Over several decades, I have tried at least 100 different pad thais around the world, and at least 20 of them were consumed in Bangkok, but without a doubt, this particular pad thai was the most memorable, and in my opinion, the best pad thai I have EVER eaten. And I will readily admit it was probably not the most authentic, the most classic, the most approved standardized recipe, but that’s truly beside the point. Often, the best, in a subjective opinion, is the confluence of food, experience, setting, friends and family with you, hunger levels, etc. that all conspire to yield that moment of culinary brilliance, which is then burned into one’s memory banks and it is so vivid you will probably never duplicate the experience again.
Many months ago we traveled to Bangkok, mostly to eat and relax and recharge… We scored some free airline tickets on points plus some budget fares and we brought three of our crew from home, as well as a couple of managers from Cebu. We ventured out of Bangkok to ride elephants and our daughter played with tiger cubs and, utterly famished, at around 2pm or so, our van driver said he could take us to a place nearby for some lunch. We stopped at this open air eatery, right beside a main road, and to Mrs. MM’s dubious looks, I watched as the lady behind the wok cooked, and somehow, I instinctively knew we were going to have a spectacular meal. My COS (Chief of Stuff) A, our Transport Manager (read: Driver) A, and our Head Chef at Home (read: Cook) A, at the first table waiting to eat something. Yes, all their names start with an “A”… :)
Mis en place. And a COMPLETE absence of flies, despite the fish sauce and other pungent and sweet ingredients.
Notice that this set-up was literally beside the road. :)
Into a wok with oil, the proprietor cracked three eggs and swirled them around roughly. She wanted the eggs lightly scrambled, but not uniformly mixed.
Once the eggs were done, she added what looked like chopped chicken breast meat (as opposed to dark meat) and sautéed this a bit. This was a revelation. She didn’t want to brown and toughen the chicken meat’s surface, rather just gently cook it through.
Next she placed soaked rice noodles (thinner than the ones you usually see in pad thai) into boiling water for a few seconds, drained them, and added them to the wok.
Add some gorgeous bean sprouts…
…turn away for 5 seconds to chop up some green onions…
…add that to the wok with some sugar, what was probably a bit of msg, some tamarind paste and perhaps some fish sauce…
…copious amounts of a mild sriracha sauce (she added more after this) and mix well…
…and VOILA! First dish for lunch. Note the lack of shrimp, the chopped peanuts, and I can’t recall if she even put garlic or shallots in the oil before the eggs, but let me tell you, this was a SPECTACULAR pad thai.
Thank goodness we ordered three plates to share between 7 people. I could have eaten a portion all by myself if nothing else was forthcoming…
Maybe 30% of my love for the dish is that I got to see how it was made. It was so simple, so honest, so modest, and I know, so difficult to replicate at home. And the other thing about this wonderful dish? It cost about $1-1.50!!
The drink of choice, of course, was a classic bottle of Coke. Heaven.
P.S. Don’t ask me where this was, because the closest I can get to describing it was roughly an hour or more outside Bangkok, by the side of a road. :)