I got to go to Bangkok for a meeting last week and went a day early so I could explore the city a bit on my own first. Besides visiting the temples, enjoying the view and drinks at Sky Bar, shopping at Siam Paragon, and getting massages for 270 baht ($7.50!) an hour, I also took a cooking class at the Silom Thai Cooking School. I chose a Sunday morning class because I liked the proposed menu: tom yum soup, green papaya salad, pad thai, massaman curry, and mango sticky rice.
The class was very well organized; first we took a bus to a wet market to pick up the ingredients and then we walked to the classroom which had three different sections: one for food prep, one for cooking, and one for eating. Most of the ingredients that we used were already pre-measured for us, so there was only a minimum of chopping and stir frying but enough that we felt like we were actually cooking! We also got a go at the enormous mortar and pestle to make the papaya salad and the massaman curry paste.
Above are the ingredients we used for pad thai. Starting at the 10 o'clock position and going clockwise, we have fish sauce, ground chili powder, ground peanuts, pickled daikon, palm sugar, tamarind paste, young garlic cloves, tofu, bean sprouts, scallions, and an egg. After stir frying everything together with pre-soaked rice noodles, it was plated and served with additional bean sprouts, ground peanuts, sugar, and chili powder to adjust for personal taste.
Pad thai was my first introduction to Thai food (back at the now shuttered Thai Cuisine in Ithaca, NY), and I immediately fell in love with the sweet and sour noodle dish. I've never tried making it before though because the flavors seemed so foreign to me. Even after becoming more familiar with fish sauce, there was still something else that eluded me, and I think that ingredient was tamarind paste. It provides that characteristic sour taste essential to pad thai. If you can't find it at a local Asian grocery store, the cooking school recommends using an equal volume of vinegar, but I would really recommend using tamarind paste if you can find it. You can also substitute brown sugar for the palm sugar and cashews for the peanuts. When I made this recipe again at home I omitted the pickled daikon and shrimp but otherwise it tastes pretty close to what I remember!
4 oz. dried rice noodles
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons palm sugar or brown sugar
2 tablespoons tamarind paste or white vinegar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
6 shrimp, peeled and de-veined
1/4 cup firm tofu, cubed
1 handful bean sprouts (reserve half for serving)
2 scallions, cut into 1" pieces
1 or 2 eggs
2 tablespoons ground roasted peanut, divided
1/2 teaspoon ground dried red chili powder (optional)
1 tablespoon pickled daikon, finely chopped (optional)
Soak the rice noodles in room temperature water until soft (20-30 minutes). Drain and set aside.
Mix together the fish sauce, sugar, and tamarind paste to make the pad thai sauce.
Heat the vegetable oil over medium heat, add garlic and fry until fragrant.
Add the shrimp, tofu, bean sprouts, and scallion pieces and stir until the prawns are cooked.
Crack the egg(s) straight into the wok; stir rapidly until scrambled.
Add the drained noodles and half the pad thai sauce, half the ground roasted peanuts, ground dried red chili powder, and pickled white radish, if using. Mix everything together and keep frying until the noodles become soft and translucent. If the noodles are not fully cooked yet, add a splash of water and cook until done. Taste and adjust for seasoning with additional pad thai sauce.
Serve with the lime slices, reserved bean sprouts, roasted ground peanuts, ground dried chili powder, and additional sugar if you like.