Thai people generally don’t really go for poetic names for their dishes. One of the 3 Hungry Tummies, the original author of this recipe, bluntly translates “khee mao” as “shit drunk”’ noodles. ‘Khee’ is also a prefix meaning “having a bad habit”, so “drunken” or “drunkard’s noodles” make sense, too. Neither translation brings us closer to why the dish has been named this way, but honestly the important thing to know about pad khee mao is that it’s delicious.
I think this dish is so much more interesting than the ubiquitous and largely inoffensive pad thai. Pad khee mao is full of the bite of fresh chillies and garlic, and is further sweetened by the anise fragrance of Thai basil. In Britain, you’ll probably only be able to get hold of purple-green Thai sweet basil (bai horapha). That’s what I used here; just keep in mind that holy basil (bai kraphao) is the ideal, original herb. You can get Thai sweet basil everything else you need at an East/South East Asian grocer; Taste of Siam supermarket in Euston is a nice little shop if you’re in North London.
The decision to call this recipe “Not Quite Thai” came from my going all the way with using inauthentic ingredients and using asparagus as the main vegetable. You can also use any kind of thinly sliced meat, extra-firm non-silken tofu, or mushrooms. Whatever you put into it, this is a stir-fry for the fearless: chucking hot noodles around in an even hotter wok is hard but rewarding work. Just make sure you open a window or two while you’re cooking.
- . 500g fresh wide rice noodles (ho fun), briefly soaked in hot water until slightly softened
- . 2 teaspoons dark sweet soy sauce (kecap manis)
- . Several tablespoons vegetable oil
- . 3 medium garlic cloves, finely minced
- . 2 - 4 bird’s eye chillies, chopped small
- . 75g kai lan, sliced at an angle into 3 inch pieces
- . About 200g asparagus, tough bases removed, sliced as above
- . 2 teaspoons Thai light soy sauce
- . 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- . 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
- . 100g bean sprouts
- . 75 - 100 g Thai sweet or holy basil leaves (or Italian basil in a pinch)
- Prepare the rice noodles: separate the strands as best you can; your fingers and some chopsticks are the best tools.
- Drain the noodles very well (you want them as dry as possible) then put them into a bowl and sprinkle over the dark sweet soy sauce.
- Toss until thoroughly coated and set aside.
- Heat a wok until very, very hot.
- Add about 2 tablespoons vegetable oil; when the oil is smoking, add half the rice noodles.
- Spread them out to ensure they get as much contact with the hot wok as possible. Fearlessly let them sizzle until they smell just a bit burnt and are brown around the edges; turn them over, letting other parts char.
- Remove to a plate, then repeat with the other half of the noodles. This should take a good few minutes.
- Let the wok get very hot again and add a further splash of oil, then add the chopped chillies, garlic, kai lan and asparagus.
- Stir fry until bright green, glossy, and nutty-smelling – no more than a minute or two.
- Add the charred noodles, light soy sauce, fish sauce, and oyster sauce, mixing thoroughly.
- Finally, toss in the bean sprouts and Thai basil leaves.
- Cook for another 30 seconds or so until the sprouts are just translucent and the basil wilted; scoop onto plates and eat immediately.
Images courtesy of Pear Nuallak