Pad Thai, the now ubiquitous noodle dish made with chewy, stir-fried rice noodles, vegetables, bean sprouts, fish sauce, tamarind, peanuts, and egg, is so popular it has become the measure by which Thai restaurants around the world are judged. However, not too long ago, it could hardly be found in Thailand. That is, until Plaek Pibulsonggram, or Phibun as the late Thai Prime Minister is also known, introduced it to his people. The popularization of the noodle dish, as it turns out, was but one of several measures taken by Thai authorities in the 1930s and 1940s to both westernize and modernize the country. “Part of Phibun’s nation-building strategy was to develop ‘Thai-ness’ and impose a ‘Thai Great Tradition’ to demonstrate the strength and unity of the Thai nation,” as noted by Penny Van Esterik in her book Materializing Thailand. However, Pad Thai was not just about unity; it was also about nutrition. The late 1930s were a particularly difficult time economically for the country, and rice noodles, which were both cheap and filling, provided a much needed antidote. Coupled with vegetables, bean sprouts, and inexpensive protein, Pad Thai was the perfect, nutritious meal. What’s most fascinating about pad Thai, however, is that it isn’t even Thai. Noodles, and stir-fry are classically Chinese. In fact, just about every ingredient found in pad Thai isn’t native to the people after whom the dish is named. The only authentic Thai ingredient is the pounded dried chilies. Indeed, the Thai seem to agree—in Thailand, it is explicitly referred to as a Chinese noodle dish.

Nikken takes pride in offering excellent alternative fish ingredients. The use of our 1917 Seaweed Extract Powder allowed us to create a vegan alternative to traditional Pad Thai sauce, which traditionally uses fish sauce. Our 1917 Seaweed Extract Powder offers a similar fishy, ocean-y taste. The addition of our 5390 Fermented Rice Extract Powder also brings in savory umami flavors while remaining allergen-free.

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