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What Is Pad Thai?
Pad thai is a beloved street food dish in Thailand. It's a stir-fried noodle dish made with a sweet-sour-umami sauce of tamarind, fish sauce, and palm sugar, and it usually includes vegetables with the addition of a protein like tofu, shrimp, or chicken. The name pad thai comes from the Thai word phàtthai, which means "Thai stir-fried food."
What Does Pad Thai Taste Like?
Although different pad thai recipes have different ingredients, they all have the sweet-savory flavor and chewy texture of the rice noodles, which become caramelized in the stir-fry. The sauce, which usually includes fish sauce and tamarind, is both tart and savory. Pad thai is often garnished with refreshing bitter herbs such as cilantro, and it is generally served with lime wedges for another hit of acidity, which cuts through the fried flavor.
What’s in Pad Thai? 11 Common Pad Thai Ingredients
Pad thai consists of rice noodles stir-fried in a savory sauce with vegetables and meat or tofu, all served with toppings. Typical pad thai ingredients include:
- Fish sauce: Fish sauce is staple condiment in Thailand that provides salt and umami to traditional pad thai, along with a nutty, caramelized flavor.
- Soy sauce: Another popular Asian condiment, soy sauce reinforces the saltiness and umami flavor of fish sauce (or serves as a substitute for vegans).
- Palm sugar: Palm sugar is a traditional pad thai ingredient in Thai cuisine, but brown sugar is a good substitute if you can't find palm sugar.
- Tamarind: Tamarind, available fresh or as a paste or concentrate, is a traditional ingredient in authentic pad thai. It has a unique sweet-sour flavor. If you can't find tamarind paste, you can substitute a mix of ketchup and peanut butter or rice vinegar.
- Noodles: Also known as sen jun or rice sticks, pad thai noodles are made of rice flour and should be flat, like fettuccine, and about an eighth of an inch wide. They are typically rehydrated in boiling water until just al dente, then further cooked in a wok with the rest of the pad thai ingredients.
- Bean sprouts: Fresh bean sprouts are crunchy, refreshing, and have a short cook time when stir-fried with the noodles.
- Green onions: Green onions also have a short cook. You might also use shallots or other alliums instead of scallions.
- Meat, eggs, and tofu: Protein, in the form of scrambled eggs, chicken breasts, tofu, or shrimp, generally adds substance to pad thai.
- Fresh lime: Serve your pad thai with lime wedges, or squeeze fresh lime juice over the pad thai just before serving. The acidity of the lime juice will balance the rich flavor of the pad thai.
- Fresh herbs: One of the distinguishing features of Thai food is the liberal use of fresh herbs. For pad thai, try a generous sprinkle of cilantro and chives right before serving. If you can find Chinese chives (aka garlic chives), even better.
- Hot sauce or red pepper: An Asian hot sauce, such as sriracha, or fresh or powdered chile peppers can accompany your pad thai if you want more heat.
Classic Tofu Pad Thai Recipe
Prep Time20 min
Total Time30 min
Cook Time10 min
- 5 ounces Thai rice noodles
- 2 tablespoons tamarind paste
- 2 tablespoons palm sugar (or brown sugar)
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1 teaspoon dried chile flakes
- 1 teaspoon ground white pepper
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 shallot, minced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 block firm tofu, cubed
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 1 cup bean sprouts
- ½ cup cilantro and/or Chinese chives, minced
- ⅓ cup roasted peanuts, crushed
- 1 lime, cut into wedges, for serving
- Prepare the rice noodles. Soak the rice noodles in boiling water until just al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.
- Make the pad thai sauce. In a small bowl, combine tamarind, sugar, fish sauce, chile flakes, and white pepper. Stir to combine.
- In a large wok over high heat, heat vegetable oil until shimmering.
- Add shallot and garlic to the wok and stir-fry until just fragrant. Add the tofu, noodles, and pad thai sauce and stir-fry until noodles have absorbed sauce and tofu is browned.
- Push the pad thai to one side of the pan and add the egg. Scramble the egg and then incorporate into the noodles. Add bean sprouts and stir-fry for a few seconds longer.
- Remove from the heat and garnish with herbs, peanuts, and lime wedges.
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