I have a serious weakness Thai food. Fresh papaya salad, rich curry, and the tang of tom yom soup all leave you yearning for more. And it doesn’t help that Thai people are on the Middle Earth meal plan. They eat breakfast, second breakfast, elevenses, and luncheon. By the time you set fork and spoon down and step out into the sunshine, it’s time to plan afternoon tea. It’s all I can do to keep up the pace. But I manage to do it with pleasure, especially when it comes to pad kee mao, Thai stir-fried drunken noodles.
Late one afternoon, we drove to the outskirts of Chiang Mai to a large home surrounded by brilliant green fields of rice. The hosts escorted us inside their open-air cooking school, spacious and meticulously laid out. Everyone was about to immerse themselves in the joy of a high-end cooking experience.
We relaxed and sipped on butterfly pea flower tea. Then our private party gathered to watch the chef. He demonstrated several cooking techniques and explained each ingredient. Then off we went to our own stations to recreate his dish, one of which was Thai drunken noodles. Seriously I felt like a contestant on Master Chef. You barely set a single dirtied spoon on the counter and instantly staff whisked it away.
The chef stopped here and there, tasting, answering questions, and coaching us through the recipe. Personal service at its best.
Thai drunken noodles
For chicken and marinade:
Combine 2 T. water, 1 tsp. soy sauce, 1 tsp. vegetable oil, and 2 tsp. of cornstarch with…300 g. pork or ground chicken (just over half a pound).
200 g. fresh flat rice noodles (just under half a pound)
2 garlic cloves, crushed and chopped
½ T. bird’s eye chili, finely chopped. De-seeded soaked dried chilies work too.
½ c. carrot, small diced or grated
2 kaffir lime leaves
1-2 tsp. fresh peppercorn
1-2 tsp. fingerroot thinly sliced. You can use ginger root too.*
1 handful of Thai holy basil
4-6 T. vegetable oil
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. dark soy sauce
1 T. oyster sauce
1 T. soy sauce/fish sauce
1 slice of lime (optional)
1 egg (optional)
Marinade the meat in the first ingredients for 10-15 minutes. Heat vegetable oil in hot wok/pan, then add garlic and fry until golden brown. Next, add chilies and meat and cook well. Add carrots, peppercorn, kaffir lime leaves, fingerroot. Stir in the rice noodles and seasoning, mixing well.
If you’re adding egg, create a well in the center of the noodles, crack and cook the egg inside. Finish with holy basil.
(recipe courtesy of Silana Cooking)
What’s the difference between Thai basil and holy basil? People often get them mixed up, and to confuse matters holy basil is sometimes called “Thai holy basil.” Thai basil has purple stems and is sweet with hints of anise flavor. Both white and red holy basil is spicy with peppery undertones. Can you swap out Thai basil for holy basil in the recipe above? Sure. The flavor will be sweeter and less spicy, but some basil is better than no basil at all.
By the time we stopped chopping, sautéing and laughing, the sun had set and the song of crickets surrounded us. We sat family-style around the table, and finally I plunged my fork into glistening noodles and savored the first bite. I’m not sure why they’re called drunken noodles except they’re doused in a rich sauce spiced with chilies and ginger. Or maybe because you forget everything with the first bite. Yum!
We sat back, relaxed, and enjoyed our way through the amazing meal. Sitting around a table with friends and discovering new flavors is an experience hard to beat.