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David Dale of Sidney’s Sun Herald daily newspaper recently declared phad thai one of Australia’s favourite take out dinners. As an ambassador for Thai food, this popular noodle dish has taken on the world. It seems like every Thai restaurant in America has it on the menu and packages of instant phad thai are even selling in mainstream supermarkets.
In Thailand, however, phad thai vies with boat noodles and fried rice as the ultimate comfort food. Any food centre or outdoor market inevitably has a phad thai stall which usually sells turnip cake fried phad thai-style and battered oysters as well. The oysters are fried with bean sprouts in a deliciously light, crispy egg batter and served with a healthy dose of sweet, sour and hot Sriracha chilli sauce. But that’s another blog post altogether.
It is a well-known fact that, in economic crises, traditional comfort foods return to popular favour and, in that paradox that can only exist in hard times, commonly found staples like phad thai start to get the glam treatment.
There are variations on the theme of phad thai popping up everywhere. In fact, Phad Thai Aree, a chic restaurant in Erawan Bangkok — a shopping mall with shops selling such designer labels as Marni, Burberry, Dries van Noten and Issey Miyake — serves practically nothing but different types of phad thai, from the traditional noodles to phad thai made with macaroni and even phad thai-style fried rice.
One particularly popular innovation may have been inspired by trendy low-carb diets popular with people who can afford the luxury of paying to stay thin: phad thai without noodles.
Like most Thai food, phad thai can require a lot of preparation. Ingredients need to be soaked, ground, mixed, minced, chopped and diced. The consolation, however, is that it takes but minutes to cook and, if you can recruit friends to help with the preparation, the whole thing can be done within fifteen minutes.
Phad Thai Aree
Lower Ground Floor
494 Rajadamri Road
For purists, nothing can compare to phad thai noodles made with Chantaburi Rice Sticks. These noodles are renowned throughout Thailand for their elastic, al dente texture and the tender crust they can get when pan-fried. If you can find Chantaburi Rice Sticks at your local Asian supermarket, get them.
The following recipe calls for such esoteric-sounding ingredients as Chinese salted radish but they can easily be found at a local Asian supermarket sold in little brown pots.
One note of caution when preparing any dish with bean sprouts: take care not to overcook them. If you do, the sprouts will become tough and stringy. The best way to describe when bean sprouts are done is to watch for when the ends are just wilted but the stems remain firm.
Phad Thai with Prawns
1 lb of thin rice noodles
16 large prawns
4 tbs tamarind juice (if you can’t find tamarind juice, lime juice will do in a pinch but cut down the amount to 3 tbs)
3 tbs fish sauce
2 tbs sugar
½ cup water
2-4 tbs vegetable oil
1 shallot, finely minced
6 cloves of garlic, finely minced
¼ cup of dried small dried shrimp
½ lb of yellow tofu, diced
4 eggs, beaten
½ cup of unsalted, roasted peanuts, coarsely ground
1 tbs chilli powder (I know a tablespoon of chilli powder sounds like a lot but, hey, this is Thai food.)
2 tbs salted Chinese radish
1 lb bean sprouts, divided into two ½ lb batches
2 limes, halved
½ lb bean sprouts
8 spring onions
1. Soak the noodles in cold water until needed for use.
2. Blanche the prawns in boiling water for three minutes and then immediately plunge into cold water. You want the prawns to just barely get that cooked pink colour but not to be too firm. Set aside. (If you’re really conscientious, you can have a bowl of ice water ready to plunge the prawns into but I make do with running them under cold water from the tap.)
3. Combine the tamarind juice, fish sauce sugar and water. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Set aside.
4. Fry the shallots and garlic in the oil until they are just turning golden.
5. Add the dried shrimp and tofu. Cook for a minute or two, until it starts to brown a little at the edges, but only a little.
6. Add the blanched prawns and give them a couple of stirs to finish cooking them. Set aside. (I get lazy and just push it all to one side of the wok or frying pan.)
7. If the oil has been absorbed by the tofu-prawn mixture, add two more tablespoons and allow it to heat up for about a minute. Do not let it smoke. Add the eggs, allow them to cook for a minute and then stir to break them up into small pieces. You want chunks of omelette, not scrambled eggs.
8. Drain the noodles and add them to the tofu-prawn-egg mixture, stirring until the noodles feel pliable — soft but not mushy on your cooking spatula.
9. Add the tamarind juice mixture to the noodles and stir to combine well. It should be evenly distributed throughout the noodles, coating them lightly. Be patient. It might take a few minutes. I often use two spatulas and toss the noodles as I would pasta in a sauce.
10. Add the peanuts and chilli powder. Stir to combine.
11. Add the salted radish and the bean sprouts.
12. Immediately remove the noodles from the pan and serve, garnished with the lime, bean sprouts and spring onions.
Phad Thai without Noodles
Follow all the steps as above but with 2 lbs of bean sprouts. When the recipe calls for adding the bean sprouts into the stir-fry, add 1 lb.
Save the remaining pound of bean sprouts to add just before serving.
Along with lime and spring onions, I use deep-fried wonton skins as a garnish which completely defeats the aim of taking out the noodles to make phad thai low-carb but it’s too good to omit. The crispy crunch of fried dough makes a nice contrast to the vegetable crunch of raw bean sprouts. Combined with the phad thai flavours of salty, sweet, sour and hot, the pairing makes for culinary heaven.