What Does Pad Mean In Pad Thai?

There is nothing more satisfying than biting into Pad Thai, where the flavors have been carefully and delectably balanced. Worldwide, Pad Thai is known as a delicious and hearty meal. Little did you know that its origins are somewhat contentious!

The “Pad” in Pad Thai simply means “stir fry”. Whether the dish is really of Thai origin has been debated as most hold that the dish is really Chinese. Then Thai Prime Minister Phibin popularized pad Thai. Pad Thai is now world-famous for its blend of flavors.

If you’d like to know what makes Pad Thai’s history so debatable and also what “pad” means, read on to be surprised!

What Is Pad In Thai Food?

“Pad” means to stir fry or, more specifically, food stir-fried in a wok. 

Pad Thai comprises chewy, stir-fried rice noodles with vegetables (including bean sprouts), eggs, and tofu in a sauce of tamarind, dried shrimp, red chili pepper, fish, dried shrimp, and palm sugar. Red chili pepper can be added on the side as a condiment, as can lime wedges and peanuts.

Chicken, beef, crab, lobster, and vegetarian versions are also available. Pad Thai is traditionally eaten with chopsticks.

Pad Thai balances the three crucial Thai flavors, namely salty, sour and sweet, and adds in a fourth friend, spiciness.

The saltiness comes from the fish sauce, and the sourness comes from the fresh tamarind paste, while the palm sugar brings in the sweetness.

Other popular Thai dishes also have the word “Pad” in them. They are as follows:

Pad Kee Mao = Stir Fry Drunken noodle

Pad See Ew = Stir Fry Soy Sauce

Pad Kra Pao = Stire Fry Holy Basil

Khao Pad = Stir Fry Rice

Pad Pak = Stir Fry Vegetable

How To Pronounce Pad Thai

Pad Thai is pronounced “p̄hạd thịy” instead of “pad thigh.” It was, in fact, Thailand’s national dish and is a staple in Thailand and at every Thai restaurant around the globe.

Where Is Pad Thai From?

The history of Pad Thai is a complicated one, full of myth and mystery. Its exact origins are unclear, but there is much speculation and propaganda around its beginnings. 

Phibun: The Prime Minister Promoting Modernization

Until the 1930s, the dish was not yet part of Thai cuisine.

It was integrated into Thai culture by Plaek Phibunsongkhram, who was known in the West simply as Phibun.

He was the Prime Minister from 1938 to 1944 and 1948 to 1957.

Phibun is famous for several measures aimed at modernizing and Westernizing the country, including renaming the country from Siam to Thailand.

He also implemented a new national anthem and banned local languages and dialects from Thailand’s schools.

His introduction of a fixed recipe for Pad Thai to street vendors not only created a unified national identity but also played a pivotal role in improving the land’s nutrition.

The introduction of bean sprouts, vegetables, and affordable proteins with inexpensive and filling rice noodles made Pad Thai a balanced and nutritional meal that most people in Thailand could enjoy.

During World War II, these rice noodles were readily available, despite a drastic rice shortage.

One bowl of rice could be used to make two bowls of rice noodles. This was another reason the consumption of noodles was promoted.

The slogan “Noodle is your lunch” was used to make the consumption of Pad Thai every day a patriotic act in the face of the rice shortage.

The government wanted to stretch the rice reserves to last, which contributed to noodles’ popularity.

Insights from Phibun’s Son

Made in wheeled noodle carts, which held a heat source and partitions to hold ingredients and cooking utensils, Pad Thai thrives in Thailand.

Nitya Pibulsonggram, Thailand’s former Minister of Foreign Affairs and son of Phibun stated that it “may be the original fast food in Thailand.”

Pibulsonggram states that Pad Thai, as it was standardized, was first served in his household but that he does not remember who invented it.

His parents believed it would be apt to popularize Pad Thai because of its nutrition.

However, these claims are unsubstantiated as no dietary study has ever occurred.

There were disastrous floods in Thailand and many diseases going around, according to Pibulsonggram.

Phibun’s idea was to promote sanitary cooking conditions and foods.

Thais were encouraged to eat Pad Thai regularly to support Thai farmers and ensure an adequate flow of money in the economy.

Pibulsonggram also noted that his father urged Thais to grow their own vegetables.

Close up original Pad Thai served on banana leaf, The most favorite and famous Asian Thai street fast food, Healthy Vegetarian/vegan menu.

The True Origin Of Pad Thai

However, the origin of Pad Thai is disputed.

The dish’s full name is kway teow pad Thai, which suggests that the dish is of Chinese origin. “Kway teow” is Chinese for rice noodles.

The Chinese first made noodles 4000 years ago and started stir-frying them in a wok shortly afterward.

In the 1700s, stir-fried noodles were introduced to the region that is Thailand today by Chinese traders.

These dishes may have been the predecessors of Pad Thai as we now know it.

There are no quintessentially Thai ingredients in Pad Thai.

Mung beans were found in India, and peanuts were originally cultivated in South America.

Tamarind was cultivated in tropical Africa, chilies come from South and Central America, and fish sauce itself is very contested.

Some believe that the dish evolved from one introduced by Chinese traders and began to incorporate Thai flavors over time. Others speculate it is a dish of Vietnamese origin.

Thai Restaurants Abroad

Pad Thai’s proliferation in foreign countries did not happen naturally. The Thai government launched a campaign in 2001 to open as many Thai restaurants abroad as possible. 

Chefs were trained in Thailand and sent abroad, and Thai ex-pats were offered loans to open Thai restaurants in other countries. 

Foreign investors could choose a restaurant model that the Thai government laid out. Pre-planned menus and décor were a feature of these models. Names were even pre-chosen according to various degrees of priciness. 

Elephant Jump was the cheapest option; Cool Basil was the mid-tier option, and Golden Leaf for the most expensive of the three.

This campaign was effective: between 2001 and 2018, the number of Thai restaurants tripled. This boosted Thailand’s reputation and, thereby, its tourism industry. 

Through this campaign, the Thais also engaged in what is called “Gastrodiplomacy,” a term to describe the subtle art of using culinary prowess to better relations with other countries and Thailand.


The Thai government used Pad Thai greatly to the country’s benefit – first, to improve nutrition and national unity and, later, to attract tourism to the country.

It’s no wonder then that the dish is so beloved by Thais themselves and also by foreigners who have made the flavorsome dish their favorite one.