Riffing on Pad Thai

The Internet lied to me. Or maybe I wasn’t listening closely, but I prefer to blame the Internet. See, I found this recipe for super simple “Pad Thai,” and buoyed by the quotation marks and the word “simple” modified by the word “super,” I felt that I could make something like this, even if I couldn’t make an authentic Pad Thai. And then I went to the store and made my first mistake ““ I bought rice noodles.

Pad Thai is a quintessentially Thai dish (hell, it is one of the national dishes of Thailand), but in its current form, it is a relative new-comer on the culinary scene. The very earliest origins of Pad Thai are murky, and it’s possible that the dish was brought to Thailand by Chinese settlers. The more recent history is much more clear: in the late 1940s, Thailand was facing an economic crisis, so then Prime Minister Luang Phibunsongkhram made the dish popular and tried to promote the production and use of rice noodles. By stimulating the rice industry, it was hoped that the economy would improve, at least in part.

So knowing that, I couldn’t just use soba noodles, even with the quotation marks around the Pad Thai giving me the go-ahead. And that use of rice noodles is how the recipe very quickly became not so simple. I’d never cooked rice noodles before, and there are a lot of warnings plastered all over websites dedicated to those bad boys. First, apparently rice noodles are prone to falling to completely mushy pieces if overcooked. Second, apparently if you take those warnings too much to heart, the under-cooked noodles are uniquely and surprisingly tough.

Getting the perfect rice noodles are still a work-in-progress in my house, but I am undeterred. I will figure those suckers out. I am getting back in the kitchen tomorrow and getting it right. But even with the noodle fiasco, the dish turned out pretty good.  I was a bit heavy-handed with the peanuts, opting to cut the soy sauce with some peanut butter before dousing the noodles with it because hell, I like peanut sauce. Ultimately, I’m not sure how easy it was in the end, but boy, was it worth it.

So here is the recipe for “Pad Thai” – hold the egg, hold the bean sprouts, hold the fish sauce, hold the tamarind. It’s good! Not really Pad Thai, but therefore the quotations marks. It’s “inspired by,” like most Lifetime and sports movies, a shadow of the real thing, but still OK.


  • 1 package rice noodles
  • ½ teaspoon chili powder
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced to the max
  • Splash of lime juice
  • 1 package extra-firm tofu
  • 2 heads of broccoli, chopped (I just like broccoli – it’s good for you)
  • (2 tablespoons white vinegar, in parenthesis because I forgot to add this)
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 bunch of scallions, chopped up
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • Large spoonful of peanut butter
  • Ground pepper and sriracha to taste (I like things spicy)

OK, so chop the tofu into mouth-sized pieces and fry it up. Put the rice noodles in a pot full of warm water and let them sit for about 10 minutes. In a small pot, mix the peanut butter, soy sauce, and sriracha on low heat until it’s like, well, until it looks like peanut sauce. In a wok that’s relaxing on high heat, start heating up the veggies, fried tofu, and garlic in the vegetable oil. Add the noodles, peanut sauce, lime juice, and spices and keep mixing. Mix like you want your arms to get a work out. If you’re like me and you add the noodles too fast, you may have to keep adding water to the wok. Add the water in small increments, and the only way I could figure out if the noodles were done was to taste them. This was an excellent excuse for eating before I was supposed to be eating. When the noodles are done, turn off the heat, step back to admire your handy work, then find a plate or a bowl and dig in.

2 replies on “Riffing on Pad Thai”

Pad thai is one of my favorite dishes, and one of the easiest to totally suck if made wrong (I’d never pegged it on the rice noodles, but they are probably one of the biggest culprits). Anyway, Minibelle and I have been torturing Slaybelle with the following recipe ever since it was forwarded to me by a friend who swears by its vegan deliciousness. Even if it weren’t very good, the deliver is totes worth it all by itself.


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