Noodles have a very important part to play in Southeast Asian cuisine. People in many countries of Southeast Asia eat noodles in many different ways. There are several kinds of noodles that are available in this region, ranging from rice noodles to egg noodles to udon, soba, Hokkien, Shirataki, and many others. Considering the unique flavors and the distinctive taste that can be achieved by mixing noodles along with different kinds of meats and sauces, there are a lot of variations.
What Is Pad Kee Mao?
If you are travelling to a Southeast Asian country, especially Thailand, you will notice a very common dish being sold at almost every other restaurant or street vendor: Pad Kee Mao. Kee Mao in Thai usually stands for a drunkard, so basically what you are looking at is a dish called drunken noodles!
When you take a close look at the dish, you will realize that there’s nothing much wrong with it, so at first glance, it’s often difficult to figure out why it’s called “drunken noodles” in the first place. The dish itself is made using broad rice noodles, a mixture of fish sauce, oyster sauce, and soy sauce, along with some garlic, some meat and seafood (sometimes, the two can be mixed together as well), quite a bit of chili, holy basil, as well as full black pepper pods.
As you can judge from the recipe, the dish is incredibly spicy. So, now the question remains, why is this dish called Pad Kee Mao? What’s so drunken about these noodles? That has to do with the origin of the dish: people in Thailand usually prefer to eat quite a lot of spice once they start drinking.
Because this dish offers you the perfect dose of spices on one plate, many like to eat it after they are done drinking, or along with their drinking sessions. It is the ideal dish to be had along with a late-night drinking session, and its sharp taste is more than enough to keep you straight.
Colorful Stories About the Origin
As you can imagine, there is no shortage of fantastic and colorful stories, some of which are quite over the top, regarding the origins of this dish. For instance, the story goes that the wife was incredibly upset with her husband’s constant grousing every time he would drink, and so she decided to set him straight.
She loaded his favorite cup of noodles with as many spices as she could find. She thought that if he wasn’t drunk enough by then, the heavy mixture of Thai spices and the various sauces she had put into the dish, along with the handful of chilies would be just what he needed to fix his attitude!
Now, obviously, the way you make this dish is going to be different. It also doesn’t have to be this hot (there really is no proper standard as to how much spice you should put in these noodles). As with all things, it is best to taste the food that you are making along the way to make sure that the taste remains up to your liking. People in Thailand like to eat spicy foods when they drink, and that is why this dish has such a name.
Another popular origin story is that a cook wanted to make something at night so that he could eat something along with his alcohol drinking. He couldn’t find much in the kitchen, so he decided to make do with whatever was in the fridge. Thus, the drunken noodles were created.
Just like there is Pad Kee Mao, you will also find Pad See Ew, which is widely regarded by many as the sister recipe to the former. Incredibly popular throughout restaurants across Thailand, this dish bears heavy Chinese influence. While you will find it locally across Thailand, you will also see it being sold in various Chinese restaurants too.
It is made using dark soy sauce along with broad rice noodles, which are mixed with light soy sauce, some egg and tofu, as well as thinly sliced meat. All kinds of meat can be used, ranging from pork to beef to seafood, to shrimp as well.
What Makes it Special?
One of the main things that sets this dish apart from various other iterations in the market is the fact that it is made using authentic Thai spices. It requires the use of Thai sauces that contain the unique taste. If you want to make the best possible dish, you should know that only authentic Thai sauces are the best choice.
If you try and use Japanese style sauces, it’s just not going to cut it. Sure, it might add a new dimension of taste to your dish, but it’s definitely not going to contain the authentic flavor that most people have come to love. You can use Golden Mountain sauce, which is a special type of Thai seasoning that has a similar kind of flavor and consistency as compared to Worcestershire sauce.
If you can’t find the standard fish sauce, you can always use the Thai thin soy sauce. Thai black soy sauce is readily available in the markets nowadays. Now, while it’s much easier to find the sauces, you are going to have a hard time looking for the authentic Thai vegetables. However, a mixture of some cabbage, carrots, and even a bit of broccoli as well as snow peas ought to be enough.
How to Make the Dish
When it comes to making the dish, you already know about the sauces and the vegetables. Some people like to put bell peppers in the dish, while others prefer to avoid that at all costs. It primarily depends on your taste buds; do you like to use bell peppers in your foods, or not?
Keep in mind that by the time you are done making the dish, it’s already going to be considerably hot, so more pepper will only make it hotter. You need to be careful when deciding how much pepper you put in. Now that you have the vegetables and the sauces in place, it’s time to get started.
When it comes to the rice noodles, you should know that you can use whatever you can find in your supermarket. You don’t have to necessarily stick with the broad rice noodles. A large majority of the Thai restaurants often make use of fresh, chewy rice noodles for both the Pad Kee Mao and the Pad See Ew.
If you can find these, you should know that you will be able to recreate the most authentic looking dish. However, you should know that these noodles are not easy to find. Sure, they are available at authentic Thai stores, but you are probably not going to find them at your local supermarket. If that is the case, you can just make use of regular Pad Thai sticks.
They are a relatively easy substitute. In fact, some people like to skip using the noodles at all, leaving a dish that’s only a stew of vegetables and spices. You can then serve it with a bowl of jasmine rice!
Now, the best way to make this dish is to prepare it in small batches. Instead of dropping a full wok worth of stuff and cooking in one go, you should always consider making it in smaller batches. It’s the most authentic and definitive way of making these noodles without spoiling the taste.
You should start off by dividing the ingredients into two or three batches. If you are cooking for a large group of people, this should be enough. The portion where you have to stir fry the recipe can be completed very quickly, so that shouldn’t be much of a problem.
You will want that seared taste for the noodles, and once you manage to stir fry them properly, you will be able to ensure that the food cooks at a really quick rate in the wok. You should also know that there are quite a few variations of the dish available nowadays. As with all foods, it all depends on how you like it. Some people like to eat drunken noodles with a little less spice, while others like to mix and match according to their taste buds.
Just know that there is no pressure on the way you make the dish. If you don’t like a particular recipe of the dish, you can always switch to another. It all depends on your tastes, after all. It’s best if you try a few recipes on your own before finding one that best suits your taste buds. If you are looking to try the dish first, it’s best if you go to an authentic Thai restaurant in your area. That way, you will at least know what the authentic dish tastes like. These are just a few things that you should know about the popular drunken noodles of Thailand!