The origins of Phad Thai are both fascinating and insidious in equal measure and are a testament to the power of food. Firstly, it may surprise most to learn that this ubiquitous Thai dish is relatively new to Thai cuisine. Conceived as a solution to a national rice shortage during World War II, the then fascist Thai government created and promoted Phad Thai as a symbol of Thai national pride and actively encouraged street vendors to sell it en masses – a government campaign with the dual objective of both reigniting a flagging sense of Thai Nationalism and addressing a crippling food shortage. In essence, Phad Thai is culinary propaganda at its tastiest.
Sadly, Phad Thai has to be one of the most corrupted Asian dishes in the World. Outside of it’s native Thailand, this wonderful noodle dish has been bastardised beyond recognition by dubious Thai takeaway joints in an ill-advised attempt to make it appealing to a non-Thai palette. I can only imagine the shock that must befall so many tourists who order Phad Thai in the back streets of Bangkok only to end up wondering what on earth they’ve been eating all these years! My version is by no means truly authentic but I’ve tried to replicate the original as best I can – the main difference between my version and the usual takeaway fare is that the only vegetables that are cooked are the bean sprouts and spring onions – the rest are served raw on the side. You can decide if you want to add chicken or prawns, the latter being the more authentic version, but the recipe works well without either.
PHAD THAI GAI or GOONG: Serves 2
- 2 chicken thighs, thinly sliced (The Gai) OR 6 good sized prawns, shelled (The Goong)
- 100g dried thin rice noodles
- 3 tbsp. plain oil
- 4 red Asian shallots, finely diced
- 2 eggs
- 30g store bought deep fried bean curd, cut into strips (leave out if you can’t find it)
- 1 tbsp. dried prawns, soaked till soft and then drained
- 1 tbsp. diced salted radish (available at most Asian supermarkets)
- 1 tbsp. crushed roasted peanuts
- A fistful of bean sprouts
- A couple of spring onions, sliced on the diagonal
PAD THAI SAUCE:
- 3 tbsp. shaved palm sugar
- 2 tbsp. tamarind water
- A dash of white vinegar
- 1 tbsp. fish sauce
- Extra raw bean sprouts
- Extra crushed roasted peanuts
- Roasted chilli powder
- Lime wedges
- Fine green beans, ends trimmed
- Thinly sliced green cabbage or lettuce
- Soak the dried rice noodles in hot water for 15 minutes until soft, drain and keep to one side.
- Mix the palm sugar, tamarind water, vinegar and fish sauce with a couple tablespoons of water. I like to heat this mixture in the microwave to dissolve the sugar and reduce the mixture to a more syrupy consistency. NOTE: if you are in a rush, you can substitute the above Phad Thai sauce recipe for a shop bought version but these are often much sweeter, so you will need to take this into account.
- Place the bean curd, crushed peanuts, salted radishes and dried prawns in a bowl.
- Heat the oil in a wok to a medium heat. After a couple of seconds, add the Gai or the Goong, depending on your preference. Just before the protein has cooked through, add the shallots and a pinch of salt. Cook until the shallots become fragrant.
- Turn up the heat and push the contents of the work to one side, crack in the eggs. Break the yolks and allow to set for a second or two till almost set.
- Now add the Phad Thai sauce and the bean curd, crushed peanuts, salted radishes and dried prawns. Allow to cook for a few seconds.
- Add the noodles and mix everything together with a flipping motion, shaking the wok as you work. Continue frying until the sauce has been absorbed. Be mindful of the noodles burning.
- Finally add the bean sprouts and spring onions, give everything a final stir and a flip. Dish out onto a serving plate.
Arrange with the various toppings and sprinkle with roasted chilli powder.
EAT WITH…a bowl of sliced green and red Thai chillis, steeped in Chinese white rice vinegar or some fish sauce