Sunday, December 6, 2009

My Phad Thai

For many, Phad Thai is the first dish that comes to mind when Thai food is mentioned. It took me some time to actually eat any when I moved to the kingdom. Eventually though, I knew exactly how I liked it and where to get it. It was a taken for granted meal and nothing more. Sure, I loved it, but I also love drinking water. Phad Thai was and is a simple street dish that you would never really bother making in your own home. That is if you lived in Thailand. Twenty, twenty-five, or thirty baht gets you a lovely plate of noodles and you're happy. End of story.

Trouble is, on occasion, I crave a plate of these lovely noodles in America and am left perplexed. Much like Thai coffee, many recipes for Phad Thai abound, and there are a lot of crap recipes. The are many reasons for this: ignorance, access to ingredients, or even pickiness.

Now I was going to write a long(er) diatribe about the state of American Phad Thai, but Chez Pim already did so I don't have to. Read her post, follow her recipe, and if you've got another minute or so to burn, you could aways come back here to read my ranting and look at my pretty pics. I like Chez Pim's recipe and description maybe only because she seems to approach her cooking of this dish like I do many things. The ingredients are a bit flexible, the rules not concrete, and there are some great rather crazed descriptions. Familiarity and intuition are key.

If I were to take a guess, the two most important missing ingredients usually missing from Phad Thai in America are tamarind and dried shrimp.
The tamarind gives that special tartness that is often lacking here, and is often replaced by a terrible sweetness. Even worse, another one of the key ingredients, dried shrimp, are often left out.
Hi little guys! These things are very salty and very necessary to balance you flavors. While these are not the only ingredients, they seem to often be missing in many thai restaurants.
My first attempt was a tad embarrassing. Too many noodles, not quite enough flavor. It was here that I once again reminisced about one dish street stalls. Street stall that serve one thing and one thing only are my favorite as they do one thing and must do it well or risk poor sales. Technique is key, so practice makes perfect. My subsequent attempt was better still.

The flavors were all there, but maybe a tad undercooked. Getting better.

The following day I made it again and frankly was happy with the result. Sure I forgot the bean sprouts and pickled turnip but I'm working on it.
If you're still reading perhaps you're looking for a nugget of advice so here you are: My advice to you is to kill yourself. but if you can bear the pain of life just a bit longer, perfect your phad thai technique, then leave behind a beautiful corpse. If you believe in an afterlife congratulations, you've earned your way in for spreading joy and happiness with your noodles. If you are sensible, you've simply made your vessel all the more delicious for the worms. Happy cooking folks.


Robert H said...

Thanks for the link. How fine do you smash the dried shrimp? I don't own a mortar (yet) so is there another way to get the flavors in?

a said...

that's easy. you don't smash them. just throw them in. If you scrutinize the last photo, you just might see one of the little fellas.