Pad Thai, Good and Bad

by Darina on February 19, 2011

If there is one type of food easy to get wrong, it’s Thai food. Any North American person of Thai descent can tell you this. For example my friend Victoria from Victoria’s Food Secrets, whose Thai mother is a fantastic cook, finds most Thai restaurants in our fair city lacking, while ethnic Europeans like me happily slurp noodles at Thai House, ignorant of the nuances in the varied ingredients and complex flavors that make Thai one of the most exciting and vibrant cuisines on the planet.

I have never been to Thailand but I think I know a good Pad Thai when I taste one. Or not. The Pad Thai I had on Thursday night was an insult to its namesake cuisine. Now mind you, I did order it a food court in the mall after getting my hair done. I shouldn’t have expected much, though I find a few of the purveyors offer some satisfactory choices. But the plate of greasy rice sticks topped with a couple of prawns was beyond the pale. Where was the egg? The tofu? The peanuts? My plate was all noodles and bean sprouts, slimy with what I assume was really bad quality oil. For the eight bucks I spent on it I could have gotten a nice donair.

I should have asked for my money back. Instead I ate the shrimp and picked out the bits of chicken, fuming, and ended up throwing the rest in the garbage. I hate wasting money and I hate wasting food–though those oily noodles hardly qualified as such.

So it’s no surprise that when I was thinking about what to cook this weekend, I settled on Pad Thai. I wanted the real thing this time and I was going to make it from scratch–not with a bottle of sauce from Thai Kitchen.  Not that there’s anything wrong with their products. I just wanted the real thing.

This recipe is loosely adapted from Donna Hay, whose recipes I find simple but produce good results.

Before you go, tell me about a time when you have been disappointed with your food. And I mean bitterly so.

Pad Thai

Serves 4


300g (10 oz) thick rice noodles

2 1/2 teaspoons peanut oil

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1/2 teaspoon shrimp paste

3 red chillies, chopped

2 chicken breasts, sliced

100g (4 oz) extra firm tofu, diced

12 large prawns

3 green onions, sliced fine

1/3 cup (2 1/2 fl oz) fish sauce

juice of 1 lime

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 1/2 cups bean sprouts

1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves

1/4 roasted unsalted peanuts, chopped


1) Place the rice noodles in large pot and cover with boiling water. Soak until soft (al dente). Drain and rinse with cold water. Add 2 teaspoons of the oil and toss to coat.

2) Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a wok or deep frying pan over high heat. Add the eggs, swirl around, and cook until just set. Remove from the pan and set aside.

3) Add the remaining oil. Fry the tofu until lightly golden. Add the shrimp paste to the wok and cook until lightly fragrant, about a minute. Add the chili and chicken. Cook for about 5 minutes.

4) Add the noodles, green onions, fish sauce, lime juice, and sugar and cook for 3 minutes. Chop the eggs and toss through the noodles with the bean sprouts and cilantro.

5) Serve immediately with the sprinkled peanuts.

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

KimHo February 19, 2011 at 5:19 pm

Ah… Ethnic cuisine… For similar reasons I don’t order dishes like this and, at times, I would rather fall back into Timmy’s (gasp), KFC (double gasp) or even McD’s (GASP!!!!).

I have made pad thai in the past but, alas, it ended up being in a disaster. I soaked the rice noodle for a bit too long (it was al dente when I took it out but when cooking and tossing with the rest…), added too much liquid and the pan I was using didn’t heat that well. I am willing to cook it again and, next time, I will use this recipe:

Darina February 19, 2011 at 7:35 pm

Thanks for the link, Kim. I like that blog. I have made it in the past with mixed results, but this one was fairly easy and ended up being tasty.

Y February 20, 2011 at 1:37 am

What a gorgeous looking dish. I love Pad Thai, though I’ve only attempted it a few times, with varying results.

Darina February 20, 2011 at 3:48 am

Yes, it’s one of those tricky dishes. Thanks for stopping by.

Simply Life February 20, 2011 at 4:49 am

I’ve never heard of shrimp paste – this is one dish I’d love to be able to make!

Kristin February 20, 2011 at 5:56 am

I’ve made pad thai a few times at home and I’ve always been disappointed that it’s just never as good as what you get in restaurants. This past autumn I made plaice a la florentine that sounded good on paper, but the end result was so bad that we threw it straight into the bin after a few bites and had to order pizza instead. It seems to be a classic recipe though, so I’m sure it was just the version that I used that was bad and I’m still willing to give it another try – though not anytime soon!

Sharlene February 20, 2011 at 7:05 am

Pad thai is definitely hit or miss for me when I get it at a restaurant. I haven’t yet tried making it at home but I imagine it’s a hit every time!

Darina February 20, 2011 at 9:01 am

You can get spicy or sweet shrimp paste, depending on how spicy you’d like your dish to be.

Rosa February 20, 2011 at 9:55 am

Like you I beleive I can tell the diffrence between a good Thai dish and a bad one even if I have never been to Thailand… That Pad Thai looks wonderful and refined! Just the kind of food I crave.

Check out this blog:



blandina February 20, 2011 at 11:18 pm

I love Pad Thai, never attempted making it myself. I will certainly do with your recipe. Thanks for the recipe.

Darina February 21, 2011 at 8:00 am

Thanks for the link, Rosa!

Darina February 21, 2011 at 8:00 am

let me know how it turns out!

Ben February 25, 2011 at 7:19 am

I think that’s true with most ethnic cuisines. But some are easier to get wrong like Thai. hehe. Delicious looking dish!

Stephanie February 27, 2011 at 9:42 pm

I love good thai food! I almost never make it at home though, maybe we should try it 😀

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