This was the first Thai dish I knew by name, I guess because I liked and ate a lot of it when I worked in Bangkok almost twenty years ago. A few years later too, at the end of our soi in Lampang a woman would set up her pad thai stall each evening, and many a time Derek, one of my American house mates, and I would wander down for dinner. I heard a while back that Derek was killed in a road accident some years ago; terribly sad. He was a great guy, and the only one of the young graduates brought in to teach English that was much chop.
Funnily enough, I don’t recollect pad thai from my first trip to Thailand … almost exactly 24 years ago! But in those days I was travelling on a very lean budget. Dinner was the cheapest item on the menu, usually some sort of fried rice. And to make it last, to make it seem more filling, I can remember emulating our old Maths master at school, a boarding school, where masters sat as the heads of table for the evening meal. Whenever he appeared every boy willed KRAF, as we called him, not to select his table, for KRAF ate in a truly maddening fashion. He’d take a mouthful, chew it slowly twenty times on one side, then chew again slowly twenty times on the other, before swallowing. Often the meal would be ending before he had finished his main course, and for boys in a boarding school the thought of missing out on dessert was almost unbearable. But back in the oily-rag days of my backpacking youth, his eating style became mine, briefly, though probably not very successfully.
But anyway, why do I like pad thai khung so much? Juicy prawns, the contrasting textures of tofu and khung heng, the dried shrimps, the crunch of fresh bean sprouts, the whole seasoned with a generous squeeze of lime juice, chopped roasted peanuts, a judicious sprinkling of dry chilli. Plus noodles, of course, the base of the dish. And the best pad thai is made by a friend’s live-out housekeeper. That was lunch today. Washed down with a glass of Heineken. The perfect preparation for an afternoon nap.