Pad Thai is a famous dish in the US and around the world. Despite being famous all over the world, It's just not one of the dishes you see everywhere in Thailand like the rest of the world. It's almost considered a specialty, you have to hunt for it and you have to know where to go to get it. Other noodle dishes like Pad Sea Ew (Stir fired noodles with soy sauce and Chinese broccoli) or Lard Na (noodles with thick gravy) are more common and you will see them every corner around Bangkok.
Here is my theory why it is so popular everywhere. Thai cooking is a cooking of balance. There are five flavors present in Thai cuisine: spicy, sweet, salty, sour and bitter. Pad Thai is a great example of Thai food that has all the five flavors. So, whatever flavor you like, Pad Thai is likely to satisfy your palate.
This is very easy Pad Thai recipe to make. You can make a big batch of the sauce and keep it in the refrigerator for a long time. I have kept it for three months and it was still good when I used it. The ingredients in the sauce are shelf stable and are preservatives. This recipe is adapted from my favorite Thai cookbook, Thai Food by David Thomson. If you make it and find that it's either too sweet for you, too sour or too salty, you can adjust the sauce a little and don't forget to write it down so that you can make the same sauce every time.
When using the sauce from a big batch, you just pour enough sauce onto the noodles in the wok until the noodles are wet. You want the noodles to be a little wetter than you would want for the end result because you will add beansprouts and chives to the wok after that.
Make the Sauce with these next 4 ingredients
2 tablespoon palm sugar
1 tablespoon white sugar
2 tablespoon tamarind water (see notes below)
2 tablespoons fish sauce (substitute with soy sauce and soy bean paste for the same amount for vegetarian)
Mix palm sugar, white sugar, tamarind water and fish sauce and simmer until sugar is dissolved.
2 teaspoon oil
1 shallot, minced
4 oz extra firm tofu, cut into small cubes and deep fry
4 shrimp, peeled and deveined (optional)
2 handfuls of dried thin rice stick, about 2-3 cups (about half a pack of 16 oz dry medium size rice stick noodles)
1/2 teaspoon of salted radish, chopped
pinch of roasted Thai chili flakes (see notes below) or substitute red pepper flakes. It won't be as spicy but will work fine.
2 small bunch Chinese chives (garlic chives)
you can substitute green onions but it won't taste the same but it will give a little color to your Pad Thai
2 handfuls of bean sprouts
2 tablespoons of crushed roasted peanuts
Soak noodles in tap water for about an hour until soft. To check the noodles if they are ready, bend a noodle and if it breaks without any force, it's ready. If not, you have to soak a little longer. Chopped Chinese chives into small lengths about 2 inches.
Heat a wok or big pot (Dutch Oven is my favorite, or a big saute pan will do) over medium heat until very hot, turn the heat down, add oil and fry shallots until fragrant and colored. Crack in eggs and scramble. Mix in tofu (and shrimp if using), chili flakes and radish. Stir fry until the tofu is thoroughly heated up and then add noodles. Stir-fry for a while until the noodle is softer and change color. Add the prepared sauce and a pinch of chili flakes. Stir for a few moments. Finally, add most of the bean sprouts and Chinese chives and cook for another 30 seconds. The noodles should be a little sweet, sour and salty.
When served, top the noodles with crushed peanut, fresh Chinese chives, bean sprouts, a wedge or two of lime and chili flakes(if want it a little hotter).
To make Thai chili flakes, buy dry Thai chilies and dry roast them in a pan on the stove for 10 minutes, stirring constantly, or toast them in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes. Put the chilies in a food processor and pulse until they become flakes.
To make tamarind water, take about a golf ball size tamarind paste, put water in it and let it sit for about 10 minutes, squeeze the juice and strain. This will make about a cup of tamarind water. Add more water to squeeze some more until you get about a cup. Using concentrated tamarind water (the bottle in the picture), use one part tamarind water and one part water to make the required amount.