As you might have read from my earlier post, there’s a good evidence that Thai food has recently become a real big hit, eventually, on its indigenous grounds. Thai people, after having gone around the globe eating pasta, ramen, sushi and pizza (not to mention series of burgers, fries, creme brulee and coq au vin and the list goes on…), are now paying even closer attention to their native dishes and I think we are enjoying a tasty epiphany of many many dishes, one of them Pad Thai – the very very popular stir-fried noodle dish that has made it around the world and back, perhaps.
For many of us, Pad Thai is a dish hard to achieve at home. First, look at these staggering number of ingredients, each requiring time to prepare, chop and dice, not to mention squeeze, select, smell and taste to make sure they are at their prime. This is the ingredient list I got from a good friend who is a master of Thai cuisine:
For one serving:
- One handful of rice noodle (soaked to tender)
The vegetables & condiments:
- 2 spoonfuls of diced hard tofu
- One handful of fresh, homegrown beansprouts
- Fresh chives cut into sections
- One spoonful of pickled radish
- One spoonful of freshly toasted and crushed peanut
- One spoonful of dried shrimps
- 3-5 or as much as you want fresh prawns
- One egg
- Freshly toasted dried chilies (to taste)
- A section of fresh green lime
- A section of fresh banana blossom
- Preserved Thai tamarind (soaked in warm water and squeeze out the juice and pulp, rid the seeds). This is for the subtle sourness.
- The best palm or coconut sugar you can find. Obviously this is for the sweetness.
- Nam pla (fish sauce)
- Finely diced shallots and, if you like, some garlic, but not too much to overwhelm the shallot taste
Aren’t you exhausted already just reading through that lengthy list? And this is not including the time you will need to do all the preparation. But if you have may be three of you or two of you or just one of you and in the mood for a good hearty meal, this will be worth the effort.
Pad Thai is tasty because it gives a balanced tangy-sweet-salty base, hence the three ingredients that combine into the sauce. But then, Thai people, loving their chilies, will, of course, add into the base some good sprinkles of toasted dried chilies, a good squeeze of lime and eat their Pad Thai with a side dish of fresh vegetables that include chives, banana blossom and some beansprouts. In some cases, there’ll be a bunch of fresh pennywort for a slight pickling taste, too.
To make Pad Thai, you also need a good wok and a powerful gas stove. First, stir in the shallot until aroma, add other ingredients (tofu, pickled radish, fresh and dried shrimps) until aroma, the noodle until just about done, then the sauce (the cooked mixture of the three things in the section ‘sauce’ on the ingredient list) and make sure the noodle and other ingredients are well-mixed, the egg (make sure they are stirred and done and equally distributed throughout the entire mixture) and then the fresh chives and beansprouts just before you turn off the stove. Then you serve it with the freshly crushed and toasted peanut on top, and of course the whole shebang of side dish.
Although Pad Thai is available throughout Thailand, its looks and ingredients are slightly altered. Although the main ingredients remain largely the same, some regions, such as Petchaburi and down south, they substitute fresh prawns with finely sliced pork meat. But the dried shrimps and pickled radish remain the same. A good Pad Thai is a combination of crunchiness and every taste there is in the repertoire of Thai cuisine. Pad Thai can also be fancied up with the egg, instead of being stirred and distributed with the noodle, made into the cover with the slid on top to make the presentation looks like an opening lotus. You can also see from the second (from top) picture how the presentation can be more dramatic with curled banana blossoms, too.
And for the food nerds out there, Pad Thai is also a dish with good yarn to spin. Story has it that the dish was conceived back in the time when recession prevailed after the World War II and even Thailand suffered from a temporary hardscrabble. To relieve the total rice dependency of daily consumption, the government encouraged people to substitute their staples with noodles, which was then considered a very Chinese dish to eat. To adapt the noodle to fit the Thai taste and the love of the country, a new noodle dish was conceived with a bit of Thainess, hence the name of Pad Thai that has become one of Thailand’s best known dishes that has somehow gone around the world as you have known the rest of the story.