Thai food is one of my weaknesses. I find myself cooking it at home more and more often. Pad Kee Mao is a traditional Thai dish with ground pork, wide rice noodles and plenty of fresh basil. Doused in a sauce typical of thai cuisine which is perfectly balanced with heat, tanginess and sweetness – Coming from thai chiles, rice wine vinegar and sweet soy sauce.
I didn’t grow up eating Thai food. In the small town of Jamestown, NY, where I spent my teenage years, we didn’t even have a thai restaurant. We had one chinese buffet in town, and that was about as exotic as it got for me back then – beef & broccoli or fried rice. I grew up in a large Italian family and my Nana and Nanu did the majority of the cooking – We’d have Sunday night dinners consisting of pasta suco, carduni, and cannolis. Such amazing food but basically the same thing week after week. You know what though? I never got bored of their delicious cooking!!!
After graduating high school, I moved from the east coast to the west coast, attending the University of Oregon. It was during that time that my ethnic food experiences increased quite a bit. College towns always seem to have an amazing variety of food! I still ate my fair share of Taco Bell (hey, 89-cent bean burritos can’t be beat on a college student budget!). But, I also had my first tastes of sushi, pad thai and falafel. My dad introduced me to sushi in a BIG way! Ordering a wide selection of items to sample, from the basic California roll (loved!) to uni (sea urchin). When the uni arrived at our table, my dad (the biologist that he is) had to check it out and determine which part of the urchin we were actually eating. After close examination, he exclaimed “You know what?! This is the gonads – We’re eating the sea urchin gonads.” Ummm…. Thanks pop! Appetite decreased….
Let’s get back to this dish – Also known as drunken noodles, Pad Kee Mao doesn’t actually have any alcohol in it. No one actually knows the true origin of the name. However, in the thai language, khi mao means drunkard. It’s believed that after a full day of drinking, thai men would come home and enjoy this dish, believing that the noodles would draw some of the alcohol out of their systems and help with hangovers in the morning. Another theory is that you would need to be drunk to enjoy this dish, as it is so spicy, the only way that you can handle the heat is to be numbed a bit from the alcohol.
Wherever the name comes from, I’m just here to tell you that it’s D-E-LICIOUS! (I made it TWICE in one week!!!) The ingredients can be a bit difficult to find. You may need to make a stop at the Asian market to find the wide rice noodles, sweet soy sauce and thai basil. If you don’t have an Asian market near you, feel free to do some improvising. Use regular pasta in place of the rice noodles – Cook it just short of al dente and add it in the same manner provided in the recipe. You can also use regular soy sauce with a pinch of brown sugar and basil. The taste will be a tad different, but still super yummy. Also, this dish is SPICY as the recipe is written. To cut back on the heat a bit, use only the three chiles that are chopped with the garlic. You can skip the additional two which are sprinkled on top after cooking.
Pad Kee Mao
- 4 tablespoons fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons dark sweet soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
- 6 cloves garlic
- 5 Thai chiles
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- ½ cup sliced onion
- 1 pound ground pork
- 1 red bell pepper sliced
- 12 ounces wide rice noodles
- 2 handfuls Thai basil
- Lime wedges for serving
Soak the rice noodles in warm tap water for 30 minutes to an hour.
Stir together the fish sauce, soy sauce and vinegar, and set aside.
Roughly chop the garlic and 3 of the chilies together. Chop the other two chilies, and set aside.
Preheat a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat; when hot, add the oil, the garlic/chile mixture and the onion. Cook, stirring constantly, until the garlic releases its fragrance, about 30 seconds. Add the pork and a splash of the sauce. Cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until the pork is cooked through, about 5 minutes.
Drain the noodles and add them with the bell peppers to the pan. Increase the heat to high, and add the sauce. Cook, tossing everything together and separating the noodles, until all ingredients are coated with the sauce and it thickens slightly.
Toss in the basil and the additional two chiles. Serve immediately with a side of lime wedges.
- If you’re hosting a group, try serving this alongside a thai salad to make things stretch a bit. I’ve got great options here, here and here.
- Awesome tip for keeping your basil fresh at home – Trim the ends and place them in a glass of water. Place a plastic bag over the top and keep it on your counter (not the refrigerator). It should last for nearly a week this way!