Pad Thai Tonight

Linda Lou Burton posting about Bangkok, Thailand from Little Rock, Arkansas – Big changes afoot. Today I leave things familiar and plunge into things unknown. At least, less familiar, because so far everywhere I’ve been on the NDI RTW has had “the British touch.” Today I move from the Southern Hemisphere to the Northern; winter to summer; a large county to a small one. The pace changes from easy-going to teeming; more activity, noise, and more people. Australia’s population density is 8. Thailand’s is 348.

The change begins at 9:20 this morning when I board Thai Airlines at Perth International Airport (PER). Then a direct flight to Bangkok, traveling 3,316 miles over the Indian Ocean, Indonesia, the Equator, Singapore, and the Gulf of Thailand before setting down at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) at 3:20 this afternoon. Bangkok is latitudinally in line with Guatemala and Honduras in Central America so I’d expect hot and humid since it’s August, but the temp today is only 89, with light rain.

The airport is 37 miles from my hotel in downtown Bangkok, so I made specific arrangements in advance for transportation, no hailing down a last-minute cab for me. I’m booked at Bangkok’s Millennium Hilton, 123 Charoennakorn Road, overlooking the Chao Phraya River. Their blurb states it “offers breathtaking views of the city from every one of its 533 rooms.” I chose a panoramic executive suite, a cowardly move in case I’m so overwhelmed with all the differences I’ll face I can just stare at the city from up high.

I won’t even need to leave the hotel to eat, look at what they say about their dining facilities: Millennium Hilton Bangkok’s contemporary and cutting-edge style extends to its range of dining options all complemented by expansive views of the river, making the hotel’s award-winning restaurants and bars a preferred destination. With a wide range of seven food and beverage outlets to choose from, FLOW, Prime, Yuan, ThreeSixty Jazz Lounge, ThreeSixty Rooftop Bar, The Lantern, and The Beach each offer their distinctive take on local or international dishes and cocktails to suit every palate, in beautiful indoor and outdoor settings.

Why have I come to Bangkok in the first place, if it seems so hard to tackle? For one, it is on my Ten Superlative World Capital Cities list. Wellington is the “southernmost capital city in the world;” Bangkok has the “hottest climate.” On average, over a year, with all the climatological record keeping, of course.

But there is another reason I’ve come to Bangkok. I absolutely, positively, without apology, LOVE Pad Thai, the national food of Thailand. It doesn’t matter if you spell it Pad Thai or Phad Thai or Phat thai or whether you add chicken or shrimp or crab or use fish paste or soy sauce or even what degree of hotness you choose, it is simply good. It made #5 on a list of “World’s 50 Most Delicious Foods” in a CNN readers’ poll a few years back, and it has been on my list since I first tasted it in Seattle in the 1980s. I worked with many people from Thailand at the University of Washington, and our department was notorious for potlucks. Not only did I eat lovingly-home-cooked Pad Thai; the substantial Thai population in Seattle also meant good restaurants. I was hooked on Thai food.

But it wasn’t just Thai food I came to love, it was Thai people. I made so many friends over the years; heard so many stories of Thailand; was issued so many invitations to come and visit – Bangkok, Chiang Mai, the whole country. Everywhere in my house are gifts and mementos given to me in kindness – the elephant bracelet, the delicate silk purse, the embroidered wall hanging showing mountain people gathered by the fire; the tiny rose intricately carved in scented soap by a friend’s mother.

So even though the architecture may be different, and the language (and long, long words) may be different, and the fast pace of traffic and honking horns and politics and life in general may scare the liver out of me, I will not stay in my hotel room for four days. I will explore this city, and talk with everyone who will talk with me (in English!). I will love it. And I will eat a lot of Pad Thai.

In Case You Don’t Know What Pad Thai Is

Rice noodles stir fried with eggs and chopped firm tofu, flavored with tamarind pulp, fish sauce, dried shrimp, garlic or shallots, red chili pepper and palm sugar; served with lime wedges and chopped roasted peanuts. It may contain bean sprouts, garlic chives, pickled radishes, turnips, and raw banana flowers; also shrimp, crab, squid, chicken or other animal proteins of choice. Often ingredients are on the side as condiments, such as the red chili pepper, lime wedges, roasted peanuts, bean sprouts, spring onion and other fresh vegetables. Vegetarian versions substitute soy sauce for the fish sauce.

Pad Thai Is Not An Ancient Dish

Stories vary about how this national favorite came to be; I cannot verify but share two of them with you. They sound political, but no matter how the recipe evolved, people everywhere have come to love it!

Pad Thai was created in the 1930s in Thailand by Plaek Phibunsongkhram, the Prime Minister. Thailand was focused on nation building at the time so this dish using Chinese noodles was a way to galvanize nationalism. OR. During World War II, Thailand suffered a rice shortage due to the war and floods. To reduce domestic rice consumption, Prime Minister Phibunsongkhram promoted consumption of noodles instead. The original recipe did not contain pork because of the perception that pork was a Chinese meat.

Believe it, or not.