All about Pad Thai – How to make it and Health Benefits

Pad Thai

Keyword: Pad thai

Thailand’s most famous dish has spread around the world since it was introduced at a World Fair. But how many of us really know what’s in it? And is it actually any good for you?

There are two distinct types of pad Thai – one using tamarind and one without. Both have different variations, some more traditional than others. The Bangkok Pad Thai uses tamarind as a base, whereas Northeastern areas tend to use more dried shrimp and garlic, which creates a sweeter flavour. It is also popularly served with sugar or even condensed milk instead of palm sugar, making it more similar to Indian chai tea! Other regional differences include the addition of pickled turnip (guaym jiao) and bean sprouts (tua giao), as well as the use of rice noodles instead of pickled ones.

The most common criticism is that it’s not particularly authentic – but then again, neither is anything else in Thailand! Pad Thai has become a national dish known around the world, but this doesn’t mean it isn’t tasty too. The nutritional value of pad Thai holds up pretty well compared to other dishes, with lower fat content than you’d expect for something fried. It contains 1g of fibre so it will keep you full for longer and 2g protein so if you’re trying to build muscle, don’t panic at all those carbs! Just try to avoid adding extra salt. There’s no doubt that pad Thai is tasty – but is it worth all those calories? It’s definitely not something I’d make a staple meal, and if you’re trying to lose weight I suggest avoiding pad Thai. But for a treat every now and then, or as an excuse to travel the world, there’s nothing quite like good old pad Thai!

How to make pad thai

A cup of coffee on a table


150g pad thai rice noodles (I use Blue Dragon brand)

2 tbsp tamarind paste (or lemon or lime juice for a non-authentic version)

1/4 cup fish sauce (nam pla) (if you don’t like it too salty, feel free to reduce this down to 2 tbsp and add in some soy sauce instead!)

3 tsp palm sugar, finely chopped is best! But can be substituted with brown sugar. If using light brown sugar, add a dash of water so it dissolves easily in the pan. You can also use white granulated sugar if you prefer. For a vegan option, try using maple syrup!

4 tbsp water

2 eggs, beaten (optional)

1/2 cup tofu, cubed and lightly fried in a frying pan OR 1/4 cup of paneer or halloumi cheese cut into cubes. You can also substitute with shrimp for seafood lovers! If using shrimp, sautee them together with the tofu before adding to the pad thai sauce.

3-5 green beans, chopped into small pieces OR peas – whatever your preference! As long as they are fresh and well washed! I don’t recommend frozen unless you defrost them beforehand. And make sure not to overcook them either – crunchy is best! But if you don’t have time for this step feel free to omit it altogether.

3-4 tbsp crushed roasted peanuts (if you can find fresh ones, even better! But if not, don’t worry the pre-packaged variety is still delicious!) If allergic to nuts, feel free to omit or substitute with some cashew nuts instead. This also goes great with sesame seeds for extra crunch too – just remember to toast them first in a frying pan on medium heat before adding to the sauce.

1 shallot OR 1 small brown onion thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic smashed and minced

A handful of fresh coriander (cilantro) chopped FOR GARNISHING: 1 lime, cut into wedges and squeezed before serving

sliced red chilli (this is optional but I like my pad thai with a bit of heat!)

1 shallot OR 1 small brown onion thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic smashed and minced handful of fresh coriander (cilantro)chopped prawns,

finely chopped chicken breast or leftover roast duck all works well!

Optional extras: prawns, finely chopped chicken breast or leftover roast duck all works well!


Boil the rice noodles according to the instructions on the packet. Drain and rinse well under cold water once cooked, then set aside. If it’s too dry you can always splash in some oil before setting it aside to prevent sticking together! Make sure not to overcook them either – don’t let it go mushy! I usually cook my noodles for about 8-10 mins or until they are halfway cooked through.

Mix your tamarind paste (or lemon/lime juice) and fish sauce (nam pla) together in a small bowl. Add in your palm sugar (or brown sugar), mix well, adding the water if needed to help dissolve the sugar. Set aside and prepare the rest of your ingredients ready for the add-in.

Get a small frying pan or wok on medium heat and fry off your garlic and shallot (or onion) until fragrant. Add in your tofu (and/or paneer/shrimp if using) together with the white parts of your green beans or peas, then stir-fry for about 2 minutes before adding in your sauce mixture from earlier. Keep stirring as you don’t want it to burn! Then add in the remainder of your noodles followed by half a cup of water – give it a really good mix until all the noodles are coated evenly with sauce! When it starts to boil put a lid on top so it quickly reduces down and thickens up. If you like your veggies crunchy feel free to add them in now but if not, go ahead and add in all the rest of your ingredients!

Turn off the heat and give it a good mix again before transferring everything over into a serving bowl or plate. Garnish with fresh coriander (cilantro) and serve immediately with lime wedges on the side for squeezing over before eating!

Health Benefits of Pad thai

A close up of a sign

Tamarind Paste comes from the pod of a leguminous tree and is known as ‘the key to a good pad Thai as it gives this dish its distinctive sour taste. It’s great for digestion and although quite a strong flavour, it works well with the other ingredients in this recipe!

Fish Sauce (nam pla) – This is one of those ingredients which you either love or hate but essentially fish sauce is just fermented anchovies! In Thailand however, there are many different varieties depending on what part of the country you’re in. The more expensive versions use only anchovies from certain coastal provinces but regardless, fish sauce can be used as an alternative to salt!

Palm Sugar – A staple ingredient in Thai cooking which gives dishes a deep caramel flavour. Like all sugars, it’s high in calories but can be used sparingly to enhance the flavours of any dish!

Garlic – Packed full of antioxidants, garlic is known to help boost your immune system and has antibiotic properties which are great for colds and cases of flu. It also contains compounds that may even help prevent certain cancers so make sure you don’t miss out on this tasty additive!

Onion – Allium cepa, otherwise known as onion, scallion or spring onion is loaded with Vitamin C, K and B6 which are essential vitamins for maintaining our health. It also strengthens our immunity against bacterial infections so we’ll be able to fight off those winter bugs!

Green Beans (or peas) – Like all green vegetables, these are packed full of good stuff like calcium, iron and Vitamin K which helps with blood clotting. Plus it also contains lutein and zeaxanthin which help maintain healthy eyesight so maybe save some for your dinner instead of gobbling them up straight away!

Shrimp/paneer – A great source of protein to keep us fuller for longer, shrimp is low in saturated fat but has high cholesterol content so definitely not one for the heart-conscious… Paneer on the other hand is much lower in cholesterol than shrimp but doesn’t contain any omega 3 fatty acids though still a good source of protein.

Noodles – Wider noodles are usually used for pad thai however if you can’t find them, use the thinner variety. The main ingredient in the noodles is wheat flour but they are enriched with calcium which is great for maintaining healthy bones!

Green Onions – Also known as scallions or spring onions these contain compounds that help prevent blood clots forming so may be beneficial to those recovering from surgery or injury. They’re also rich in Vitamin C and K which helps us fight off bacterial infections so good for cold season.

Raw Peanuts – Used to garnish this dish peanuts are actually legumes which are also known as groundnuts or monkey nuts so you’ll see many recipes calling for ‘peanut butter. They’re high fat though, so go easy on them if you’re watching your weight and they contain a high amount of Vitamin E which helps to boost our immunity and prevent cancer.

Coriander – Also known as cilantro or Chinese parsley, coriander is packed full of essential nutrients such as Vitamins A, C and K plus iron and calcium so definitely worth adding in for this tasty treat!

So there you have it, another tasty Thai recipe that’s not only healthy but easy to make too!

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