David Thompson: Thai Street food

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

Internationally renowned chef and Thai food expert, David Thompson, shares some sensation street food recipes from Bangkok with CD-Traveller readers

Although widely associated with Thai cooking, this dish is in fact a relatively new addition to the repertoire, emerging during a period of ultra-nationalism in the late 1930s and early 40s, under the military regime of Marshal Phibun. He declared that the Thai people should endeavour to incorporate noodles into their eating habits, so competitions were held in schools, government offices and various nationalistic organisations to devise new noodle recipes, including the winning one that included tamarind and palm sugar. It was given the name pat thai, in keeping with the chauvinistic tenor of the times, and to distinguish it from Chinese noodle dishes, even though it has much in common with them – bean sprouts, bean curd, salted radish, garlic chives and, of course, the noodles themselves.

Since then, pat thai’s fame has spread and it is now considered a classic of the Thai kitchen – at least by Westerners, though it is definitely popular among the Thai too.

Thin, flat, quite chewy rice noodles are preferred here: fresh ones make a much better dish, but they are hard to find outside of Thailand. However, the dried version, also known as rice sticks, are readily obtainable.

There is now a gentrified version of pat thai that uses fresh prawns. If you want to stroll along boulevards rather than trawl the alleys, then add six medium-sized cleaned raw prawns as the shallots begin to fry – and omit the dried prawns called for later in the recipe.


Photograph: Earl Carter


Serves two

125g (4 oz) fresh pat thai noodles or 100 g (3½ oz)

Dried thin rice noodles (rice sticks)

Three tablespoons shaved palm sugar

Two tablespoons tamarind water

Dash of white vinegar – optional

One tablespoon fish sauce

Three tablespoons oil

Four red shallots, coarsely chopped with a pinch of salt

Two eggs – some cooks will use duck eggs

30g (1 oz) yellow bean curd or firm bean curd, cut into small rectangles or squares (about two heaped tablespoons)

One tablespoon dried prawns, rinsed and dried

Half a teaspoon of shredded salted radish, rinsed and dried

One tablespoon coarsely crushed roasted peanuts

Handful of trimmed bean sprouts

Handful of Chinese chives, cut into 2cm, (1 in) lengths

Extra bean sprouts and crushed roasted peanuts, lime wedges, roasted chilli powder and raw vegetables (such as Asian pennywort, banana

blossom, cabbage or snake beans), to serve


* If using dried noodles, soak them in water for about 15 minutes until soft, but not overly so. Meanwhile, bring a pan of water to the boil. Drain the noodles well then blanch them in the boiling water for a moment only and drain once again (this prevents the noodles from clumping together when they are stir-fried).

* Mix the palm sugar with the tamarind, vinegar (if using), fish sauce and one to two tablespoons of water in a bowl, stirring until the sugar has dissolved.

* Heat the oil in a wok over medium heat and fry the shallots until fragrant and beginning to colour.

* Crack in the eggs and stir for a few moments until they begin to look omelette-like.

* Turn up the heat, then add the drained noodles and fry for about 30 seconds while breaking up the eggs. Add the tamarind syrup and simmer until it is absorbed. Mix in the bean curd, dried prawns, salted radish and peanuts then simmer, stirring, until almost dry. Add the bean sprouts and Chinese chives and stir-fry for a moment.

* Check the seasoning: pat thai should be salty, sweet and sour. Divide between two plates and sprinkle with the extra bean sprouts and peanuts. Serve with lime wedges, roasted chilli powder and raw vegetables.

Recipe taken from the new mini format of Thai Street Food by David Thompson, Photography by Earl Carter. (Conran Octopus, June 2013, £25). For the low-down on how to make Thai cupcakes, don’t forget to log on to the CD-Traveller website this Monday (10 June).


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