The daily Google Doodle, that interactive/animated drawing that hangs at the top of the world’s most popular search engine, often focuses on holidays, birthdays of important people, and anniversaries of historical events. But every once in a while, the Google overlords do something special for food lovers around the globe by creating a culinary-themed illustration. And today, the search engine’s homepage features an ode to one of the world’s most delectable noodle dishes: pad thai.
In this doodle, the Google letters are in the middle of a frenzied noodle-making session, with the first O carrying a giant spoon, and an ecstatic G running towards a cookbook-wielding E. From that point, the colorful characters embark on a pad thai odyssey:
The precise origins of pad thai — or kway teow pad thai as it’s called in Thailand — are hard to trace, but the food journal Gastronomica notes that settlers from southern China likely brought some rudimentary version of the stir-fried rice noodle dish to the country a very long time ago. Plaek Pibulsonggram, Thailand’s prime minster from 1938 to 1944 and from 1948 to 1957, is largely credited with popularizing the dish and establishing the basic recipe that’s still commonly used today. Tied to his efforts to modernize and to some extent re-brand Thailand, Pibulsonggram promoted pad thai by supplying his people with a standardized recipe and also encouraging vendors to use small carts as streetside noodle kitchens.
The popular recipe for pad thai used cheap, plentiful rice noodles, and an assortment of vegetables that could be easily sourced from local farmers. All the ingredients came together in a preparation that was considered a highly-sanitary operation at the time: tossing the greens, noodles, and meat in a very hot metal pan that could could be easily cleaned on the spot. In the book Materializing Thailand, anthropologist Penny Van Esterik writes about Pibulsonggram’s pad thai crusade: “His series of decrees from 1939–1942 suggested what could be done to strengthen the Thai economy, to instill national image and pride — and to improve the national diet. Popularizing a noodle dish was one means to that end.”
As Gastronomica points out, the midcentury pad thai recipes specified ingredients but not quantities, per se, leaving the actual execution open to interpretation and customization. The irresistible combination of salty, sweet, sour, and earthy flavors helped pad thai win new fans all over the globe, especially in countries where the local fare lacked aggressive spice. As Google notes, the dish is popular throughout North America, Australia, and Europe, as well as on the western coast of South America. The dish can now be found in over two million Google entries.
Pad thai is considered the national dish of Thailand, and it’s definitely the most popular Thai entree in America.
There are probably as many variations of pad thai in the world as there are hungry noodle fans who want to eat them. But if you’re looking for a recipe to make at home, consider checking out chef Jet Tila’s version, which incorporates sliced tofu, chicken, sweetened radish, paprika, and both dried and fresh shrimp. In the introduction to his recipe, Tila explains: “My family was among the first to introduce this dish to America over 40 years ago, and the American version differs slightly from the native one. The super bright orange was accentuated with paprika instead of the traditional addition of chili paste to give it a slight tint. And we typically finish this dish with garlic chives versus green onions.“
For a look at how this dish comes together, check out Lucas Peterson’s Dining on a Dime visit to the Wat Thai Temple in Los Angeles last year:
But how does the pad thai party compare to the other food-related Google Doodles? In terms of sheer whimsy, it arguably bests the french fry-laden illustration celebrating the birthday of currywurst creator Herta Heuwer. The noodle-riffic doodle commemorating the 105th birthday of Top Ramen inventor Momofuku Ando had a playful bit of animation that’s perhaps more impressive than today’s pad thai story. But the stir-fry extravaganza definitely trumps the Canadian birthday artwork, which had tons of happy pastries dancing around all but one of the country’s flags.
The pad thai buddies are charming — delightful, even. But the best food Google Doodle of all time is still the Julia Child’s centennial celebration.