Pad Thai Was Invented 70 Years Ago By One Dictator

December 11, 2015 in Daily Bulletin

Alex Mayyasi wrote about the history of the creation of the quintessential Thai dish: Pad Thai.

  • Phibun was a dictator who became Prime Minister of what was then called Siam in 1938. While his country was independent all his neighbours were ruled by European colonizers.
  • Europeans justified their colonization by claiming that they were spreading culture to backwards natives. Given Siam’s multiple ethnicities he feared that his country was vulnerable.
  • In order to prevent this he wanted to convince the world that his was a cultured country. He did this by encouraging the emergency of a national identity.
  • Phibun listed 12 mandates. Many such as the requirement to wear hats, or the optimal length of time people should sleep, or even how frequently people should call their relatives have faded from history.
  • A couple stood the test of time. The first was was the decision to rename the country “Thailand”. The second was the creation of a national dish.
  • Legend has it that Phibun settled upon Pad Thai after hosting a competition to select the national dish.
  • The government encouraged adoption of the meal by banning other foods, and distributing recipes and food carts to promulgate the food.
  • Pad Thai had the added bonus of being more nutritious than the plain rice that was most frequently eaten then.
  • The rest is history. Pad Thai has gone onto become closely associated with Thailand even though it’s a relatively modern invention.
  • This shouldn’t be too surprising though. Italian food is closely associated with tomatoes even though for most of Europe’s history tomatoes were not native to the continent.
  • And Irish cuisine is known for potatoes though the root vegetables were declared as being fit only for animals in the country for most of its history.
  • All in all it seems to take little more than about 50 years to create a “national cuisine” that becomes attached to, and propagates a national identity.

The full article has many more details including the foreign influences on Pad Thai, the similarities between Phibun and Atatürk, and many other details here. It is well worth a read.

Source: Priceonomics

Via: Marginal Revolution