Phat Thai

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					food adventure:                                          THAILAND




REAL PHAT THAI
TEXT AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY AUSTIN BUSH




On Bangkok’s Khao San Road, undoubtedly the most famous                                     with the noodles, or alternatively, made
backpacker ghetto in the world, you’ll find vendors selling the                             into a thin omelet and wrapped around
ubiquitous Thai dish, phat thai.                                                            the fried noodles to form an attractive
                                                                                            package. And the only veggies you’ll see
Sold from wheeled carts, it combines           name, phat thai is essentially a foreign     in a real phat thai are a scattering of
lightly seasoned rice noodles, Chinese         dish. Both noodles and the concept of        Chinese chives and mung bean sprouts;
kale, carrots, cabbage and sometimes           stir-frying were introduced to Thailand      phat thai truly is an exercise in carbs.
egg. The dish is hugely popular with vis-      by the Chinese. Thai cooks combined the         Another misunderstanding about the
itors, and for many, it is their first taste   two, and after adding a sauce made with      dish is how it is eaten. Phat thai is an
of Thai food in Thailand. This should          indigenous ingredients like fish sauce and   example of what Thais call ahaan jaan
come as no surprise, as phat thai is           palm sugar, as well as dried shrimp and      diow, a one-dish meal. A Thai would
available on the menu of virtually every       eggs, the dish was deemed sufficiently       never order a dish of phat thai to
Thai restaurant abroad, where it often         original that the word “Thai” was tacked     accompany a plate of rice or a bowl of
takes the form of an immense mass of           on (the word phat means simply “to           curry. What the dish is served with is
noodles topped with beef or chicken.           fry”). The name stuck, and this example      also important. In traditional Thai
However this, and the phat thai sold on        of early fusion is now without a doubt       cooking, an effort is made to balance all
Khao San Road are, if you really desire        the most famous Thai dish in the world.      the flavors: sweet, sour, salty, spicy and
the truth, only phat thai in name.                Unlike versions sold abroad, you’ll       sometimes, bitter. Because none of the
   Phat thai, perhaps Thailand’s most          rarely find phat thai in Thailand made       ingredients in phat thai feature the bit-
famous culinary export, also happens to        with any meat other than shrimp.             ter flavor that so many Thais love, the
be one of its most commonly misinter-          Variations containing chicken or beef are    dish is almost always served with a side
preted dishes. Both abroad, and increas-       largely concoctions meant to appeal to       of hua plee, the astringent flower of the
ingly at home, phat thai is twisted into       Western-style palates, and in Thailand,      banana tree, as well as a few extra
variants that have little to do with the       are only found at tourist restaurants.       Chinese chives. To add an extra tart
original creation. Perhaps this is because     Any phat thai that includes copious          note, phat thai is also accompanied by
real phat thai, a handful of good-quality      quantities of vegetables should also be      slices of lime. And like all noodle dishes
rice noodles stir-fried with a simple sauce    regarded with suspicion. In its most         in Thailand, phat thai should be served
and a few (mostly seafood-related) ingre-      basic form, the dish often only contains     with optional toppings of sugar, fish
dients, is deceptively simple in concept,      a sprinkling of dried shrimp and bits of     sauce and ground dried chiles, just in
but considerably more difficult to make.       tofu, the bulk of the protein typically      case you find one of the flavors lacking.
   Despite the nationalistic-sounding          being egg, which is either fried along          With this in mind, the next step is

Intermezzo                                                                                                                          45
finding an authentic phat thai. In               REAL PHAT THAI
Bangkok this is, unsurprisingly, not a           SERVES 4

