If you think you've had authentic Pad Thai at your local Thai takeout joint, you'd be surprised to hear that American versions of the dish don't even come close to the real thing. Unless you’ve spent ample time in Bangkok, you’ve probably been misled about Thailand’s most famous dish. And no, that's not just because cheap Pad Thai in America tends to have the consistency of ketchup. In Bangkok, a truly classic Pad Thai doesn't look like a noodle dish at all; it's actually an omelet.
Here's how it's done: The mixture of noodles, spring onions, tofu, and dried shrimp are tossed in a super-hot wok with a little tamarind chili sauce and palm sugar before moving to a new wok coated in a thin, crepe-like layer of egg. The edges are browned before being carefully folded over. The omelet is garnished with crushed peanuts, a smattering of crunchy bean sprouts and a wedge of lime.
In Thailand, Pad Thai is essentially what the Club Sandwich is in America: It’s a staple. It’s a comfort food. It’s certainly open to interpretation, but it’s hard to improve on the classic. “It is the original way to serve it wrapped in the egg like this,” offers Tam Tassanakajohn, who opened the Bangkok restaurant Baan with his brother Ton seven months ago. “Thai people do not normally make Pad Thai at home,” he continues. “It’s a dish we get from street carts. I believe that is why you don’t see the egg wrapper as often anymore. It’s easier for the carts to serve it with chopped egg.”
He also adds that Pad Thai in Thailand never features poultry. It’s only tofu, dried shrimp and in nicer establishments, a few fresh steamed prawns too. Chicken is for the tourists.
“If the noodle is too soft, it’s not good either,” Tassanakajohn continues. “It needs to be a bit chewy for texture. The softness should come from the egg.”
Baan’s traditional version (pictured above) is spot-on, with a thicker than normal noodle, sustainable shrimp sourced from Phachuap Khiri Khan in the south of Thailand, and free-range eggs from a hen house in Salaburi. It’s arguably one of the best in the city.
If you want the most famous in Bangkok, though, you head to Thip Samai. Mrs. Samai opened her Pad Thai place in 1966, and it’s since become globally famous for the egg-wrapped original (pictured below). While you’ll definitely get that Walt-Disney-Does-Thailand feeling here—as tourists heft iPhones and wait in lines that stretch more than an hour down the road—the show is half the fun. The kitchen is on the sidewalk, with smoking woks perfuming wafts of hot fat and oil. The eggs fry instantly, and scoops of tamarind-coated noodles bearing bright green slices of onion and a quick squeeze of lime are nestled into a pocket with astonishing speed. In the din of cracking eggs and rapid-fire assembly, waiters carry four plates per arm into the restaurant where hundreds of people a day dig into their first experience of a really, truly authentic Pad Thai.
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