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Vancouver - Pad Thai?

kidtofu Dec 18, 2009 09:21 AM

I spend several months a year in Vancouver - originally from London - and have noticed something strange about Thai food here.

Regardless of good reviews or decent attempts at other dishes, Thai restaurants here seem to turn Pad Thai into a bizarre Italian-style tomato dish.

I am trying to figure out what is lacking in the dish or what forces this recipe - is it lack of enough fish sauce or some other fishy ingredient deemed liable to offend white palates?

Is there anywhere people could suggest for really good Pad Thai?

  1. k
    kidtofu Dec 18, 2009 09:32 AM

    hmm, perhaps an answer:

    "Pad Thai is a stir-fried noodle dish with a flavor combination of sweet (white sugar, palm sugar, or in the States as a cheap and easy shortcut, ketchup), sour (vinegar, lime, and/or tamarind), and salty (fish sauce or sea salt), and a textural contrast between soft noodles, pickled vegetable, crunchy bean sprouts, peanuts, fried tofu, dried shrimps, and any meat or seafood used by the cook, if any."


    1. c
      ck1234 Dec 18, 2009 09:32 AM


      17 Replies
      1. re: ck1234
        kidtofu Dec 18, 2009 09:37 AM

        excellent, I'll give it a shot. I guess I should have searched properly before posting this, seems a common problem:


        1. re: kidtofu
          Sam Salmon Dec 18, 2009 10:29 AM

          "is it lack of enough fish sauce or some other fishy ingredient deemed liable to offend white palates?"
          I've gone so far as to ask for more Nam Pla but received nothing-that was in a 100% Thai run place.

          1. re: Sam Salmon
            fmed Dec 18, 2009 12:59 PM

            In Thailand, it is very common to have Nam Pla, sugar, fresh and dried chilies, pickles, sliced limes, crushed peanuts at the table's condiment tray or on the side of your plate. You can customize the pad thai to your liking. (I wish Maenam did this.)

            1. re: fmed
              grayelf Dec 18, 2009 09:58 PM

              The last time we went to Sawasdee on Main their pad thai was much improved, though I haven't tried it at Maenam to compare. The "ketchup factor" is so offputting to me, but then I've heard people complain when tamarind is used (my preferred sour option when I make it myself).

              And they will bring a tasty nampla and chile hot condiment if you ask nicely :-). Perks the noodles right up!

              1. re: grayelf
                fmed Dec 18, 2009 10:30 PM

                Pad thai is streetfood and as such is very open to interpretation. Ketchup is non-negotiable, however.

                One pad thai ingredient common in Thailand but a relative rarity here in the West is fried egg - either mixed into the noodles at the last minute or fried separately and laid on top. Another ingredient commonly MIA is dried shrimp.

              2. re: fmed
                miss.foodie Dec 19, 2009 06:51 AM

                I wish more places would use the type of noodle that Maenam uses. I love the unique texture of the noodles. I suppose it's difficult for a lot of places to source. The last time I talked to Bo, he mentioned that BLK might introduce pad thai to the menu in the near future. I'd be curious to see what his version is like.

                1. re: miss.foodie
                  fmed Dec 19, 2009 09:11 AM

                  Maenam sources their rice noodles (which are fresh, not dried) from a specialty Thai rice noodle maker in the Los Angeles area. I think they use a different type of rice than the usual Chinese or Vietnamese rice noodles.

                  Using fresh noodle instead of dried makes a big difference in any case.

                  1. re: fmed
                    rosetown Dec 20, 2009 07:59 AM

                    At home, I make an authentic Pad Thai, plain egg omelet, sliced, but have never used fresh noodles. What are the differences from the dried noodles? Do they absorb less oil? - I'd love that.

                    Historically, authentic ingredients just were not available in North America, and cookbook authors substituted as best they could. In the past 20 years larger Canadian urban areas have become very ethnically diverse. Where, in the past, it was difficult to find Asian ingredients, the reverse is now true. Still, green pea aubergine, for inclusion in a green Thai chili, is rarely in stock here in Calgary. Sorry for digressing.

                    1. re: rosetown
                      fmed Dec 20, 2009 09:05 AM

                      Yes. Ketschup was a sub for the then hard to source tamarind paste. You can get it everywhere now.

                      Here in Vancouver , my usual source for southeast Asian ingredients are the many Vietnamese run supermarkets and sometimes south cohina seas trading company. It is relatively easy to get pea eggplant here these days. It wasn't even 4 or 5 years ago.

