Pad Thai Goong (Pad Thai with Shrimp)

by Tokyo Terrace on September 27, 2010

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.

Buriram, Thailand: Where I learned to make Pad Thai.

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.

Um, what?

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.

Wait, what?

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…

Blank stare.

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)

Serves 4

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

1 egg

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

Peanuts, crushed

Lime wedges

Sugar

Red Pepper Flakes or Chili Flakes

Cilantro

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.

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  • http://twitter.com/eatlivtravwrite eatlivetravelwrite

    What a great story Rachael! I love that travel allows you to experience things like that. When I started reading the post, I kind of imagined you making pad Thai in the hotel room coffee maker! This is so much better!

  • Anonymous

    Actually, the first meal Rachael ever made for me was some pasta with tomato sauce…using only her dorm microwave. Romantic, delish, she had me at the first bite. I wouldn’t be surprised if she could make pad thai with a coffee maker.

    -Mr. Terrace

  • http://twitter.com/OOmnivore Obviously Omnivore

    That is too too sweet!

  • http://eatingasia.typepad.com Robyn Eckhardt

    Yikes! Sorry about that — in the future I’ll advise Soi Suanplu glai glai gap Thanon Sathorn (Soi Suanplu, near Sathorn Road). I had no idea there was also a shopping mall called Soi Suanplu. But I’m glad (and a bit relieved) that it turned out well anyway. I agree, there is something so wonderful about a well-prepared pad thai!

  • http://foodnouveau.com Marie (Food Nouveau)

    What an incredible adventure! I guess this is what PFB is all about – step out of your comfort zone and write about it. I’m sure your story will do very well in the second challenge. Good luck!

  • Noelle

    Nice dish. I make this all the time. It is one of my favorite dishes. Good luck on making it to the next round. You have my vote!

  • http://www.healthygreenkitchen.com Winnie

    Great story and very nice post. I love pad thai, too, but I’ve never found the tamarind paste to make it at home. You’ve inspired me to go find some. Your blog is lovely and I’m happy to have found it through PFB2010!

  • http://kitchenmeditation.blogspot.com Roxan

    Oh, I love how you learned in a backyard, that’s awesome! Great job with the pad thai, and good luck making it to the next round!

  • http://www.singforyoursupperblog.com Amy (Sing For Your Supper)

    Great post!! I’m so jealous of your awesome Pad Thai skills!! You have my vote!

  • Delishhh

    Nice work on this challange. You have my vote again!

  • Daydreamer Desserts

    Great story and choice for this challenge!! You’ve certainly got my vote! ;)

  • Joan Nova

    Nice narrative for your entry. Good luck!

  • http://www.eatlivetravelwrite.com Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite

    Mr Terrace, that is absolutely the sweetest comment I have read in a while! :-)

  • http://twitter.com/riceandwheat angi c

    What a great story – I love that the taxi driver was basically like your chaperone for the night. How funny! Although I’ve made many Thai curries at home, I’ve never attempted Pad Thai – can’t wait to try your recipe. Voted!

  • Flavorful World

    Great story. You got my vote!

  • http://www.thedailyspud.com Daily Spud

    I adore pad thai and yours looks superb. Have never tried my hand at making it, though I really should. Your story, meanwhile, brought back memories of the couple of times that I’ve been to Bangkok – those taxi drivers sure are keen on bringing foreigners to shops (which are often conveniently owned by their friends… :) ) – well done on your perseverance in finally getting your pad thai!

  • http://twitter.com/feedingmaybelle feedingmaybelle

    love it. off to vote for you.

  • http://twitter.com/feedingmaybelle feedingmaybelle

    what a great #pfb2010. great pictures.

  • P Handt

    Looks yummy- can’t wait to try it!

  • Brie

    hey, pad thai! we nearly had an identical dish! i will take that as a hint that i’m moving in the right direction since i respect your blog and photography. best of luck making it to the next round – you have my vote! :)

  • http://www.laptopsandstovetops.com Rachel

    Well done! My attempts at Pad Thai were not great so I give you mad props for owning this dish. You got my vote for gusto and guts-good luck!

  • Tangled Noodle

    What a beautiful dish and no doubt just as delicious as it looks! I admit that I haven’t been inclined to tray making it myself even though it’s a favorite dish – I much prefer to let the more skilled perform their magic while I enjoy their efforts! Congratulations on moving forward in Project Food Blog. Can’t wait to see your next entry! Just voted!

  • http://www.lawyerloveslunch.com Lawyer Loves Lunch

    I dragged the hubster to the Suan Lum Night Bazaar when we visited Thailand last year. Best shopping EVER! And the food was pretty darn tasty as well. I’m so glad I discovered your blog- you definitely have my vote! :)

  • Anonymous

    How cool that you’ve been there too! It was good shopping- but it was difficult with my “shadow” right there the whole time. I just couldn’t concentrate on shopping because it was so strange! Thanks for the vote :)

  • Anonymous

    It’s so easy to find great Pad Thai that it just doesn’t seem necessary to make it yourself. I think my trips to Thailand changed that for me. Thanks for the vote!!

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the compliments and for voting me through to Challenge #3!

  • http://www.tokyoterrace.com/2010/10/lamb-chop-with-classic-risotto-spinach/ Lamb Chop with Classic Risotto & Spinach — Tokyo Terrace :: An American Foodie in Tokyo

    [...] OK, I never expected to make it this far! Thank you to everyone who voted for me in rounds #1, #2 and #3. I am blown away by the support you all have shown for Tokyo [...]

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