Not-So-Famous Thai Noodle Dishes
I like to go to Yak Fa, a busy shop on Ratpakinai road, in the northeast corner of Chiang Mai’s Old City when I am looking for fried noodles. Like most noodle shops in Thailand, the kitchen is outside, two heavy woks on high gas rings, and a rack of meats, vegetables, and eggs on display. The tools and ingredients are unpacked from street vendor’s carts, each with their own specialties like fruit shakes and spicy green mango salad, clustered around the outside of the shop. The customers sit inside, around burnished steel tables, on greasy plastic chairs.
Four people work the main noodle cart, chopping vegetables, frying rice noodles, and ladling broth, and during the lunch and dinner rush they are always moving. The youngest girl takes orders in English from tourists at the tables inside, while an older woman listens to regulars calling across the counter for Thai noodle specialties like Pad See Eew, Guay Tiew Raad Na, and Pad Kee Mao.
Limp, wide rice noodles hit one wok, and squiggles of yellow ramen the other. Customers sitting near the heat cough as chili and garlic hisses in hot oil, but the cook turns her face away from the smoke and keeps scraping her metal spatula through the steaming food. Plates of fried noodles arrive at each table, or are packed in flat rectangles of Styrofoam and handed to the people waiting outside.
Between the soupy bowls of Raad Na or the smokey smell of Pad See Ew, there’s not a single plate of Pad Thai. In Thailand, Pad Thai is more likely to be found from a street food cart that specializes in that dish, while other Thai noodle restaurants can turn out a surprising number of fried noodle dishes. Different condiments and a few ingredient switches make a plate of fried noodles into several dishes which you ought to try, whether in Thailand or at your local Thai restaurant.
Pad See Ew
Wide, fresh rice noodles are fried with dark, sweet soy sauce (a little like Indonesian ketjap), oyster sauce, Chinese broccoli, eggs, and meat in a very hot wok. This dish is very simple and the high temperature frying is key – this fast, hot cooking chars the noodles, vegetables, and meats. Pad See Ew at its best is hot, oily, and silky-textured, and its somewhat bland saltiness is perfect for a dash of chilies in vinegar, fish sauce, and sugar — typical condiments added at the Thai table. If you’re trying to make Pad See Ew at home, fry it at the highest heat your stove can handle, and use plenty of oil.
Pad Kee Mao
Pad Kee Mao’s means “Drunken Noodles,” presumably because it should be cooked with enough chili to sober you up, or knock out your hangover. A plate of Pad Kee Mao looks similar to Pad See Ew, but Pad Kee Mao is spiced with extra garlic, fresh chilies, and Thai basil, making it richer, saltier, and much spicier. If there’s no noodle shop nearby, try Mama brand Pad Kee Mao flavored ramen noodles.
Rad Na means “over the face,” since a thick gravy covers these Chinese-style noodles, fried with vegetables, meat, and mushrooms. The cook sometimes makes the gravy in the pan after frying the noodles, thickening it with tapioca or cornstarch. If the place serves a lot of Rad Na, they’ll pull a ladle of sauce from a pre-made pot of gravy. Rad Na, like Khao Soi, might have a nest of deep-fried egg noodles thrown on top, which softens in the gravy but keeps a little bit of crunch. This restaurant serves take-away Rad Na with the noodles, gravy, and crispy noodles in different bags, so that the ingredients are not mixed until the customer gets them home. Some people think Rad Na’s thick soup over gluey noodles is warm and comforting, while I’ve also heard it called “slimy.”
Pad Ma Ma and Pad Woo Sen
Cooked egg noodles (ma ma or ba mii) noodles or glass (mung bean) noodles are often stir-fried instead of rice noodles. You’ll discover a favorite kind of fried noodle after a little experimentation.
Even with so many noodle options, I usually go for Pad See Ew with wide rice noodles. The wilted leaves of chinese broccoli add an oily crispness, and the noodles are an ideal base for custom seasoning. I was skeptical of putting granulated sugar onto noodles at first, but it keeps its texture and adds a gritty crunch to each bite, while the sweetness balances the chili that I always spoon on.
If you’d like to cook these dishes at home, these ingredients from Temple of Thai will help you stock your pantry: rice noodles, dark soy sauce, oyster sauce, and Thai basil. If you discover a favorite recipe while cooking, tell us about it in the Comments.