When I come to Thailand, I like to eat “real” Thai food, whatever that means. I didn’t know much about the history of pad thai until recently. I’ve been reading a book (“An Economist Gets Lunch” by Tyler Cowen) and the book mentions that pad thai is a relatively new Thai food which came about around the time of WWII (I hope I’m not misremembering—I haven’t double-checked my facts here, full disclosure). Thus, I guess some people view pad thai as not “real” Thai food and, indeed, the pad thai vendors are swarmed with tourists who flock to them the way the wasps flock to my bananas in coconut milk ladies.
I’ve been thinking about this, trying to make pad thai more “authentic”, if only in my own head, and here is the conclusion I’ve come to: if a food is invented by a certain culture, regardless of when it was invented, it is still authentically from that culture, no? I mean, diners that serve up hamburgers, freedom fries, and milkshakes are seen as pretty uniquely American, but I doubt that those diners have been around for the entire 300-odd year history of America, amiright? An even better example is apple pie. Never mind that apple pie, in the grand scheme of the history of food is neither (a) particularly an old food nor (b) particularly a North American food (its forerunner is most likely a French dish), the expression is still, As American as apple pie!
Therefore, I have no shame in saying that I regularly join the tourist throngs and (over)indulge in pad thai while I’m in Thailand. Who cares that pad thai has not been around for centuries? Does that really make it any less Thai than any other Thai food out there? And after all, if you order it without egg, at 25 Baht it is one of the cheapest street food meals you can find in Bangkok, so why not enjoy lots of it while you are here?!