Pad Thai is like the grilled cheese sandwich of Thailand. Everyone eats it, and there a lot of variations on the same theme, especially depending on which region of Thailand you visit. The Americanized version of Pad Thai is pretty much rice noodles, shrimp, small bits of pork or tofu, sometimes egg, and various flavors found in most Thai dishes like scallions, garlic, fish sauce and lime. We have two restaurants nearby that serve this dish. One is a bistro style joint where everything is prepared and plated as if it were for a food magazine cover photo. Our favorite Pad Thai, however, is at this all-you-can-eat seafood place that is run by a Thai family. They have a selection of Thai food on their menu, and whenever you order, you see the grandmother leave her drink station and disappear into the kitchen to prepare your food. That is how you know it's going to be good! It doesn't matter what culture you're from, if grandma's cooking, it's good eating. My wife says that the hole-in-the-wall version that is cooked by grandma is the closest to the real thing she has found here in the states. She was staying in Chiang Mai (in northern Thailand), so this recipe, also from the book Step by Step: Thai Cooking, shares some of the same qualities. Of course, without a Thai grandmother's loving touch, it's not quite perfect, but it works for when we feel like eating in.
9oz (about half a package commonly found in US grocery stores) thick rice stick noodles
2 Tbs. vegetable oil (DO NOT USE olive oil. It will burn.)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tsp. chopped red chillies
6 oz. pork, thinly sliced (substitute small cubes of tofu if you'd like)
1/2 lb. of shrimp, peeled with tails left on
1/2 bunch of garlic chives (if you cannot find these, you can substitute scallions cut in longer diagonal pieces)
2 Tbs. fish sauce
2 Tbs. lime juice
1 Tbs. soft brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup of bean sprouts
1/4 cup of roasted peanuts, chopped
Several sprigs of cilantro and lime wedges for garnish
PREPARE the rice noodles according to package instructions. This usually involves soaking the noodles until they are soft, but soaking times may vary depending on the thickness of the noodles that you use. This recipe says warm water for 10 minutes, but the package I bought said lukewarm water for 30 minutes. I ended up using warm water for about 20 minutes. Just check your packaging to be sure so that your guests are not left waiting for their noodles to soften. When noodles are soft, drain them and set aside.
HEAT the oil in a wok or large skillet. When the oil is very hot add the garlic, chillies, and pork. Stir constantly for 2 minutes.
ADD the shrimp. Cook, stirring constantly, for 2 more minutes.
ADD the garlic chives and drained noodles to the wok. Cover, and cook for one minute.
ADD the fish sauce, lime juice, brown sugar and eggs to the wok. Toss well with tongs or two wooden spoons until headed through. Plate.
SPRINKLE with sprouts, cilantro and chopped peanuts.
SERVE with lime wedges for garnish. Traditionally, this dish is also served with crispy fried onions, soft brown sugar, and extra chopped peanuts on the side. Enjoy!