Expat Cravings: Pad Thai

Posted on February 27, 2012


In my opinion, the nation of Thailand and the ethnic group we call Thai are the most brilliant people in the world.  If you saw something like this hanging from a tree or laying on the ground, you’d probably just stomp on it for fun, spit on something, then continue your mindless existence because we are meat and potato people.

Thai people are so much better than us because they picked a bunch of these things, took off the hard shell, soaked the sticky, icky pulp in water for about 1 hour, then extracted the seeds from inside the ucky softened pulp, strained it, added cane sugar, garlic chilli sauce, a dash of fish sauce, and some white pepper thereby creating the loveliest sauce in the world.  Yes, I believe Thai people are the hardest working, most ingenious, most ingenuitive, and all around most deserving of superlative adjectives.  How did the first Thai think to take this kinda nasty, sour tasting pulp and make something so amazing from it?

Come to find out (from Wikipedia) the Tamarind pod isn’t even native to Thailand! It originated in tropical Africa and was transported to South Asia by trade thousands of years before Jesus was a small boy.  Now it’s widely used in many areas and continents including  Africa, South Asia, Northern Australia, South East Asia, Taiwan and China.  Each culture uses tamarind for different purposes:  drinks, candies, jams, Worcestershire sauce, or making poisonous yams edible (Ghana).  However, the home run has been Pad Thai.

I miss this dish very much.  I would eat it at least twice a month back in the homeland.  I started researching recipes for Pad Thai and became daunted to learn that it was pretty complex and required tamarind.  I gave up for a while, but finally, I looked up what tamarind actually was, and recognized it immediately as something I pass everyday on my way to work!

It is called ‘Demir hindi’ (daymeer heendee) here.  This means ‘Iron Turkey’ or maybe ‘Iron Indian’ depending on which way you translate ‘hindi’.  You can find it sitting outside of shops that sell garlic shampoo, dried tea varieties, and bushels of dried fruit.  You know the kind I’m talking about.  They sell them in large bushels or already portioned into red boxes that say ‘Product of Thailand’.  If you haven’t noticed them, just ask around for ‘demir hindi’.  After the salesman looks at you like you are speaking a language other than Turkish, then asks three other people, they should be able to point you in the right direction.  Buy about 10 pods for a generous batch that will provide enough sauce for two or three big portions.  It will set you back about 5 lira.

This is the first part, but the job’s not done.  You still need a couple other unTurkish ingredients.  Head to your local retailer that carries ‘yabancı’ stuff.  If you live in Kadıköy, Milka (on Moda Cad.) or Macro Center (Kalamış Cad.) normally carry the ingredients you will need.

For the sauce:

  • Tamarind pods (about 10)
  • fish sauce
  • a garlic chili sauce  (If you can’t find one with garlic, just add minced garlic into the sauce yourself)
  •  brown sugar
  • white pepper

For the Stir-fry:

  • Rice noodles (Rice Stick as the package states)
  • 2 or 3 eggs
  • bean sprouts
  • green onions (chives)
  • unsalted peanuts and lime (if you can find it) to garnish

Directions for the Sauce: 

Step 1:  Crack the shells of the Tamarind pods and get all of it off.

Step 2:  Peel off that little skeleton.

Step 3:  Soak the pulp in water for at least an hour.

Step 4:  You will need a mesh wire strainer for this part.  Place some of the bloated pods into the strainer a couple at a time and, with a spoon, press and scrape the pulp from the seeds and skins that surround the seeds.  Make sure that you are straining this over a bowl of course.

Step 5:  Add these ingredients to the strained pulp:

  • about 2 Tbsp of brown sugar
  • a generous dash of fish sauce
  • a good bit of white pepper
  • a long squeeze of garlic chili sauce

Mix it up and taste it to see how the balance is.  It won’t taste much like Pad Thai sauce at this point.  It will be very strong, but just check to make sure that you aren’t tasting one ingredient over the others.  You may need to add a little more sugar to balance the bitterness of the tamarind.

For the Stir Fry:

Prep:  Soak half the rice noodles in a large bowl full of hot water from the tap.  When the noodles become flexible, but not too soft, take them out of the water and set aside.  Also rinse your bean sprouts and set them in a colander to dry.  Wash your green onions, dry, then chop into 1 inch lengths.

Step 1:  Heat your pan or wok to about Medium High.  Add a Tbsp of vegetable oil or sunflower oil.  Crack 2 or 3 eggs in and start to scramble.

Step 2:  If you are using meat, add that now, cook until done.

Step 3:  Add the rice noodles, and a little extra oil so they don’t stick together.  Constantly mix for about 30 seconds.

Step 4:  Add the sauce and cook for another minute.

Step 5:  Add the bean sprouts.  Cook them for about 30 seconds.

Step 6:  Add the green onions and cook until they have wilted just a little.

Step 7:  Portion into two or three bowls.  Add the crushed or whole peanuts on top and a slice of lime.  It’s ready to serve.

Afiyet Olsun!

I hope this dish provides you with as much admiration for the Thai people as I have.