Meet Pad Thai’s more popular cousin.
Well, more popular in Thailand, that is.
As far as stir-fry street noodles go, one could argue that Pad See U is the noodle of choice for Thailand’s lunch crowd. (Pad Thai seems to be more of a U.S. phenomenon — a delicious one nonetheless — but that’s a post for another day.)
Today, let’s talk about Pad See U.
Pad See U literally means “soy sauce stir fry.” A Pad See U done well is savory, slightly sweet, and with a hint of wok fragrance, or “glin kata.” Wok fragrance? Well, it is simply caramelization of food when it comes in contact with a very hot and well-seasoned (i.e. food won’t stick) wok, resulting in a slight char.
Generally, a workhorse wok, one that has been lovingly put to use for a long time, will give out more fragrance. To be honest, it helps to have a commercial grade, high BTU wok stove, and a well-used (think black surface) wok. However, home cooks can still achieve good wok fragrance to a certain degree, with some practice.
One of my aunts showed me how to make Pad See U a few years ago. She also wrote down a recipe, but only as a guideline, as hard-set recipes are a rarity in Thai cooking. If you observe a Thai cook or stir-fry street vendor, you’ll seldom, if ever, see a proper measuring device being used. You’ll generally see the cook adding in a few shakes of this sauce and that (bottles of fish sauce, various types of soy sauce, oyster sauce, i.e. those essential to a Thai kitchen, are always at hand), the more experienced cooks virtually on auto-pilot while the less experienced may taste and adjust more frequently until the flavors come together.
When making Pad See U, I encourage you to taste and season along the way. Also, I like to make one portion at a time. The more contact the ingredients have with the wok surface, the better the dish will taste. Cooking one portion at a time will also provide you with good practice. If the first one doesn’t turn out the way you expect, no worries, just make another one. You’ll get better each time, and you’ll develop your own techniques.
Pad See U
Ingredients (for 1 portion)
- Fresh flat rice noodles, around 1 1/4 cups or approx 200g (The key to good Pad See U is to use fresh noodles, found at Asian marts. These noodles are made fresh and delivered to the marts every morning. It comes pre-cooked and oiled to prevent sticking.)
- Meat, about 1/2 cup (chicken, beef, pork, shrimp, tofu – use pressed tofu so it doesn’t disintegrate during stir-frying.)
- Egg, 1
- Garlic , 1 clove chopped
- Chinese Broccoli, 2-3 stalks
- Thin soy sauce, 1 tsp
- Seasoning sauce, 2 tsp (I use Golden Mountain seasoning sauce – a popular brand in Thailand. This is essentially a soy-based sauce, so you can substitute with another rich flavored soy sauce such as mushroom soy sauce.)
- Black soy sauce, 2 tsp
- Sugar, 1-2 tsp (depending how sweet you like it)
- White ground pepper
- Vegetable oil
- Thinly slice your meat of choice (except for shrimp*) Put a few dashes of the soy-based seasoning sauce (say, 1/2 tsp to 1 tsp) to briefly marinate.
- Cut the flat noodles into 1″ to 1.5″ wide. Separate the noodles and mix in 2 tsp of black soy sauce.
- Rinse the Chinese broccoli and remove the tough stems, much like you would regular broccoli stems. Cut the stems at an angle – very thin. Cut the leaves into big pieces. Separate the leaves from the stems (they have different cooking times).
- Set your wok on high heat, let it heat up before adding a little oil.
- Add garlic, a few stirs, then add the meat and stir some more. The meat should cook up fairly quickly. Push it up the side of the wok to make room for the next ingredient.
- Add a tad bit more oil, wait till it heats up, and add the noodles. Don’t stir the noodles right away. Wait a few seconds (we want it to lightly char), then start stir frying. Stir some more, bringing the meat back in.
- Push everything up the side of the wok. Add the stems of Chinese broccoli to the middle of the wok to cook. About 30 seconds later, add the leaves.
- Make room in the middle of the wok, add a bit of oil, wait till it heats up, and add an egg. Scramble until firm and stir everything back in together.
- Add in the soy sauce, seasoning sauce, and sugar. Add a little dash of ground white pepper.
- Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking.
* If you use shrimp, add it later in the process, before the egg.
** Note that the wok is designed so that the sides are cool enough to rest already-cooked ingredients while allowing new ingredients to have its turn to cook in the middle. If you wish, you can scramble the egg first and take it out of the wok to add back in later. You can do the same for the Chinese broccoli, stir frying it first, taking it out, and adding it back in later, or you can choose to blanch it in boiling water.
A personal note on eating Pad See U:
The joy of Pad See U, for me, is utilizing the condiments. Traditional condiments include:
- Fish sauce
- Crushed red peppers
- Vinegar and pepper (“Prik Nam Som” – details in this post.)
I start out eating Pad See U without adding any condiments. About a third of the way through, I start adding in condiments a little at a time, mixing and matching as I go, making it sweeter, saltier, spicier, and more sour. My last few bites are quite different from my first few, always delicious, and quite enjoyable.