ผัดไทย Pad Thai and A Short Review on David Thompson’s “Thai Street Food”
One of my earliest experience with Thai food is probably Pad Thai, together with the other quintessential “must-orders” for anyone venturing into Thai cuisine, like Tom Yum Goong and Pineapple Fried Rice. Every street hawker does Pad Thai a bit differently from the other. Slight nuances in the ingredients used, the proportion of condiments, even down to the sequence of adding the ingredients, e.g. when to crack the egg etc. could alter the taste and texture of the dish completely. But they are all quite delicious. Well, most of them are at least. To date, this popular street food which brings together three important ingredients commonly used in Thai cooking, i.e. palm sugar, tamarind pulp and fish sauce, remains one of my favorites, being sweet, sour and savory all at the same time.
The ingredients for making Pad Thai, seemingly a lot but all working together to help build the flavours into creating this dish.
Whenever possible, fresh noodles should be used but they are not available in Singapore. The closest one could get is probably Ipoh hor fun but even then, the thickness defers slightly. Thankfully dried rice noodle sticks are available at a local Thai supermarket.
When it comes to the ingredients, the possibilities are quite endless. Dried shrimp are used in the “original version” which came from Vietnam but then in the words of David Thompson, the dish was “gentrified” through using fresh prawns, crab and even chicken. The Thais use a form of firm yellow beancurd for the dish but any firm chinese beancurd (tau kwa) would do just fine. I particularly like David Thompson‘s recipe for several reasons. Firstly, he incorporates salted white radish into it. Known in Thai as “Hua Chai Po” หัวไชโป๊ว presumably with influences from Chinese Teochew cuisine, this ingredient is widely used by the Pad Thai street hawkers in Thailand and yet seldom mentioned in other Pad Thai recipes which is quite a shame. So I’m glad to see it being given “recognition” in Thompson’s recipe from his book “Thai Street Food” which is an epic and must-read for anyone venturing into Thai cuisine, and a must-have for any cookbook junkie like me. It was introduced to me by my friend, Chef Nicholas Lam when I asked him for recommendations for literature on Thai cuisine. I am usually not bothered with cookbooks on regional cuisines written by non-natives so you could imagine the frown on my face when I heard what he said. Remaining skeptical, I’d tried several recipes from the book like ส้มตำ Som Tam and ผัดโหระพา Phad Horapha, and they all worked really well, remaining true and authentic to what one would taste in Thailand itself! So David Thompson’s ”Thai Street Food” is quite exceptional in many ways. In retrospect, this comes as no surprise, for one who’s spent a good 20 years of his life learning about Thai cuisine and cooking it all the time. He spent a good deal of the book talking about Thai culinary history and the evolutionary background of most of the dishes which I particularly enjoyed.
A melange of fresh greens that accompanies Pad Thai. Apart from the usual chives, bean sprouts and spring onions, Thompson also “introduced” to me the use of Asiatic Pennywort (Centella asiatica) in Pad Thai, whose astringent taste I vaguely remember when I first had tried the dish in Bangkok more than 10 years back. I’d not seen or tasted it in subsequent versions I’d tried until I’d read it in “Thai Street Food” and subsequently found it at the local Thai supermarket. Though I don’t quite like its taste, I’d been curious about what that “spicy vegetable” I had before in Pad Thai was. Now I know…
Pad Thai I’d cooked following David Thompson’s recipe which looks considerably paler than most other versions out there due to darker palm sugar used or perhaps the addition of soya sauce. But don’t let the looks fool you. It tastes no less delightful than the good ones sold along the streets of Bangkok.
ผัดไทย Pad Thai (adapted slightly from David Thompson’s “Thai Street Food”) serves 2
125 g fresh pat thai noodles or 100 g dried thin rice noodles (rice sticks)
3 tbsp shaved palm sugar
2 tbsp tamarind water
1 tbsp good fish sauce (not too salty but with strong umami flavours)
3 tbsp cooking oil
4 red shallots, coarsely chopped
2 large eggs
A small block of yellow bean curd or Chinese firm bean curd, cut into small rectangles or squares yielding about 2 heaped tbsp
8 medium prawns, shelled deveined
A handful of trimmed bean sprouts
1 tbsp salted radish (“Hua Chai Po” หัวไชโป๊ว）
Garnishing and Sides
1 tbsp coarsely crushed roasted peanuts
A handful of Chinese chives, cut into 2 cm length pieces
Extra bean sprouts
Roasted chilli powder
Raw vegetables (such as Asian pennywort, banana blossom, cabbage or long beans)
If using dried noodles, soak them in water for about 15 minuntil soft but not overly so. Meanwhile, bring a pan of water to the boil. Drain the noodles well then blanch them in the boiling water for a moment only and drain once again. This prevents the noodles from clumping together when they are stir-fried.
Mix the palm sugar with the tamarind pulp, fish sauce with 1-2tbsp of water in a bowl, stirring until the sugar has dissolved.
Heat the oil in a wok over medium heat and fry the shallots until fragrant and beginning to colour slightly and turn translucent.
Crack in the eggs and stir for a few moments until they begin to look omelette-like.
Turn up the heat, then add the drained noodles and fry for about 30 seconds while breaking up the eggs.
Add the tamarind syrup and simmer until it is absorbed. Mix in the bean curd, prawns, salted radish and peanuts then simmer, stirring, until almost dry. Add the bean sprouts and Chinese chives and stir-fry for a moment.
Check the seasoning: pad thai should be salty, sweet and sour. Divide between two plates and sprinkle with the extra bean sprouts and peanuts.
Serve immediately with lime wedges, roasted chilli powder and raw vegetables on the side.