Noodly comfort food
Pad Thai, once exotic, is now everywhere
By Susan Reilly email@example.com
Once an exotic dish found only in authentic Thai restaurants, pad Thai is now showing up on Chinese takeout menus across southern New Hampshire.
As poor college students in Boston, my friends and I would eat at a Thai place in Kenmore Square. It was below street level, down steep stairs, and the menu was handwritten in Thai. But the pad Thai in this little family-owned place rocked and for $2.50 (this was the mid-’80s) you would be served a heaping bowl of hot pad that would fill you for the entire day.
Probably the most popular Thai dish in the States, often referred to as Thai Food 101, it appears to have become so mainstream that even small Chinese takeout joints are frying up pad. Whether it can overtake the perennial favorite lo mein remains to be seen — Golden Palace in Milford said that lo mein is still the top noodle there — but it seems to be slowly gaining ground.
“We put pad Thai on the menu because so many people ask for it. It is really very popular,” said Irene Li, the manager of Bamboo Garden in Manchester.
So popular, in fact, that this Chinese restaurant runs a daily pad Thai lunch special — $4.95 for pad, soup and a drink.
“Pad Thai is very popular for lunch because it has so much in one bowl. It is quick and easy to eat and not expensive at all,” she said.
If you are new to pad Thai and worry that the whole noodle thing may be too much to handle with chopsticks, fear not. In Southeast Asia, only the Vietnamese eat with chopsticks. So, if you order pad Thai, you will be handed a fork, all the better to twirl the noodles.
What exactly is pad Thai? It is stir-fried noodles tossed with eggs, nam pla (a salty fish sauce), tamarind juice (which has a sour fruit flavor), red chili pepper, plus any combination of bean sprouts, shrimp, chicken, tofu or beef, garnished with crushed peanuts and cilantro or coriander.
It is always served with a wedge of lime, meant to be squeezed over the noodles as you eat. It is considered a nutritious, cheap meal and is very popular throughout Thailand.
At Red Leaf in Nashua, manager Andy Xie said that people like pad Thai because of all of the different flavors one bite imparts to your tongue.
“It is sweet, sour, salty and hot all at once. That is why it is so popular,” he said.
Red Leaf had customers looking for it and decided to add it to the menu.
“We sell a lot of it. Our recipe is good. It seems like every restaurant makes pad Thai a little different,” Xie said.
Karen Gao, the manager of Peking Garden in Manchester, said that people call her restaurant all the time looking for pad Thai.
“It is interesting that people are calling a Chinese restaurant, because it is a Thailand dish, but we get a lot of people looking for it,” she said.
Peking Garden sells quite a few bowls of pad Thai.
“I think that when people eat pad Thai, they always seem to leave happy,” Gao said.
Get your pad
Here are a few of the local places serving up pad Thai:
• Bamboo Garden, 329 Lincoln St., Manchester, 624-0009; $6.50-$6.95 for your choice of pork, beef, chicken, vegetable or shrimp
• Dynamite Sushi, 30 Lowell Road, Hudson, 889-0055; $8.99 for tofu, chicken & shrimp, chicken or beef
• Giant of Siam, 5 E. Hollis St., Nashua, 595-2222
• Golden Palace, 321 Nashua St., Milford, 673-1323; $6.95 for choice of chicken, shrimp or vegetable
• Hong Kong City, 864 Page St., Manchester, 668-9188; $7.75 for choice of shrimp, beef or chicken
• Lakorn Thai, 470 S. Main St., Manchester, 626-4545
• Peking Garden, 967 Elm St., Manchester, 623-8880; $7.95
• Pho Golden Bowl, 124 Queen City Ave., Manchester, 622-2000; $7.50 for choice of chicken, beef, pork or vegetables
• Red Leaf, 295 DW Hwy., Nashua, 888-7999; $8.25 for choice of chicken, shrimp, beef or vegetable
• Tea Garden, 28 Railroad Sq., Nashua, 598-1798; $7.50, vegetarian for $7
• Tiya’s Retaurant, 8 Hanover St., Manchester, 669-4365; $7.50
• Wah Tong, 665 Hooksett Road, Manchester,626-1689; $9.95 with shrimp and chicken
• Yuki, 377 S. Willow St., Manchester, 666-6678; $8 for choice of shrimp, chicken or vegetable.