What Is Pad Thai?

Here's everything you need to know about Thailand's national dish—plus easy Pad Thai recipes to make at home.

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Pad Thai is typical street fare across Thailand—and it's probably the #1 order at your local Thai restaurant. In fact, this popular stir-fried noodle dish is the national dish of Thailand. But what exactly is it about Pad Thai that makes it so delicious? Bold, umami flavors and a variety of textures make Pad Thai into a comforting meal that everyone can love. Let's take a closer look at this beloved Thai dish.

What's in Pad Thai?

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The basic ingredients in a traditional Pad Thai are rice noodles stir-fried with tofu, eggs, and a sauce made with tamarind paste, fish sauce, dried shrimp, garlic, chiles, and palm sugar (which is often less refined than cane sugar). Pad Thai is characterized by rich, vibrant flavors, from funky (fish sauce and dried shrimp), to sour (fresh tamarind paste), to sweet (palm sugar).

Recipes for Pad Thai vary, but there's almost always a base of wide rice noodles, a generous sprinkle of crushed peanuts on top, and a lime wedge served alongside. The addition of a quick, wok-scrambled egg and a pile of fresh bean sprouts are also part of most versions of the dish.

Most Pad Thai recipes for the home cook get their sweet and sour components from brown sugar and vinegar or lime juice. Though a combination of shrimp and tofu are traditional, you can also use boneless, skinless chicken thighs in place of the shrimp, or just use vegetables and tofu for a vegetarian version.

How to Cook Pad Thai

The key to great Pad Thai is to have all your components ready before you start cooking, as the process moves quickly. For that reason, you'll need a good, reliable wok pan that heats up fast—we recommend a carbon-steel wok with a flat bottom. Carbon steel woks are relatively inexpensive and lightweight, and they're also an excellent conductor of heat (crucial for stir-frying).

To avoid mushy noodles, undercook them a bit—they continue to absorb liquid from the sauce during the stir-fry action. Lastly, try scrambling the eggs separately, then adding them back to the noodles at the end. This way, you'll preserve their texture and you won't overcook them.

Ready to cook Pad Thai at home? Traditional Pad Thai recipes are stir-fried one serving at a time to capture that hot-off-the-wok flavor and the ideal balance of ingredients. We forgo that in our recipes in favor of convenience and shorter cooking time. Here are some easy recipes to try.

View Recipe: Classic Pad Thai

If you can find salted radish at your local Asian market, do include a bit of it chopped here, as it adds a piquant flavor to this Pad Thai recipe that's simply irresistible.

View Recipe: Shrimp Pad Thai

This homemade Pad Thai is smothered with spicy shrimp, bean sprouts, peanuts and green onion—plus, it's ready in only 25 minutes. For fire lovers, add an additional drizzle of Sriracha or chili garlic sauce over top.

View Recipe: Cashew Cream Pad Thai

Don't mistakenly buy fettuccine-like pad Thai noodles, as they take much longer to soak to an edible consistency. Look for the thin brown-rice variety, often called vermicelli or mai fun. The longer they sit, the better these noodles will get, as they continue to soak up the flavors of the nutty cashew cream.


Pad Thai

Pad Thai is like a warm blanket. It’s a comfort food of our age, with those chewy noodles, crunchy peanuts, the sweet and tangy sauce, and plenty of chives, bean sprouts, and chicken to make it a full meal.

To develop this recipe, I carefully pored over many videos of street food vendors in the process of making this signature dish, to catch every detail and authentic addition. This recipe has all the ingredients and information you need to make an authentic Pad Thai at home.


Equipment


Authentic Pad Thai

Ingredients US Metric

  • 1/2 pound narrow dried rice noodles
  • 2 ounces boneless pork, thinly sliced and cut into narrow strips about 1 1/2 inches long
  • 1 teaspoon sugar (preferably palm sugar although light brown or granulated will work just fine)
  • 1 heaping tablespoon tamarind pulp dissolved in 2 to 3 tablespoons warm water (or substitute 1 tablespoon rice vinegar plus 1 tablespoon water)
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 3 large eggs
  • pinch salt
  • 3 tablespoons peanut oil or mild vegetable oil
  • 2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 to 3 ounces firm tofu, cut into narrow strips about 1 1/2 inches long
  • 1/2 pound (a scant 4 cups) bean sprouts, rinsed and drained
  • 3 scallions, trimmed, smashed with the flat side of a knife and cut into 1 1/2-inch lengths
  • 1 tablespoon dried shrimp (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon salted radish (optional)
  • 1 cup roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons cilantro leaves (optional)
  • Chile-Vinegar Sauce
  • 1 lime, cut into small wedges

Directions

Soak the rice noodles in very, very warm water for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the pork in a small bowl, add the sugar, and toss to coat. In a medium bowl, combine the tamarind water (or rice vinegar and water), soy sauce, and fish sauce. In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs and a pinch of salt. Place all 3 bowls near the stovetop.

