Pad Thai, a classic dish from Thailand, has been a favorite of mine for a long time. My first experience with Thai food was, oddly enough, at Wild Ginger in White Bear Lake, MN. Years later, I found myself learning how to make Pad Thai at an orphanage in the rural town of Buriram, Thailand. In Tokyo, Brad and I have discovered Kaffir Lime, a Thai restaurant down the street from our church where we often stop on Sundays for a plate of tasty stir-fried noodles. Pad Thai is a flavorful dish that requires skill to perfect. Achieving the right taste and texture is difficult and takes practice. That is why I chose to make this dish for PFB’s challenge #2.
This weekend I happen to be in Bangkok, Thailand. With only 3 days to spend (which were mostly occupied by a conference) my ability to get out and experience true Thai cuisine was limited. It didn’t help that my expectations for the weekend were slightly unrealistic. While I would have loved to spend my evenings exploring markets and indulging in all Thai cuisine has to offer, I instead spent two nights eating hotel food. Fortunately it was not half-bad. Still, each bite I took tasted like failure. I just kept thinking, I’m in Thailand for crying out loud! What am I doing eating in my hotel?
So tonight, my last night in Bangkok, had to be wonderful. No excuses! No if’s, and’s or but’s about it! So, I did what most food bloggers might do, and asked Eating Asia on twitter what I should do with my last night. With that response, I got in a cab armed with a location name: Soi Suanplu. My cab driver knew how to get there, so off we went. As we got closer (or at least what I thought was closer) I began to see food stalls and restaurants pass by my dusty car window until, to my dismay, we pulled up to (cue scary music) a shopping mall. I’m sure this is not what my fellow Asia blogger had in mind. Ugh.
Typically, I would simply jump out of the cab and walk back to where I wanted to go. In this case I had two problems. 1) I didn’t have any clue where I was, and 2) My taxi driver was pulling into the parking ramp.
Apparently somewhere between my hotel and shopping mall, the driver had decided that he should stay with me while I did my shopping. He would park, I would shop for 1 hour, and he would wait. Then he could bring me back to the hotel.
When I tried asking what he was doing, the driver simply said that he would wait for me for 1 hour and then bring me back to the hotel. Thanks…Dad? Totally unsure of how to handle this, I followed him into the shopping center. When we walked through the doors and into the heavily air-conditioned, commercially drenched space, I couldn’t take it anymore. I stopped and said:
This is not where I want to be. Can you please take me to food?!? No kidding, that was my question. Please take me to food…
I kept repeating where I wanted to go but it just didn’t translate. After a lot of confused stares, we went back to the taxi and ended up at the Suan Lum Night Bazaar. Still not what I was looking for, but it was infinitely better than the shopping mall. As I was silently followed by my taxi-driving friend through rows of vendors selling strings of lights, pashmina scarves, and elephant pillows, I searched for my much-anticipated Thai meal. Finally, we came to a restaurant with tiny little stools and wooden tables that had brightly colored plastic bottles of chili flakes and other condiments as center pieces. The food photos above the counter showed a zillion duck dishes, lots of rice, and lots of stuff I didn’t recognize. It was perfect.
So, the taxi driver sat down with me. I barely noticed the awkwardness because I was so happy to have a plate of authentic Pad Thai in front of me. As he patiently waited for me to be ready to go back to the hotel, he ordered mango juice and said nothing. When it was all over, he drove me back to my hotel as promised.
I have never gone through so much to find a meal. But I would do it again in a heartbeat.
Pad Thai Goong (Pad Thai with Shrimp)
1 package of pad thai noodles, soaked in warm water to soften
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 pound medium shrimp, shelled and deveined
1/2 cup firm tofu, cut into 1/4 inch strips
1 package bean sprouts
1 bunch scallions, cut into 2 inch piece
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons palm or cane sugar
3 tablespoons tamarind paste
1/4 teaspoon dried chili flakes (or to taste)
3 or 4 oz. dried shrimp soaked for at least 20 minutes in 4 cups water
Red Pepper Flakes or Chili Flakes
In a wok or large pan with high sides, heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the tofu and cook for about 2 minutes. Add the fish sauce, palm/cane sugar and tamarind. Cook for 2 more minutes or until simmering. Add the fresh shrimp and cook until pink, about 2 or 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the tofu and shrimp from the pan, leaving the sauces.
Next, add the dried shrimp and the water. Allow the sauce to come to a boil. Add the noodles. They should be mostly but not be completely immersed in the liquid. Cook until the noodles are nearly cooked through and have soaked up most of the liquid, about 10 minutes.
Add the green onions and sprouts and cook for about 1 minute until the green onions are slightly softened. Push the noodles to the side of the wok. Place the egg in the wok, move the noodles on top of the egg. Allow the egg to cook for about 2 or 3 minutes. Toss the pad Thai to break up the egg and work it into the noodles.
Finally, add the shrimp and tofu back to the pan and toss to combine. Serve in bowls topped with sugar, red pepper flakes, chopped peanuts, cilantro and a lime wedge.