Plaek Phibunsongkhram

Perfect Shrimp Pad Thai

Seventy-five years ago, when Phibun decided to give Thailand’s culture a makeover by decree, pad Thai was a recipe that had yet to be introduced into the country’s cuisine. Rice with chili paste, leaves, and salt were the staple, subsistence food at the time, and Thai people bought meals from Chinese food vendors.

The exact origins of pad Thai remain disputed to this day. According to some, Plaek Phibunsongkhram announced a competition to create a new, national dish. Phibun’s son, however, went on record to say that his family prepared the dish well before Phibun ever actually made it government policy, but could not recall who specifically was responsible for its initial creation.

The dish’s roots are Chinese, and its full name is kway teow phat Thai. Translated from a Chinese dialect called Hokkein, kway teow means rice noodles. The entire name means stir-fried rice noodles Thai-style. Noodles and stir-frying are predominantly Chinese, and it was likely immigration that introduced the practice to Siam. Flavors like tamarind, palm sugar, and chilies were the Thai’s subsequent influence on the dish over time.

By publicizing the pad Thai recipe, Phibun turned one potential take on stir-fried noodles into a national dish. It was his belief that by doing so, pad Thai would improve the diet of a people who primarily lived off of rice, and that cooking pad Thai in clean pans would improve national hygiene.

More than anything, it was Phibun’s hope to unify the country by promoting a uniquely Thai dish. Despite its Chinese origins, pad Thai stood out greatly from the variety of wet or dry noodle dishes sold by Chinese vendors. It was part of Phibun’s nation-building strategy to develop “Thai-ness” and impose a “Thai Great Tradition.”

Within several years, vendors selling pad Thai filled Thailand’s streets. Phibun’s son called it “Thailand’s first fast food.”

In summary, the popularization of pad Thai was the work of a military dictator who survived multiple coups, World War II, and who believed that his political future, as well as the future of his country, were both at stake.

And now, without further ado, I give you this American’s take on a Chinese influenced Thai tradition. I put a lot of thought into this recipe, and took special care to ensure that I kept its ingredients as authentic as possible (no peanut butter or ketchup). I hope that you enjoy the final product as much as I did!


Prep Time: 35 minutes

Cook Time: 23 minutes, approximately

Total Time: 1 hour, approximately

Serves: 4


Ingredients

  • 14 ounces stir-fry rice noodles (I used the Thai Kitchen brand located in the “International Foods” section of the grocery store)

  • 2 beaten eggs

  • ¼ cup fish sauce

  • ¼ cup rice wine vinegar

  • 3 tablespoons dark brown sugar

  • ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

  • 2 tablespoons sriracha sauce

  • ¼ cup coconut milk

  • 5 ½ tablespoons toasted sesame oil

  • 12 ounces medium shrimp, peeled and deveined

  • 1 cup diced firm tofu

  • 1 cup sliced shiitake mushrooms

  • 1 cup bean sprouts

  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic

  • ¼ cup diced shallots

  • 4 fresh jalapenos, seeded and diced

  • ¼ cup unsalted peanuts, roughly chopped (I actually used walnuts)

  • ½ cup diagonally sliced green onions

  • 2 tablespoons lime juice

  • ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves


Directions

Bring 4 cups of water to a boil. Place noodles in a large pot or bowl and cover with the boiling water. Allow noodles to soak for 8 to 10 minutes or until noodles are soft but firm. Drain and rinse under cold, running water for 30 seconds. Drain well and set aside.

rice noodles

In a small bowl, combine the fish sauce, vinegar, sugar, red pepper flakes, sriracha, and coconut milk, stirring until the sugar is dissolved.

pad thai sauce

In a wok, heat ½ tablespoon of sesame oil over medium-high heat. Just before the oil is smoking, add the egg, stirring constantly until set. Set aside in small bowl.

Next, heat 1 tablespoon of sesame oil in a small frying pan over medium-high heat. Just before the oil is smoking, add the garlic, shallots, and jalapeno and cook for 5 to 7 minutes or until the shallots and jalapeno are tender, stirring frequently.

shallot mixture

In the wok, heat the remaining 4 tablespoons of sesame oil over medium-high heat. Just before the oil is smoking, add the shrimp and cook until pink, stirring constantly. Add the cooked shallot mixture, tofu, mushrooms, and bean sprouts and cook for 10 minutes, or until the mushrooms and sprouts are tender.

shrimp

Add the reserved noodles and egg and stir until all ingredients are combined. Pour the sauce mixture into the wok and toss until well distributed. Cook for approximately 5 minutes, or until the mixture begins to steam and simmer. Add the peanuts and green onions and cook an additional minute.

Remove the wok from the heat and season with the lime juice and cilantro. Serve hot.

Enjoy!

Shrimp Pad Thai

Perfect Shrimp Pad Thai

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