Pad Thai (ผัดไทย literally “Thai-style fry”) is one of the most popular and best known dishes in the genre of Thai cooking, both in Thailand and abroad. The name of this dish comes from a time of nation-building for Thailand, as an ethnic identity of “Thai” was heavily promoted in comparison with other peoples of the region (i.e. Thailand’s, or then Siam’s, large overseas Chinese community). To be sure, pad thai–as well as any other noodle dish–is built from a Southern Chinese foundation with its rice noodles, preserved daikon, garlic chives, and tofu. That said, it finally became the hybrid that we know and love, when that Chinese base collided with locally preferred local Southeast Asian flavors of tamarind, palm sugar, fish sauce, and hot chile.
One of the aforementioned Chinese influences on this dish is shredded sweet preserved daikon, in Thai known as chaipho waan ไชโป๊หวาน. This is relatively easy to find in Philadelphia’s Southeast and East Asian-focused markets (South Philly, Washington Ave, Chinatown, and H-marts). Look for varieties that are product of Thailand. Here is the one that we use:
This is a variety of preserved daikon, based on traditions of Southeast China (Guangdong, Hong Kong, Fujian, and Taiwan). There it is known as 菜脯 (sometimes written 菜甫, with a pronunciation that varies slightly in the region’s dialects, but approximately as the Thais call it: “chaipo”). This sweet radish is used in Southeast Chinese cooking often for noodle dishes, and also to make a savory omelette (which is also popular in Thailand).
Preserving daikon radishes by salting and candying is common all throughout East Asia, where the food item is more broadly known as “dried daikon” 蘿蔔乾.
Pad Thai – ผัดไทย
Pad thai isn’t very difficult to make, but there are some steps involved.
Rice noodles (see below)
sweet preserved daikon radish, 3 Tbsp
mung bean sprouts (usually labeled simply “bean sprouts”), good handfulmeat or shrimp, maybe 1/3 lb
extra firm tofu, see below
garlic chive leaves, good handful
red Asian shallots, 4
palm sugar, about 3 Tbsp
fish sauce, 2-3 Tbsp
tamarind juice, 2-3 Tbsp
Crushed peanuts, chile flakes, lime for garnish and a final balance to flavors
Make the sweet and sour sauce separately. This is shown below. 1. Start with frying your shallots in some oil, 2. then approximate equal amounts of extracted sour tamarind juice, palm sugar, and fish sauce. We also added a spoon of dried chile flakes. Stir until sugar is dissolved.
In a large wok (big enough to hold all the ingredients), start by frying the preserved daikon in oil: