Pad Thai

4.79 from 51 votes
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This easy Pad thai recipe combines stir-fried rice noodles tossed in a sweet and tangy sauce with succulent shrimp. Make this popular restaurant-quality dish in under 30 minutes!

Pad Thai noodles with shrimp cooking in a wok.

When our family dines at our local Thai restaurant, a chicken or shrimp pad thai is always something we order. Southeast Asian cuisine is known for bold, exotic flavors, so learning to make this dish at home is an easy way to add variety to your weekly meal rotation. I love to make a little extra and have leftovers for the next day.

The combination of tender wok-fired rice noodles coated in a delicious savory sauce makes for an incredible dish. Scrambled eggs add protein, but I like to add shrimp to enhance the taste experience. Of course, it’s easy to substitute chicken, pork, or beef.

What is Pad Thai?

The word “pad” translates to “fried”; therefore, Pad thai is a stir-fry of noodles. They are prepared with tender rice noodles, proteins like shrimp, chicken, pork, beef, firm tofu, and eggs, and fresh vegetables like beans and green onions. The dish comes together tossed in a delectable sweet and tangy sauce.

It’s a wildly popular Thai street food that has become an iconic dish in restaurants worldwide.

Rice noodle selection

When shopping, look for thick dried rice noodles sold as “stir fry” rice noodles, linguine cut, or flat rice noodles. Avoid the thin spaghetti, or angel hair-shaped noodles called rice vermicelli, as they break apart easily and become too sticky when stir-fired. Those are much better in a Vietnamese bun or fresh spring rolls.

Soak the rice noodles

Rice noodles soaking in a pot of water.
Step 1. Soften the rice noodles

The first step is to soak the rice noodles in lukewarm, tepid water, about 80 to 90°F (27 to 32°C). This process is crucial to allow the rice flour to soak up water and become pliable but still have some rigidity. You don’t want them overly soft, or they’ll become too sticky during stir-frying.

If they clump together after soaking, rinse under cold water and break them apart with your fingers. Once the noodles are stir-fried, they should be tender with a slight al dente texture.

How to make Pad Thai sauce

I use a combination of bold flavors such as fish sauce, palm sugar, lime juice, rice vinegar, and tamarind paste. These ingredients give a strong tanginess and intense umami notes but with some sweetness to balance everything. Readers have said that they love the sauce so much they make double the batch for more coating on the noodles. 

There are a few ingredients you may not have tried before, but they are fantastic if you want to make other kinds of Thai food. Look for palm sugar and tamarind paste at Asian markets or online if you can’t find them at your local market.

What is tamarind paste?

Tamarind paste also called concentrate, is a very thick, sticky, and tart-flavored puree made from the dried fruit pods of the tamarind tree. It has a sour taste and is slightly citrusy and smokey with a hint of caramel. It’s sold in jars or plastic containers and can be added directly to dishes.

The intensity varies by brand, so taste and adjust the amounts. If you purchase tamarind pulp, it needs to be soaked in boiling water, then pushed through a sieve to remove the seeds and tough fibers.

Fry the egg

Cooking an egg in a wok with hot oil and aromatic.
Step 3. Cook the eggs

Like my fried rice recipe, a whole egg gets scrambled to add richness. The egg gets fried in garlic-infused oil. I don’t whisk it beforehand because the yolk gets quickly pierced and broken down with the spoon. I enjoy the variation of some pieces of white remaining. If you like a more consistent texture, you can whisk it before adding it in. 

Stir-fry the shrimp

Shrimp and scrambled eggs cooking in a wok.
Step 4. Cook the shrimp

I use large, 16/20 count shrimp. You can use smaller sizes but reduce the cooking time. The crustaceans only require about one minute until it turns pink. This protein cooks quickly and will continue to be heated as the other ingredients are added to the wok.

To switch up the protein, chicken, beef, pork, tofu, or a combo of more than one are tasty swaps.

