So everything that I’ve blogged about so far, I’ve already tried them before and I know how they taste. I sort of feel like that’s cheating because in addition to learning the history behind the Americanization of the foods I’ve eaten, I should also be trying new foods.
Well ladies and gentlemen, I’ve finally done it. I’ve tried a new dish.
Last week, I caught up with my friend Susana at Thai restaurant in Frederick, MD called Summitra. They serve “Authentic” dishes (as stated by the menu header) and I tried pad thai.
Pad thai is a sweeter stir fry rice-noodle dish with bean sprouts, meat or tofu, various vegetables like carrots and cabbage, and topped with crushed peanuts. Of course, that was a very vague and concise definition of pad thai. The following recipe from the New York Times has gotten some good reviews and uses:
- 4 ounces fettuccine-width rice stick noodles
- ¼ cup peanut oil
- 2 to 4 tablespoons tamarind paste
- ¼ cup fish sauce (nam pla)
- ⅓ cup honey
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
- ¼ cup chopped scallions
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 2 eggs
- 1 small head Napa cabbage, shredded (about 4 cups)
- 1 cup mung bean sprouts
- ½ pound peeled shrimp, pressed tofu or a combination
- ½ cup roasted peanuts, chopped
- ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
- 2 limes, quartered
This recipe is probably not authentic as well. According to Pitchaya Sudbanthad of the Morning News, pad thai is supposed to be sweet with bursts of saltiness and tart while Americanized pad thai is incredibly sweet and can come red, stained by ketchup. Authentic pad thai is served with radishes, dried prawns, and bits of peanut or omelet. And even though pad thai is not necessarily a popular dish in Thailand, it’s lack of spiciness made it a great gateway dish to introduce others to the Thai cuisine. Pad thai has, in some way, become a representation of Thailand cuisine.
Unlike many other dishes that have come to America in the way of immigration of people, pad thai was popularized by their government and created as a way to westernize the nation. Plaek Pibulsongkram, Thailand’s Prime Minister (the same guy that changed Thailand’s name from Siam to Thailand), wanted more rice products available for export to establish a united Thai identity. The government’s encouragement to eat and sell pad thai has contributed to its popularity today not only in the US but many other countries.