In Thailand, if you are not Thai, you are a farang. This word refers to both foreigners and guavas — a fact that I still find amusing.

Early on in my semester in Thailand I found that a surefire way to distinguish myself as a farang, besides not speaking Thai and being blonde, is to ask for pad thai anywhere off of the beaten tourist path.

At most of the little food stands around my apartment, a request for pad thai was met with the reply “No. Pad see-ew.” At the cooking class I took in Chiang Mai, the instructor counted our noodle dish selections as “Five pad see-ew, six foreigners.”

rice, shrimp, sushi
Kayleigh Kearnan

I only saw exchange students eating the pad thai in the school canteen. For some reason we westerners have placed pad thai on a pedestal as the quintessential Thai food and as a metric for the quality of a Thai restaurant. The reality is that it is not really even a Thai dish — it is a Chinese inspired dish that was promoted by the late Thai Prime Minister Phibun in the 1930s in an attempt to modernize and westernize the country as well as provide cheap nutrition during a time of economic hardship.

noodle, vegetable, rice, pasta, sauce, shrimp, chicken, pad thai
Kayleigh Kearnan

Not only do we misinterpret its importance, we also often misinterpret its contents. A typical pad thai in Thailand contained only noodles, egg, garlic, bean sprouts, ground peanuts, chives, and a protein – the typical mix ins found in American pad thais such as baby corn, carrots, green beans, squash, and zucchini were nowhere to be found.

pasta, vegetable, pad thai
Kayleigh Kearnan

If you find yourself in Thailand and want to shed your farang palate, try ordering these dishes instead: 

1. Khaw Pad — thai fried rice (yay pineapple fried rice!)

salad, pineapple
Kayleigh Kearnan

2. Tom Yum — a zesty hot and sour soup

3. Som Tam — a refreshing and spicy papaya salad

sauce, spaghetti, vegetable, pasta
Kayleigh Kearnan

4. Gang Kiaw Wan — a Thai-style green curry.

cream, chicken, soup
Kayleigh Kearnan

All of these dishes are delicious options, however, if you find yourself browsing the Bangkok tourist scene and the scents wafting from the pad thai street carts lure you in, don’t fight it! It may not be traditional Thai food, but it is still damn good. At the end of the day we’re just a bunch of farangs, so we might as well enjoy it.