Place a large wok or ginormous skillet over high heat. (You need a large wok to prepare this amount of noodles, as the noodles take up a lot of room, and you need to be able to push some ingredients up the sides of the wok while you cook other ingredients. If your wok is small, make this recipe in two batches.) Add about 1 1/2 tablespoons of the oil to the pan. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the garlic and stir-fry briefly just until it begins to change color, about 15 seconds.

Toss in the pork and stir-fry until the pork changes color but isn’t cooked through, less than 1 minute. Add the tofu and press it against the sides of the wok with your spatula to scorch it a little, 10 to 20 seconds. Pour in the egg mixture and let it cook just until it starts to set around the pork and tofu, less than 1 minute. Use your spatula to cut the omelet into large pieces, then transfer everything to a plate and set aside.

Return the wok to high heat. Add the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons oil and swirl to coat. Toss the drained noodles into the wok and stir-fry vigorously, pressing them against the hot wok briefly to sear them, then turn them and press them against the side of the wok again. The noodles will initially seem dry and unwieldy, but don’t worry, just keep folding them over and pressing them onto the wok. After about 1 minute, they will have softened more and be warm.

Move the noodles up the sides of the wok and toss in 2 to 2 1/2 cups of the bean sprouts and the scallions. Stir-fry vigorously for about 20 seconds, pressing them against the hot wok and turning them so they wilt. Add the dried shrimp and salted radish, if using, and toss briefly with your spatula, then add the soy sauce mixture. Stir-fry for about another 30 seconds, gradually incorporating noodles into the bean sprout mixture. Add the reserved egg-meat mixture and toss gently to mix everything together.

Turn the noodles out onto a platter or onto individual plates. Sprinkle some of the chopped peanuts onto the noodles, then place the rest of the peanuts in a bowl as a condiment to be passed on the side so folks can add extra as they wish. Do the same with the cilantro. Place the remaining bean sprouts in a bowl and set them on the table. Pass the Chile-Vinegar Sauce and the lime wedges. Originally published January 23, 2012.

Recipe Testers' Reviews

Megan M.

I have made Pad Thai before, using 2 different recipes, and each time my guests said that it was the best Pad Thai they have ever had. This recipe was a little different from the others in ingredients, proportions and cooking steps, so I was a little skeptical. The end result was just delicious. The noodles had a nice texture, and the taste was lovely.

I did substitute fresh shrimp for the pork and didn’t use the dried shrimp or salted radish. The next time I make this, I might add a little palm sugar to the soy/tamarind/fish sauce mixture. I ate the noodles with the chile-vinegar sauce and found that it added some needed moisture and a great, slightly tingly flavor.

Sofia Reino

If you think this is the typical Pad Thai you get at an average Thai restaurant here in the States, you are wrong. As soon as I saw this recipe, I jumped at the opportunity to try it and see the reaction of our “Thai daughter,” our exchange student. None of us here at home are big fans of Pad Thai, yet we LOVE Thai food in general. The final result astonished us all, as we loved it. This is so much better, and our Thai daughter said it DID taste much like the versions she gets back home.

My “Thai daughter” actually decided to help me make this recipe. It is very easy to make, but smart to be well organized in the kitchen and have all of the ingredients measured and ready to go once you actually start cooking, as it all goes very fast.

The only comment she had—and we agreed—is that there could be more of the actual sauce (soy/fish/tamarind pulp). I quickly went back to the kitchen, made a little more and added it straight to our bowls and it worked beautifully.

Chiyo Ueyama

Although I didn’t have all the ingredients, this Pad Thai was delicious. I skipped the dried shrimp and salted radish, as I didn’t have time to go to the Asian grocery store. I did use tamarind pulp, which I had bought at an Indian market.

But more essential than having everything the recipe calls for is having all your ingredients ready to go before you start cooking. As with any stir fry, once you start, there’s no stopping or going back. We enjoyed being able to “customize” our own noodles with the various condiments. I especially loved the chili-vinegar sauce it was super easy to make and it really brightened the dish.