difficult task. But to sample a truly leg-
                                                 Each serving is stir-fried individually. Any left-
endary phat thai, locals (myself includ-         over sauce can be refrigerated, tightly covered,
ed) head to Thip Samai. This nonde-              for up to two weeks. You’ll find all the Thai
script shophouse in an old district of           ingredients in an Asian market or large grocery
Bangkok is by all accounts the most              store, except perhaps the banana flower. If you
famous phat thai restaurant in the coun-         can get it, try it.
try (and probably the only one with a
website: www.thipsamai.com). The                 For sauce
restaurant has been making the dish in           2 cups water
                                                 1/2 cup tamarind pulp
the same location for forty years, and
                                                 4 tablespoons palm sugar
although its menu has expanded slightly,
                                                 4 tablespoons fish sauce
you’ll be hard-pressed to find an item
that doesn’t include noodles.                    For finished dish
    Just outside the open dining room, two       1 package (16 ounces) dried flat rice                sugar and fish sauce. Bring to a boil, reduce
chefs work over several coal-fired stoves             noodles                                         heat, and simmer until thickened and
that have electric fans pointed at them to       4 tablespoons cooking oil                            reduced by one third. Check for taste; sauce
intensify the heat. When the shop opens,         5 shallots, finely sliced                            should be equal parts salty and sour, with a
the chefs make the phat thai en masse,           4 cloves garlic, minced                              slightly sweet leading flavor. Set aside.
stirring huge vats of ten or more dishes.        4 tablespoons finely chopped preserved               3. Meanwhile, soak rice noodles in plenty of
Despite this, first-time visitors will be sur-        white radish (optional)                         cold water until just soft but still al dente,
                                                 4 tablespoons dried shrimp                           about 10 minutes. Place noodles in a colan-
prised to learn that phat thai is not the gut-
                                                 1/2 block firm tofu, sliced into 1/2-inch            der to drain.
filling heap of noodles that it tends to be
                                                      pieces (8 ounces)                               4. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large wok over
abroad. A dish of phat thai in Thailand is       1/2 pound shrimp, shelled (optional)                 medium-high heat. Add 1/4 of shallots, gar-
generally a dainty dish, particularly here.      4 eggs                                               lic, preserved white radish, dried shrimp
However, the emphasis is on noodles, and         1/2 cup roasted peanuts, finely chopped              and tofu. Fry until tofu is slightly browned,
Thip Samai only uses sen jan, the famous         1     cup chives or scallions, chopped into          about 4 minutes.
rice noodles from Thailand’s Chanthaburi              1-inch lengths                                  5. Add a quarter of rice noodles, followed
province, cooked decidedly al dente. At          2 cups mung bean sprouts                             by 3 tablespoons of sauce, and fry, stirring
Thip Samai you can order your noodles            1 banana flower (optional), outer peel               noodles in a swirling motion until they
fried simply with egg, topped with prawns,            removed and sliced lengthwise into              have absorbed most of sauce, about 4 to 5
or alternatively fried with man koong, the            eighths                                         minutes. Reduce heat if mixture sticks to
flavorful fat found inside shrimp heads,         2 limes, sliced in half                              wok.
which gives the noodles a red hue.                                                                    6. Push noodles to side of wok and crack
                                                 Condiments                                           1 egg into center of wok. When egg begins
    Like so many others before me, I head
                                                    Fish sauce, sugar, ground dried chilies,          to set, add 1/4 of the prawns, if using. Stir
to Thip Samai one evening with that
                                                    additional Chinese chives                         to combine until prawns are just done,
particular phat thai craving. I arrive and
                                                                                                      about 1 minute. Add 1/4 of the peanuts,
order sen jan koong sot, phat thai with          1. Make phat thai sauce. Bring water to a            chives or scallions, and bean sprouts, stir-
prawns. In seconds I am rewarded with            boil and add tamarind pulp. Simmer for 5             ring to combine all ingredients. Remove
a steaming dish of noodles and a plate           minutes, pushing tamarind with a wooden              from heat.
of greens. After a squeeze of lime and a         spoon to extract as much pulp as possible.           7. Repeat process 3 more times with
sprinkling of fish sauce, I dig in, and          Let cool and strain tamarind pulp, reserving         remaining ingredients.
trading bites with the obligatory side           liquid and discarding solids.                        8. Serve phat thai with sides of banana
dishes of banana flower and chives, am           2. Return reserved liquid to a small                 flower, if available, half a lime, and condi-
really, truly in phat thai heaven.               saucepan over medium heat. Add palm                  ments.



Phat Thai Thip Samai, 313 Mahachai Rd., Bangkok, Thailand, +66 2 221 6280. www.thipsamai.com

42                                                                                                                                        Intermezzo
Intermezzo   45

				
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