Thailand’s signature dish, pad thai, isn’t just a restaurant staple for foreigners; it’s served in every village in Thailand. We learn more about the Thai prime minister who popularized–some say invented–the dish, and how it helped make Thai food one of the world’s most popular cuisines.


  • Nongkran Daks Executive Chef and owner of Thai Basil restaurant
  • Alexandra Greeley Virginia-based food writer and cookbook author
  • Nick Srisawat Chef and owner of Tara Thai restaurant

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Courtesy Guests Nongkran Daks and Alexandra Greeley

Kuay Tiaw Pad Thai
(Serves 2)

3 tablespoons vegetable oil plus extra as needed
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1 tablespoon dried shrimp, optional
1/2 cup sliced pork
1/2 cup whole shrimp, cleaned and shelled
1 tablespoon chopped salted turnip, optional
1/2 pound medium rice stick noodles, soaked 60 minutes in cold water and drained
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup Pad Thai sauce (see recipe below)
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon crushed hot chilies, or more to taste
2 tablespoons ground roasted peanuts
1/2 cup chopped garlic chives or scallions, optional
2 cups bean sprouts, rinsed

  1. Heat the oil in a wok. Add the garlic and stir-fry until golden brown. Add the dried shrimp and salted turnip, and stir a few times. Add the meat and shrimp and keep stirring until the shrimp changes color. Remove the shrimp to prevent overcooking and set aside.

  2. Add the noodles. They will stick together so stir fast and try to separate them. Add the water, stir around until the water is absorbed, then add the pad Thai sauce and keep stirring until everything is thoroughly mixed. The noodles should appear soft and moist. If they look hard, add more cold water and stir again. Return the cooked shrimp to the wok.

  3. Push the contents of the wok up around the sides to make room to fry the eggs. If the pan is very dry, add 1 more tablespoon of oil. Add the eggs and spread the noodles over the eggs to cover. When the eggs are cooked, stir the noodles until everything is well mixed—this should result in cooked bits of eggs, both whites and yolk, throughout the noodle mixture.

  4. Add the chilies, peanuts, garlic chives or scallions, and bean sprouts. Mix well.

Thai Noodle Sauce
(Serves 12)

You can buy premixed tamarind concentrate or make your own tamarind juice: Buy a package of compressed tamarind pulp at any Asian market, cut off 1 cup and soak in warm water for 20 minutes. Squeeze out the pulp and discard the seeds and pulp; the remaining liquid is the tamarind juice. Store any leftover juice or noodle sauce in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator, where they last almost indefinitely.
1 cup tamarind juice
1 1/4 cups palm sugar
1 cup water
1/2 cup fish sauce
1 teaspoon salt
Mix all ingredients in a saucepan and simmer for about 45 minutes until it is well mixed and syrupy. Stir occasionally to prevent its burning.

Tom Yam Kung (Spicy Shrimp and Lemongrass Soup
(Serves 6-8)
You may use sliced fish, squid, and mussels in this very popular hot and sour soup.

6 cups water or chicken stock
1 pound raw shrimp, shelled and deveined, shells reserved
2 stalks lemongrass, crushed and cut into 2-inch lengths
3 coriander roots, pounded
3 kaffir lime leaves, torn into small pieces
2 cups thinly sliced fresh mushrooms
1 tomato, cut into eighths
1 tablespoon nam prik pao (Thai chili paste)
4 tablespoons fish sauce
5 tablespoons fresh lime or lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
1 scallion, finely chopped
1 sprig fresh coriander, finely chopped

  1. Heat the water or stock in a large saucepan over medium heat and cook the shrimp shells until pink. Discard the shells.
  2. Add the lemongrass, coriander roots, and lime leaves. Return to the boil and cook for 4 to 5 minutes to allow the flavors to intensify.
  3. Add the mushrooms, tomato, and shrimp and cook 3 to 4 minutes, or until shrimp turn pink—do not overcook.
  4. Remove from the heat and stir in the nam prik pao, fish sauce, lime juice, salt, scallion, and fresh coriander before serving.