Melissa Maedgen

This is a solid template for Pad Thai, which is the most well-known Thai dish to Westerners. Unfortunately, the versions showing up in restaurants these days are on a downward spiral. The dish seems to be getting sweeter and sloppier with each passing year. Hence a strong motivation to make it at home. None of that sweet goo here.

You can play around with this to suit your own taste. My choice would be to increase the tamarind a bit. I don’t know where the authors buy their meat, but two ounces of pork is not a common supermarket quantity. The tiniest piece I could buy was twice that. I don’t think the pork really adds that much, so I might skip it or add a small amount of diced ham. The dried shrimp are important, at least to me.

I made the recipe as written and it wasn’t quite as tangy as I’d like, but that was easily remedied by adding the chile-vinegar sauce that accompanies this recipe. For that, I used jalapeños, for a little more bite than the mild chile peppers called for. My husband and I really chowed down on this dish, having been for a trail run and having skipped lunch. We still had enough left over for a large lunch for one. I would say if you are serving with some other dishes, you would get well over the 3 to 4 servings promised.

Jeremy Schweitzer

This recipe does seem intimidating, and the first time I made it I wasn’t sure that I thought the recipe worked, but I made it twice more and figured out that my initial trouble stemmed more from my lack of patience than a flaw in the recipe. The flavors, especially if you use the optional ingredients, are pretty close to the Thai I’ve had while traveling.

I found that my personal taste required doubling the liquid ingredients, but it was fine with the amount specified in the recipe. The lime and chile sauce really are needed to brighten the flavors up. If you follow the recipe note’s suggestion to have everything prepped in advance and waiting in the little bowls, then this recipe will come together and make the whole family happy. Also, make sure you keep the wok or skillet hot enough (it will work with either, I tried it to make sure) and keep the noodles, etc., moving or the food will stick.

Bette Fraser

Yummy! For some reason, I find stir-fry dishes like this to be complete comfort food. Quick to pull together for a group or for yourself, it's warm and delicious and just satisfying. A lovely combination of flavors, both familiar and exotic, that young and old will enjoy.

While not all the ingredients may be available to every household (such as the dried shrimp) you can certainly improvise. And, definitely add the chile-vinegar sauce! I couldn’t get enough!

Ann Tousignant

This is a very easy to make recipe (once you have the ingredients). Rather than paying for it at a restaurant, I’d prefer to make it at home. It is tasty and lends itself to the use of other forms of protein, like chicken or shrimp.

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Comments

Hi there! Thanks so much for posting this, as I have been coming back to your recipe for the past year or so. Whenever I feel the urge for Pad Thai, I usually have two options: travel for about an hour or so to my favorite Thai restaurant that may or may not have a great hygienic rating or spend some time at the grocery and at home preparing the ingredients for a bit longer than I would like. But as a professional cook I appreciate your simple but amazing ability to make it so easy for everyone. While I know it may not seem so to everyone I know my family definitely loves it. My husband is Asian, and I’m of Caribbean heritage, so we love good food from all cultures and honestly, to us its both perfect and very satisfying!

Sacha, thank you. Nothing makes me happier!

I love pad thai and it is always nice to see a new recipe. I do one with the hated ketchup but it turns out great when you don’t have the authentic Asian ingredients around. I also use chicken but think that whatever protein on hand is good. In any case, to me it is the noodles that can make or break the dish. Too hard or too soft or noodles that have been left to sit in the sauce make for yukky noodles. The book sounds great and I can’t wait to try this rendition! Thanks.

Abbe, I completely agree with you about the noodles. And yes, this is a phenomenal book. If you revel in things Thai and southeast Asian, it’s truly a must.

Lately I have been very curious about traditional ingredients found in Pad Thai, a great post thank you for the great info & lovely recipe.

You’re quite welcome, Marla. As you noticed, this is the real deal! You may wish to try other recipes from this book, it’s definitely a keeper.

It is one of my new year’s resolutions to make authentic pad thai at home! Thanks for this :)

That’s just what we do, ma’am. We try to mindread your resolutions and then help make them come true…

I have that book as well! And I made the Pad Thai. It’s the best Pad Thai I have ever had. So delicious. Haven’t had it in a while though. I think I am going to try it again soon!

Steve, now THAT is what we love to hear. We couldn’t agree with you more. Happy cooking.


Chicken Pad Thai

Danielle Centoni is a Portland-based, James Beard Journalism Award-winning food writer and cookbook author whose idea of a perfect day always includes butter, sugar, flour, and an oven.

The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 3 to 4
Amount per serving
Calories 1197
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 48g 61%
Saturated Fat 12g 58%
Cholesterol 209mg 70%
Sodium 4766mg 207%
Total Carbohydrate 110g 40%
Dietary Fiber 7g 27%
Protein 89g
Calcium 372mg 29%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.

