It’s a cliche, but I first ate this dish from a street vendor on the Khao San Road (the infamous backpacker district in Bangkok) when I was a student. I was travelling on a shoestring, I’d landed in Asia for the first time having been brought up in the not very adventurous food scene of Northern Ireland in the 1980s & 90s. I was totally blown away! What was this salty, spicy, sour and sweet concoction? Slippery noodles, fiery chilli, soft tofu, chicken or prawns and crunchy peanuts on top and all cooked in less than two minutes and for a cost of about 25p. It beat a half & half (half chips, half rice and smothered in sweet & sour sauce) from The Emerald on the Dublin Road hands down as a post-drinking dinner. I think this is where my love affair with Thai food really began.
I’ve eaten a lot of Pad Thai since – some excellent, some mediocre – it’s my go-to dish if I’m suspicious about the quality of a Thai restaurant. Any Thai chef should be able to make a good Pad Thai. For me, the key to a great Pad Thai is a balance of the four pillars of Thai cooking – sweet, sour, salty and spicy. However, not everyone has the same palate and that this is why Pad Thai is great, it should be served with extra chilli, lime and soy or fish sauce so that each diner can adjust the seasonings according to their taste. In Thailand sugar is often provided but I rarely find that I need it to be sweeter so I usually skip this, but if you have a sweet tooth feel free to season with a sprinkling of granulated! A word of warning to all those Thai restaurants that think it is OK to serve Pad Thai with a wedge of lemon instead of lime. I’m not sure if this is a cost-cutting exercise but it is absolutely not OK. Pad Thai needs a wedge of lime for seasoning – end of story!
I’ve provided a classic version of a Pad Thai but you can mix up the recipe by using whatever veg you have in the fridge – I’ve used finely sliced carrots or peppers. This one includes chicken and tofu you can just use chicken or tofu (if you fancy a veggie version) or you can swap in some prawns instead.
For the noodles:
120g dried rice noodle (the flat noodles that look like tagliatelle rather than the very thin thread-like ones)
Enough lukewarm water to cover the noodles
For the sauce:
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce (or just use soy sauce if you want a veggie version)
1 teaspoon of tamarind paste (or use lime juice if you don’t have tamarind)
1/2 teaspoon of dried chilli flakes (or to taste)
For the rest of the dish:
3 tablespoons sunflower oil
100g chicken breast or boneless thigh (chopped into strips)
2 fat garlic cloves (finely chopped)
100g tofu (chopped into small cubes)
A handful of cabbage, spinach or other fresh greens (sliced)
4 scallions (cut into 5 cm lengths and then cut into quarters) – also called spring onions
2 eggs (beaten together)
1 lime (cut into wedges or ‘cheeks’)
2 tablespoons chopped roasted peanuts – you could also use some toasted sesame seeds
Extra dried chilli flakes or fresh red chilli (sliced)
Soy sauce or fish sauce
Get all your ingredients ready in advance as once you start cooking you need to work quickly.
Put your dried rice noodles in a large bowl and cover in the lukewarm water. Leave for 7-10 minutes, they should be soft but not completely cooked. Drain the noodles and then run under cold water until they are cold. Drain again and add a couple of teaspoons of sesame oil to stop them sticking together.
Next make the sauce, combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and mix well with a fork. Taste the sauce and add more of any of the ingredients until it tastes great to you.
Heat the sunflower oil in a wok over a high heat until hot, add the chicken and cook until the chicken is white. Next, add the chopped garlic and tofu pieces and cook until the tofu is golden brown. Now add your fresh greens and scallions and cook for about one minute until they are beginning to soften.
Turn down the heat to medium. Drag all the mixture to one side of the pan and pour in the eggs on the other side. Allow it to cook for about 30 seconds until it is starting to set like an omelette, then quickly mix it into the other ingredients. This method means you get bigger pieces of egg rather than the egg just becoming a sauce.
Next, add the noodles and the water to the wok and cook until the noodles are soft, about one minute. Finally, add the sauce and the beansprouts and mix really well. Turn off the heat. Serve on plates or in bowls garnished with the lime and roasted peanuts and with extra chilli and soy sauce or fish sauce so diners can adjust the seasoning to their taste.