Teens Cook class and to Kelsey for all her work assisting.
Here are a couple of links for Fish Sauce so you can see what I’m talking about.