Pad Thai is probably one of the most well known Thai dishes. It is a tangy and delicious combination of noodles, vegetables, and chicken or shrimp all tossed in a sweet and sour sauce with a little bit of spice. This recipe is a fast and easy version of traditional pad Thai, but maintains the authentic taste.

The key to perfect pad Thai is in the cooking of the noodles—cook them just enough so that they are chewy-perfect. When this dish is all put together, you will understand why pad Thai is so popular.


Recipe Summary

  • 8 ounces rice noodles (Vietnamese banh pho or Thai sen-mee)
  • ¼ cup salted peanuts, finely chopped
  • ½ teaspoon grated lime peel
  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
  • 4 ½ teaspoons rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Asian chili sauce with garlic
  • 3 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cut into bite-size strips
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup fresh bean sprouts
  • ⅓ cup sliced green onions (3)
  • 2 tablespoons snipped fresh cilantro

Place noodles in a large bowl. Add enough hot tap water to cover. Let stand for 10 to 15 minutes or until pliable but not soft drain well.

Meanwhile, for peanut topping, combine peanuts and lime peel set aside.

In a small bowl combine fish sauce, lime juice, brown sugar, rice vinegar, and chili sauce. Stir until smooth set aside.

In a large nonstick skillet heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium-high heat. Add chicken and garlic cook and stir about 6 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink. Transfer to a bowl.

Add egg to hot skillet cook for 30 seconds. Turn egg with spatula cook for 30 to 60 seconds more or just until set. Remove from skillet and chop set aside.

In same skillet, heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil over high heat for 30 seconds. Add drained noodles and sprouts cook and stir for 2 minutes. Add the fish sauce mixture and chicken cook and stir for 1 to 2 minutes or until heated through. Divide noodle mixture among four plates. Sprinkle each serving with egg and peanut topping. Garnish with green onion and cilantro.


Four simple steps to cook up an irresistible Pad Thai

Pad Thai regularly receives high praises from food critics around the world due to its complexity, affordability, and range of flavor.

This dish has a wide variety of textures that make it an absolute joy to eat. You will experience the soft noodles as well as the small pieces of crunchy pickles, nuts, plus the freshness of bean sprouts.

You will also experience a sourness of tamarind mixes well with the sweetness of palm sugar, and the spiciness of hot chili pepper.

Step 1- Soaking the noodles.

Noodles for Pad Thai come in two forms- the dry and the fresh one. Since the noodles are hard to get at where I live, I always use the dry one to prepare the Pad Thai. I think many readers will be in the same situation as me, so I&rsquoll describe how to use the dry noodles in this recipe.

Pad Thai noodles will absorb the water and rehydrated when you soak them in water. Please take note that the amount of noodles in the recipe below is referred to the dry weight.

Start with soaking the dry noodles in lukewarm or room temperature water while preparing the other ingredients. The time required depends on the thickness and width of the noodles, as well as the temperature of the water. I have seen some recipes mentioned that it can soak for a few hours, but I prefer the noodles to be just al dente, as it can become too soft, mushy and less chewy.

You can use warm water to speed up the rehydration of the noodles.

Here are my steps:

  • Put the noodles in a large container. Pour some boiling water until they are covered.
  • Submerge the noodles entirely in the water.
  • Leave to stand for five to ten minutes. The noodles are ready when they become flexible, and no longer transparent. Remove the noodles.
  • Rinse the noodles with cold water or under the tap to stop further cooking by the residual heat. Drain and set aside.

You can do this step ahead of time. Toss the noodles with a little oil to prevent them from sticking together.

By far, the trickiest part is to soak the noodles. Noodles should be somewhat flexible and firm, not wholly expanded and soft. When in doubt, undercook is better overcooked them. You can stir-fry the noodles longer with some water if it is too hard.


Begin by placing the rice noodles in boiling hot water.

Let them soak, off the heat, until softened and al dente. They shouldn’t be completely cooked, but almost. Believe it or not, this is the trickiest part of making this dish: soak them too long and they’ll turn to mush in the stir-fry under-soak them and they’ll be oddly chewy. I’ve had the best luck with Thai Kitchen Stir-Fry Rice Noodles — they seem to hold up better than other brands, even when I soak them for longer than the recommended time.

Drain and rinse the noodles, then set aside. As with any quick stir-fry, you want to get all your ingredients prepped before you start cooking.

