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Which is the most popular Thai dish eaten outside of Thailand?  Green curry or Pad Thai?  The latter, like Penang char kway teow, is an addictive street food skillfully cooked to order in a matter of smoky minutes.  The good news is that Pad Thai can be easily recreated at home with just a few ingredients, which is a welcome change from the the never-ending list of obscurities that accompany most Asian recipes.

Wokking up a great Pad Thai relies on instinct rather than sticking rigidly to a recipe and is an excellent lesson in flavour balance as the sauce is made up of just four elements:

−        Fish sauce for saltiness

−        Tamarind for sourness

−        Palm sugar for sweetness

−        Dried chilli for spiciness

Unless you are confident at being able to perfect your seasoning to order à la wok, it’s better to whip up a batch of sauce beforehand as, once you’ve started frying, time is of the essence if you don’t want to end up with burnt or soggy noodles.  Individual tastes and ingredients vary, but as a rough guide I’d start with equal quantities fish sauce, tamarind and palm sugar melted together over a low heat.  Once the sugar has dissolved, adjust the seasonings until it tastes good to you – that’s what a harmonious balance is all about.  You can then sprinkle in the chilli to step up the heat.  Vegetarians can up the tofu content and try substituting the fish sauce with a dash of light soy and a spoonful of fermented soy bean paste.

For a comprehensive post about how to cook Pad Thai check out she simmers


Serves 2


For the sauce

2 tablespoons of fish sauce

2 tablespoons of tamarind paste

2 tablespoons of finely chopped palm sugar

A couple of teaspoons of dried chilli powder

For the noodles

200g – 250g dried* thick rice noodles, or fresh if available

A block of firm tofu, cubed

A teaspoon of shrimp paste

2 cloves of finely chopped garlic

A tablespoon of dried shrimp, pounded until fluffy

A couple of handuls of large prawns, peeled and deveined

A couple of handfuls of beansprouts

An egg

To garnish

Sugar, fish sauce and limes

Ground dry roasted peanuts

Garlic chives

INSTRUCTIONS: First make up the sauce by melting the fish sauce, tamarind and palm sugar together over a low heat.  Once the sugar has dissolved, adjust the seasonings to taste.  Add a bit more tamarind is you prefer a sourish sharpness and vice versa.  When you are happy with the sauce, add in the chilli powder remembering that you can always add more later on so don’t over do it. 

Fry the tofu in a couple of tablespoons of oil until crisp and golden brown and remove.  Fry the noodles in the oil with a ladle or two of sauce and the shrimp paste.  The sauce should fully coat the noodles but there shouldn’t be superfluous sauce or the noodles will be soggy and the dish overseasoned.  Make sure the wok is hot and keep the noodles moving all the time so they don’t clump together and stick to the bottom and burn.  You may need to add a splash more water if the sauce evaporates too quickly and the noodles aren’t yet soft or a touch more oil if the strands are sticking together.  As soon as the noodles have softened, add the garlic, dried shrimp, tofu and prawns.  Keep everything in the pan moving by pushing it around with a spatula, so it cooks evenly.  When the prawns are just turning opaque, make a well in the centre and crack in an egg.  Break the egg yolk and mix it in with the white and leave it to set for ten seconds before stirring everything together for the final seconds of cooking.  Throw in the bean sprouts at the last minute and take the pan off the heat.

Please don’t be tempted to double the portion size and cook it all in the same pan – you need to make two batches.  Just like browning meat, a pan of noodles should never be overcrowded when frying.

Garnish with roasted peanut powder, sliced garlic chives, lime wedges and serve with sugar, fish sauce and dried chilli flakes or fresh sliced red chillies on the side.  Grab a pair of chopsticks and enjoy.  

*rehydrated in cold water until barely al dente, under-soaking is better than over-soaking