The global ambassador for Thai cuisine, these stir-fried noodles are a wonder of contrasts: light, fragrant and aromatic, but richly satisfying and comforting. That's the reason why pad thai is one of the most popular Asian dishes out there.
But, like most seemingly easy chuck-everything-in-a-pan-together dishes, it requires skill to get just right. That's why expats use it as the thumbs-up for a real deal Thai restaurant – if the kitchen can nail pad thai, then those guys know how to cook. Thai Orchid, Baan Thai and Wagamama take that elusive pad thai test and smash it out of the park.
Soul food – sweet, salty and sour
Pad thai is a simple street food for relaxed and casual dining. Aside from the noodles, the three main ingredients are tamarind, palm sugar and fish sauce – the perfect balance of sweet, salty and sour. You have the spike of garlic. The punch of chilli. The soft shallots, and a kick of pepper. Vegetables vary, but crunchy beansprouts tend to be up there, along with radishes, Chinese chives and fresh coriander leaves. The 'main man' is up to you – but chicken, prawns, or smoked tofu are some of the most popular choices.
The finishing touches for pad thai are much more than a pretty garnish. Chopped peanuts, dried chilli flakes, and a couple of wedges of zesty lime for you to squeeze as you please. They bring everything together and take the dish to a whole new level.
Pad Thai's roots
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In the nicest possible way – pad thai is a bit of an imposter. The dish's full name is Kway Teow Pad Thai, which translates to 'stir-fried noodles – Thai style', hinting that its origins are probably rooted elsewhere. Specifically, in China.
The dish was dressed up and reinvented in the 1940s, in pursuit of creating a strong sense of national Thai identity. And it worked. Because however it began, pad thai is now an internationally adored dish that sings of its adventures in Thailand.
Thai Orchid and Baan Thai honour traditional recipes to create a deeply flavourful dish. Rice noodles with egg. Crisp and refreshing beansprouts. The rich earthiness of ground peanuts. Light and colourful grated carrot, smoked tofu and sliced spring onions. And meat eaters can add prawns, chicken, beef or duck.
Wagamama's take on it has an extra splash of colour, with the addition of red onions, tender leeks, and a garnish of fried shallots and crushed peanuts – making its texture as exciting as its taste.
For a dose of Thai sunshine without leaving your house, get pad thai delivered directly to your door through Deliveroo.