Begin by making the sauce: whisk together the fish sauce, soy sauce, lime juice, peanut butter and red chili flakes. Set aside.

Next, heat some oil in a large nonstick pan or wok. Add the shrimp, ginger and garlic, and stir-fry for a few minutes until the shrimp are pink and cooked through. Transfer to a bowl.

Add more oil to the pan, along with the broccoli and a bit of water, and stir-fry until the broccoli is cooked through.

Transfer the broccoli to the bowl with the shrimp, then scramble the eggs in the hot pan. Add the eggs to the bowl with the shrimp and broccoli.

Add more oil to the pan, then add the drained noodles and pad thai sauce.

Cook, tossing gently, until the noodles are tender and perfectly cooked.

Add the shrimp, broccoli, and eggs back to the pan, along with the green onions toss well. Right before serving, sprinkle the peanuts, cilantro and bean sprouts over top and toss to combine.


Pad Thai

  • Author: Seonkyoung Longest
  • Prep Time: 15 mins
  • Cook Time: 11 mins
  • Total Time: 26 mins
  • Yield: 4 1 x

Description

Ingredients

  • 8 oz semi-fresh rice sticks or 4 oz dried rice sticks
  • 1/2 boneless skinless chicken breast, sliced thinly
  • 3 to 4 oz large/jumbo peeled & deveined shrimp
  • 3 oz pressed, fried or extra firm tofu (If you are using extra firm tofu, wrap with paper towel to get rid of excess moisture)
  • 1/2 shallot (approximately 2 oz)
  • 2 oz Thai preserved sweet radish (approximately 2 Tbs)
  • 2 oz garlic chives, plus more for garnish
  • 4 oz beansprouts, plus more for garnish
  • 1/4 cup roasted peanuts, plus more for garnish
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 Tbs cooking oil, plus more if needed
  • Lime wedges

For the sauce

  • 3 Tbs fish sauce
  • 2 Tbs palm sugar (you can use regular sugar)
  • 1 tsp tamarind concentrate
  • 1/4 cup cold water, plus more if needed
  • 1 to 2 tsp Thai sriracha or dried Thai chili powder (optional)

Instructions

  1. Soak dried rice sticks into warm water for 10 to 15 minutes until soften and drain completely. If you are using semi-fresh one, skip this presses.
    Chop shallot and preserved sweet radish finely. Cut tofu small bite sizes and chive into 2-inch long pieces. Chop roasted peanuts finely. Set all vegetables a side.
  2. In a mixing bowl, combine all ingredients for sauce and mix well until tamarin and sugar has dissolved.
  3. Heat a wok over high heat and add 1 Tbs of cooking oil add slicked chicken and shrimp and cook until they are 3/4 way cooked and golden edges, about 1 minute each side. Remove from wok and set aside.
  4. In same wok, add 1 Tbs cooking oil add tofu and cook for 1 to 2 minutes or until golden edges. If you are using extra firm tofu, cook a little longer to get more harden outer skin- that will prevent from breaking.
  5. Add hopped shallot and radish. Stir fry everything together about 1 to 2 minutes. Add noodles and sauce we made earlier. Stir fry until noodle observed sauce completely and no more liquid on bottom of wok, about 2 to 3 minutes. If your noodles are cooking slowly, add more water 2 Tbs at a time. If your noodles are sticking together too much, add 1 Tbs oil at a time.
  6. Push everything to side of wok to make room for eggs. Add a bit more oil and crack 2 eggs right into wok. Don’t scramble yet, let them cook half way though. Then break yolks and start scramble. This way you will have nice egg bites. Now mix scrambled eggs and noodles together by tossing and stirring.
  7. Now add beansprouts, garlic chive, peanuts, chicken and shrimp. Toss everything together for about 1 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer to a serving plate.
  8. If you like to serve with extra fresh beansprouts, garlic chive, chopped peanuts, dried Thai chili powder and lime. Enjoy!

Instructions

BRING large pot of water to boil. Add rice noodles cook 3 to 5 minutes or until noodles are tender but firm. Rinse under cold water drain well. Set aside. Mix tamarind juice, fish sauce, vinegar, sugar and paprika in small bowl.

HEAT oil in large skillet or wok on medium-high heat. Add garlic stir fry 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add shrimp stir fry 2 minutes or just until shrimp turn pink. Push shrimp to side of skillet. Add egg to middle of skillet scramble until set.

STIR in rice noodles and tamarind mixture stir fry 1 minute or until heated through. Place noodle mixture on serving platter. Sprinkle with bean sprouts, peanuts and cilantro. Serve with lime wedges.