"Although widely associated with Thai cooking, this dish is in fact a relatively new addition to the repertoire, emerging during a period of ultra-nationalism in the late 1930s and early '40s, under the military regime of Marshal Phibun. He declared that the Thai people should endeavour to incorporate noodles into their eating habits, so competitions were held in schools, government offices and various nationalistic organisations to devise new noodle recipes, including the winning one that included tamarind and palm sugar. It was given the name pat thai, in keeping with the chauvinistic tenor of the times, and to distinguish it from Chinese noodle dishes, even though it has much in common with them – bean sprouts, bean curd, salted radish, garlic chives and, of course, the noodles themselves.
Since then, pad thai's fame has spread and it is now considered a classic of the Thai kitchen – at least by Westerners, though it is definitely popular among the Thai too.
Thin, flat, quite chewy rice noodles are preferred here: fresh ones make a much better dish, but they are hard to find outside of Thailand. However, the dried version, also known as rice sticks, are readily obtainable.
There is now a gentrified version of pat thai that uses fresh prawns. If you want to stroll along boulevards rather than trawl the alleys, then add six medium-sized cleaned raw prawns as the shallots begin to fry – and omit the dried prawns called for later in the recipe."