Khao Nieu Mamuang (Sticky Rice and Mangoes
(Serves 12)

Mango season in Thailand runs from March through May. There are so many varieties of mangoes to enjoy — those served with sticky rice as a dessert are called mamuang ok rong. They are delicate and very sweet.

3 cups sticky (glutinous) rice
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups coconut milk
6 ripe mangoes

  1. Soak the rice in 4 cups of cold water for 6 hours. Drain well. Line a steamer with cheesecloth, add the rice, and steam over high heat for about 15 minutes.

  2. Meanwhile, in a saucepan, heat the sugar, salt and coconut milk over medium-low heat until the sugar is dissolved. Reserve 1/2 cup of coconut milk mixture for topping. Stir in the rice and mix well. Cover and let stand for 15 minutes.

  3. Peel the mangoes and slice lengthwise, then cut crosswise into bite-size pieces. Place the sticky rice onto serving plates. Spoon coconut milk sauce over the top and arrange mango slices around the sticky rice.

Som Tam (Green Papaya Salad)
(Serves 6 to 8)

This Bangkok version of papaya salad is slightly sweeter than the salad, som tam Lao, from the Northeast. This dish is traditionally served with barbecued chicken and steamed sticky rice.

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 dried chilies, soaked in water for 20 minutes
7 black peppercorns
6 cups shredded green papaya or 5 cups shredded cabbage plus 1 cup shredded carrot
1 ripe tomato, cut into eighths
2 tablespoons dried shrimp, pounded slightly
2 tablespoons lime or lemon juice
2 tablespoons diced fresh lime or lemon, rind intact
2 tablespoons ground roasted peanuts
Seasoning Sauce
1 tablespoon tamarind juice
3 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons palm sugar

  1. Using a mortar, pound the garlic, chilies, and peppercorns with a pestle until fine. Put into a small saucepan.

  2. Stir in the ingredients for the seasoning sauce and cook the mixture over low heat. When it boils, remove from the heat to cool. Using a large mortar or mixing bowl, pound the papaya or cabbage with a pestle until the shreds are bruised. Add the tomato and continue pounding. Using a spoon, stir the contents over as you pound.

  3. Stir in the sauce, dried shrimp, lime juice, and diced lime and mix well. Remove to a serving platter and garnish with the peanuts.

Shrimp Paste Fried Rice (Kaho Kluk Kapi)
(Courtesy Nick Srisawat)
Serves 4

This very traditional Thai fried rice dish is one Nick Srisawat enjoys, particularly for Thai New Year. Look for shrimp paste, fish sauce and palm sugar at an Asian market. Serves four.

1 ounce shrimp paste (kapi)
4 tbsp. vegetable oil
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced, plus 1 tbsp. minced garlic
1 lb. Thai jasmine rice, cooked
4 eggs, beaten
Salt and black pepper to taste
About 1 lb. ground pork
2 tbsp. chopped cilantro roots
3/4 lb. (about 1/2 cup) palm sugar, or to taste
2 Thai chilies, sliced
1/2 cup fish sauce
2 tbsp. dried shrimp
1 tbsp. sliced Thai chilies
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1/4 cup shredded raw mango
2 tbsp. chopped cilantro
One lime, cut into wedges

  1. Wrap the shrimp paste in foil and grill or broil for five minutes.

  2. Heat three tablespoons oil in a large wok over medium heat, reduce the heat to low, and stir-fry the garlic. Add the shrimp paste, and stir-fry for two to three minutes. Add the rice, and toss together until the rice is coated with shrimp paste. Set aside.

  3. Heat the remaining oil in skillet, and add half the beaten eggs. Season with salt and pepper. When cooked through like an omelet, remove and slice thinly.

  4. Repeat with the remaining eggs, and set the slices aside.
    Mix the pork, cilantro roots and remaining 1 tablespoon garlic together, and cook in a skillet over medium heat, stirring often, until the pork is cooked through.

  5. Add the palm sugar, chilies and fish sauce. Let cook until the sugar dissolves.

  6. To serve, spoon the fried rice onto four individual plates and top each with dried shrimp, sprinkles of chili oil, shallots, mango and cilantro. Spoon portions of the pork mixture onto the rice and top with sliced omelet. Squeeze lime juice onto each serving, toss together and enjoy.

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