Pad Thai is a terrible choice.
“Let’s order Thai.”
“Great, what’s your go-to dish?”
This has bugged me for years.
Pad Thai shouldn’t be your first choice of Thai food.
Like Turkey on Thanksgiving, most Pad Thai is overrated. Instead of a bang, it’s a whimper.
There, I said it.
Pad Thai was created in the 1930’s to cultivate a sense of nationalism and combat rice shortages by promoting a noodle dish. Through a stroke of marketing genius, “Thai” found its way into the name.
So, what’s the alternative?
What you actually want is Kua Gai (คั่วไก่). Unlike Pad Thai, this stir fry dish is rarely soggy. You want your stir fry noodles toasty, slightly burnt. Kua Gai is easier to get right.
If you must go with a popular dish, try Tom Yum (ต้มยำ) soup (sometimes served with noodles). I’ve had good Tom Yum. It exists. I’ve only heard of good Pad Thai (possibly just a rumor). The mix of lemongrass, kaffir lime and chili paste guarantee an explosion in your mouth.
Finally, there’s Som Tum (ส้มตำ). Papaya salad, with grilled chicken. Hard to mess up. Depending on the number of chilis sprinkled in, you’re either enjoying a slight kick or suddenly on Hot Ones, without Sean Evans.
Thai cuisine is so diverse there aren’t enough words in this essay to list them all out.
But chances are, they’re better than Pad Thai.