What Is Pad Thai?
Pad Thai is typical street fare across Thailand—and it's probably the #1 order at your local Thai restaurant. In fact, this popular stir-fried noodle dish is the national dish of Thailand. But what exactly is it about Pad Thai that makes it so delicious? Bold, umami flavors and a variety of textures make Pad Thai into a comforting meal that everyone can love. Let's take a closer look at this beloved Thai dish.
What's in Pad Thai?
The basic ingredients in a traditional Pad Thai are rice noodles stir-fried with tofu, eggs, and a sauce made with tamarind paste, fish sauce, dried shrimp, garlic, chiles, and palm sugar (which is often less refined than cane sugar). Pad Thai is characterized by rich, vibrant flavors, from funky (fish sauce and dried shrimp), to sour (fresh tamarind paste), to sweet (palm sugar).
Recipes for Pad Thai vary, but there's almost always a base of wide rice noodles, a generous sprinkle of crushed peanuts on top, and a lime wedge served alongside. The addition of a quick, wok-scrambled egg and a pile of fresh bean sprouts are also part of most versions of the dish.
Most Pad Thai recipes for the home cook get their sweet and sour components from brown sugar and vinegar or lime juice. Though a combination of shrimp and tofu are traditional, you can also use boneless, skinless chicken thighs in place of the shrimp, or just use vegetables and tofu for a vegetarian version.
How to Cook Pad Thai
The key to great Pad Thai is to have all your components ready before you start cooking, as the process moves quickly. For that reason, you'll need a good, reliable wok pan that heats up fast—we recommend a carbon-steel wok with a flat bottom. Carbon steel woks are relatively inexpensive and lightweight, and they're also an excellent conductor of heat (crucial for stir-frying).
To avoid mushy noodles, undercook them a bit—they continue to absorb liquid from the sauce during the stir-fry action. Lastly, try scrambling the eggs separately, then adding them back to the noodles at the end. This way, you'll preserve their texture and you won't overcook them.
Ready to cook Pad Thai at home? Traditional Pad Thai recipes are stir-fried one serving at a time to capture that hot-off-the-wok flavor and the ideal balance of ingredients. We forgo that in our recipes in favor of convenience and shorter cooking time. Here are some easy recipes to try.
View Recipe: Classic Pad Thai
If you can find salted radish at your local Asian market, do include a bit of it chopped here, as it adds a piquant flavor to this Pad Thai recipe that's simply irresistible.
View Recipe: Shrimp Pad Thai
This homemade Pad Thai is smothered with spicy shrimp, bean sprouts, peanuts and green onion—plus, it's ready in only 25 minutes. For fire lovers, add an additional drizzle of Sriracha or chili garlic sauce over top.
View Recipe: Cashew Cream Pad Thai
Don't mistakenly buy fettuccine-like pad Thai noodles, as they take much longer to soak to an edible consistency. Look for the thin brown-rice variety, often called vermicelli or mai fun. The longer they sit, the better these noodles will get, as they continue to soak up the flavors of the nutty cashew cream.