Pad thai is renown around the world as the go-to Thai noodle dish, the classic default ordered more than anything else in Thai restaurants. When someone asks if you want to go for Thai food, pad thai is often what comes to mind.
Then the cravings for that unique taste and texture begin. Noodle madness sets in.
But wait! Pad thai may be champion among Thai noodle choices, but there are some excellent-and-delicious alternatives. The next time everyone at the table orders the usual, consider opting for one of these other choices to get your fix and expand your noodle repertoire.
Note: Vegans beware — even if you ask for your meal to be prepared meatless, most of the noodle dishes in Thailand contain egg and possibly nam pla (fish sauce) or nam man hoi (oyster sauce).
Pad Kee Mao
Also called “drunken noodles,” pad kee mao is a popular stir-fried noodle dish in Thailand.
Mao means "drunk" in Thai, however, the dish can certainly be enjoyed without drinking too much Chang or Singah. But you may want a cold beer if you add chili to your pad kee mao without tasting first, especially if prepared authentically spicy!
Unlike pad thai which has its own special noodle size, pad kee mao is usually prepared using wide rice noodles. The noodles are thick, giving a rubbery, chewy texture. Lots of holy basil provides an herbal sweetness; soy sauce, fish sauce, garlic, and plenty of chili blend for an addictive flavor.
Pad kee mao is often prepared with vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, baby corn, peppers, and bean sprouts. You can choose from the common choices of tofu, chicken, beef, or seafood.
So why "drunken noodles"? One running theory suggests that it's because the dish often varies from place to place. The same way someone with the munchies would return from a late night out and make an impromptu meal by tossing together whatever is available!
Pad See Ew
Frequently enjoyed by locals in Thaiiland, pad see ew is a popular alternative to pad thai. The flavor and texture of pad see ew differ greatly from pad thai, so don't expect many similarities other than that both are made with rice noodles.
This dish's namesake is a little less mysterious than "drunken noodles" — pad see ew simply means "fried in soy sauce."
Broad, chewy rice noodles are stir-fried dry, primarily in dark (thick) and light soy sauces. The preparation often lends pad see ew a slightly burnt taste, on purpose. A skilled cook wields the wok well and dances along the fine line separating "charred" and "burned."
The Chinese influence is apparent; call this Thailand's equivalent of char kway teow — an ethnic Chinese favorite celebrated in Malaysia and Singapore.
Authentic versions of pad see ew tend to have less vegetables than pad kee mao and are rarely prepared spicy. You can add your own spice at the table. Egg, Chinese broccoli, and garlic are the norm. Locals often go for pork; tourists usually default to chicken.
This popular noodle dish is often unpleasantly transliterated as rat na, but don’t worry: rodent isn’t one of the usual ingredients.
Rad na, also sometimes spelled lard na or lat na on menus, is prepared with broad rice noodles in a thick, brown or clear gravy. The dish stands out from all others because of the soupy consistency. The noodles are stir-fried “wet” and served that way, oozing with a thick, oily egg gravy. You'll either love or hate the sauce's "slimy" consistency; there's rarely any middle ground between people who try it.
Rad na is another Chinese-inspired noodle dish. The sauce for rad na is thickened with tapioca starch and seasoned with sugar, fish sauce, and black pepper. While some complain about the sauce’s slimy consistency, others love the combination of sweet and spicy in this hearty dish.
For a more authentic experience and to counter the sweetness, try adding some prik nam pla (spicy fish sauce) or vinegar before you enjoy.
Spicy Glass Noodles
Sometimes — actually, often — the weather in Thailand is just too hot for a stir-fried noodle dish. And sometimes you feel the need to lay off of the oil used in most stir-fried rice and noodle dishes. Glass noodles (yam wun sen) to the rescue!
Something completely different, spicy glass noodles are usually served as a chilled, healthy salad. They can also be very spicy, unless you request otherwise, with sharp little green and red chili peppers.
Glass noodles are sometimes called by their more industrial-sounding name of "cellophane noodles." They are very thin, translucent noodles made from starch, often mung beans. If rad na is the heaviest of noodle dishes, this one is the lightest.
Glass noodle salad is seasoned with lime juice, fish sauce, garlic, and sometimes ginger. Along with the incredibly thin noodles, this raw salad is served with chopped onions and tomatoes. Minced meat and seafood are the two most popular options.