                  2. re: miss.foodie
                    ck1234 Dec 19, 2009 10:10 AM

                    The noodle texture is what I loved most about the pad thai at Maenam! It had the perfect chewiness in the mouth! :-)

                    1. re: ck1234
                      grayelf Dec 20, 2009 07:26 AM

                      About to lose serious chow cred (assuming I had any to begin with): I'm not a fan of fresh pasta in Italianate dishes because I find the texture too soft even when cooked correctly. ck's (and others) testimony re chewiness of Maenam fresh rice sticks makes me wonder if this is a wheat-based noodle issue only or possibly that I just need help personally :-). Would be seriously chuffed to try a pad thai made by Bo at BLK though miss.foodie, no matter what kind of noodles it has -- thanks for that intel.

                      1. re: grayelf
                        fmed Dec 20, 2009 07:51 AM

                        Maenam definitely uses fresh Thai rice noodle. (Inside info).

                        PS - On Italian - I like fresh pasta for large-sheet type dishes (lasagna, agnolotti, etc). I concur regarding strands - I prefer dried for that.

                        1. re: fmed
                          tdeane Jul 22, 2011 07:16 PM

                          Man, I have to make you and grayelf some fresh pasta. Fresh pasta shouldn't be served with tomato based sauces but with cream and butter and ragu's. Delicious!

                          1. re: tdeane
                            fmed Jul 22, 2011 09:19 PM

                            I agree actually - I too prefer fresh pasta with cream/butter sauces....expcially ones with mushrooms and other funghi. I have made fresh pasta many times...but I still prefer dried strands over all though (especially when dried from fresh made homemade pasta).

                            1. re: fmed
                              LotusRapper Jul 22, 2011 11:54 PM

                              Lots of pancetta ...... sauteed in butter, then funghi, cream, pasta, generous gratings of romano ........

                              1. re: fmed
                                tdeane Jul 23, 2011 06:21 PM

                                The acid in tomato breaks down the fresh pasta and ruins the texture. I prefer fresh tagliatelle and fettuccine to dried but I prefer dried spaghetti and linguine.My favourite is fresh pappardelle with a mushroom ragu. Some people say fresh pasta in winter and dried pasta in summer.

                          2. re: grayelf
                            fmed Dec 20, 2009 08:56 AM

                            Oops. Misread your post. The chewiness in wheat comes from gluten. The chewiness from the rice noodle at maenam may come from glutinous rice. Despite the term "glutinous" it contains no gluten. This is just a theory - unconfirmed at this point.

              3. p
                Philx Dec 18, 2009 01:39 PM

                Tangthai on Broadway has a decent pad thai as well but I think Maenam is a little better

                1. fmed Dec 19, 2009 10:18 AM

                  kidtofu - in case you hadn't yet read the coverage on Maenam - Angus An (the chef there) used to cook under David Thompson at Nahm in London.

                  Another note on too-sweet, tomatoey, ketchup-y Pad Thai - it seems to be endemic in the North America, not just here.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: fmed
                    Sam Salmon Dec 19, 2009 10:39 AM

                    Thai Terrace on W Broadway has fried egg in their PT.


                    1. re: fmed
                      che_fan_le_mei_you Dec 19, 2009 07:36 PM

                      yes, i remember reading a substantial article in the toronto star a handful of years ago about ketchup-y pad thai in that city...so yeah, not just in vancouver.

                    2. t
                      trixbunny Jan 8, 2010 09:02 AM

                      Lhy Thai is a great little Thai Restaurnt about 30 min away from downtown Vancouver. The restaurant is run by a Thai family. The food is authentic and awesome! May want to call ahead to get their hours.

                      7357 Edmonds Street
                      Burnaby, BC V3N, Canada
                      (604) 526-8085

                      8 Replies
                      1. re: trixbunny
                        Sam Salmon Jan 8, 2010 09:22 AM

                        <<Tangthai on Broadway has a decent pad thai as well.....>>

                        Yes I tried some earlier in the week and it grew on me, no ketchup detectable.

                        1. re: Sam Salmon
                          Philx Jan 9, 2010 05:44 AM

                          Glad you liked it Sam. I recently had lunch at Talay Thai Restaurant 8369 Granville Street; this place has some promise. Decent curries,pad thai and some stir fry dishes about $7 for a lunch special; My judgement may have been affected by the dreamy waitress however http://www.talaythai.net

                          1. re: Philx
                            grayelf Jul 21, 2011 03:29 PM

                            Reviving an old thread as it is the only mention I could find on this board of Talay Thai. We went this week in search of more "authentic" Thai (sorry to use the A word). The pad thai was available with only tamarind sauce for the asking. The lovely and articulate server said they have problems selling pad thai with only tamarind because of the brownish colour. My only complaint was that it was a bit overdressed that is, too much tamarind sauce, but a minor quibble. There was fried egg and some of that brown squeaky pickled veg that reminds me of kanpyo -- maybe preserved turnip?

                            We also tried the yam woon sen. I would have liked a bit more layering to the flavour which was predominantly lime juice but the spice/heat level was good and high, also funny to be served it warm but it worked. Could have used a few more oddments like crunchy brown fungus too.

                            Went for the Penang curry with pork which we all found a tad sweet but otherwise done well. They do add bell peppers, sigh.

                            Dad wanted to try the tom yum talay so we did. It only comes in large, which yielded three smallish bowls. I only had a taste and found it too sweet as did the SO but it all disappeared :-).

                            Thought we'd try the goong kratiem as well. I'm quite fond of the garlic and black pepper combo. This one came with the seemingly requisite (here at least) broccoli and bits of carrot but was well executed and even had a wee bit extra of the sauce which I love. Speaking of sauce, their num prik nampla is very nice indeed, adding an extra kick to the pad thai above and beyond the roasted chile flakes.

                            Overall, this was a successful meal. We ordered exactly enough food for four people (plus one Thai iced tea, one Thai iced coffee and two Thai beer) and it came to $87 before tip so not stunning value but not bad. The portions are on the small side so if you had four big eaters you'd likely need more. Service was impeccable and fast without being intrusive, and the place is rather charming. It does have wooden benches with cushions which could be a bit thicker :-). I liked that they have signage in Thai and English, like the one in the loo... just tickled my fancy.

                            They had about half a dozen daily specials which looked interesting including one with ong choy. Next time.

                            1. re: grayelf
                              ahungrybear Jul 22, 2011 09:07 AM

                              :) happy that you like Talay Thai as well. They used to make their PT without ketcup without special request. But now I better mention it when I order PT again there!
                              My fav for PT now is at Maenam and Talay.

                              1938 W. 4th Ave, Vancouver, BC V6J 1M5, CA

                              1. re: grayelf
                                tdeane Jul 22, 2011 07:19 PM

                                Pad Thai looks good. I love a brown Pad Thai! The browner the better. That looks like the the Pad Thai from Lemongrass Grill in Park Slope, Brooklyn. One of my favourite Pad Thai's. Altough the Pad Thai from Lemongrass Grill was loaded with dried shrimp.

                                1. re: tdeane
                                  fmed Jul 22, 2011 09:15 PM

                                  Dried shrimp, eggs, peanuts, dried chilies, fish sauce....and tamarind are often MIA in the pad thai here....and fresh limes! Along with tamarind, pad thai owes its brightness to rough sliced small SE Asian limes.

                                  1. re: fmed
                                    JEheartbreak Jul 23, 2011 07:26 AM

                                    Bingo, fmed. I had the pad thai this past week from Bob Likes Thai Food and it was right on.

                                    1. re: fmed
                                      tdeane Jul 23, 2011 06:29 PM

                                      Yeah, plenty of egg! I love that. That's the key to my favourite thai noodle dish, pad si ew. I love that dish but have yet to have a good one in Vancouver. It should be made with gai lan, not broccoli but most places here make it with broccoli. And they add carrots too! Come on. Also, fresh broad rice noodles are key. I had a decent version at a restaurant recently but they used dried thin rice noodles.

                          2. t
                            Tinfoilhat Jul 22, 2011 08:12 PM

                            I have to confess that I just don't get Pad Thai. I know people that swear by it, but my only experience with the dish is in the restaurants in Vancouver and that has done nothing to endear it to me. What the heck am I missing?

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: Tinfoilhat
                              Sam Salmon Jul 22, 2011 08:28 PM

                              " What the heck am I missing?"


                              1. re: Tinfoilhat
                                lunchslut Jul 23, 2011 04:04 PM

                                My so had the same sentiment until he had tried the pad thai at Maenam...

                                1938 W. 4th Ave, Vancouver, BC V6J 1M5, CA

                                1. re: Tinfoilhat
                                  tdeane Jul 23, 2011 06:32 PM

                                  Most of the restaurants here make it too sweet and not savoury enough for my taste.

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