Fry the rice noodles and pad thai sauce

Pad Thai sauce being poured over softened rice noodles.
Step 5. Add the noodles and sauce

Add the soaked noodles to the wok, and stir-fry for a few minutes until it softens and becomes pliable. Once the noodles are ready, pour in the sauce. Once added, it will create a nice coating on the surface.

Toss the noodles with paprika

Tongs tossing paprika together with pad thai noodles.
Step 6. Toss with paprika

The characteristic reddish-golden hue would generally come from spicy Thai chili paste. However, this recipe has been tamed for a more western palate. Feel free to add more hot spices to your liking!

I use sweet paprika towards the end of cooking to transfer the red pigment to the noodles. It makes them eye-catching and vibrant in color.

Add the garnish

Sliced green onions are tossed in and wilt in the noodles’ heat to deliver a delicate onion flavor and pop of color. Bean sprouts add a refreshing crispness to the noodles. They are very fragile, and we want to retain the crunchy texture, so it’s added on the top right before serving. 

Chopped peanuts add the final crunch to the dish. I like serving with lime wedges on the side so guests can squeeze fresh juice on top. The acidity enhances the flavor without being overpowering.

Serve this with

Frequently asked questions

Is Pad Thai gluten-free?

Yes! It’s made with rice noodles, which contain no gluten. However, purchase a gluten-free fish sauce, as some brands may have allergen traces. Be careful when eating this dish from restaurants, and ask the servers when ordering.

What is Pad Thai sauce made of?

Fish sauce, lime juice, rice vinegar, palm sugar, and tamarind paste. This combination delivers intense sweet, tangy, and savory flavors, characteristic of Thai cuisine.

What is palm sugar?

A sweetener made from the sap of flower buds from a coconut palm tree or other varieties. It’s produced similarly to maple syrup, although it’s sold as a solid brick, cake, or liquid. It has a complex caramel taste with a hint of smokiness. It’s not as sweet as granulated or brown sugar because it contains less glucose, therefore, has a lower glycemic index. It’s often used in Southeast Asian cuisine.

Shrimp pad thai with peanuts and green onions.
Step 7. Garnish and serve

Recipe Science

The importance of soaking the rice noodles

Don’t boil rice noodles like pasta, or they become a sticky mass; instead, soak them in lukewarm water until just pliable. They will continue to soften when you add them to the wok and stir-fry. If overcooked, they will completely absorb the sauce instead of sticking to the outside. The result is less flavor impact and a more mushy texture.

Pad Thai

A delicious Pad Thai stir-fried and tossed in a flavorful sauce with shrimp, but chicken, beef, tofu or a combination works well with this noodle dish.
4.79 from 51 votes
Prep Time15 minutes
Cook Time10 minutes
Total Time25 minutes
Servings 4 servings
Course Entree
Cuisine Thai

Ingredients 
 

  • 14 ounces dried rice noodles
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 4 ½ teaspoons tamarind paste
  • 2 tablespoons palm sugar
  • 1 ½ teaspoons lime juice
  • 1 ½ teaspoons rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 large egg
  • 4 ounces shrimp, 16/20 count, peeled and deveined
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • cup green onions, 2-inches long
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted roasted peanuts, chopped
  • ½ cup bean sprouts
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges

Instructions 

  • Soften the Rice Noodles – Heat a large pot of water until it becomes lukewarm, about 80 to 90°F (27 to 32°C), then turn off the heat. Add the rice noodles and soak until flexible yet solid but not completely cooked, about 5 to 10 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water.
  • Make the Sauce – In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the fish sauce, tamarind paste, palm sugar, lime juice, and rice vinegar. Set aside.
  • Cook the Eggs – Heat a wok or large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add oil. Once hot, add the garlic and stir for 15 seconds. Add the egg and quickly stir to break the yolk. Mix to scramble and break into smaller pieces. The egg should be slightly wet and uncooked before adding the shrimp.
  • Cook the Shrimp – Add the shrimp and mix. Cook until they just turn pink and the egg fully scrambles, about 1 minute.
  • Add the Noodles and Sauce – Add the softened noodles, stir to combine, and cook for 2 minutes. Add the sauce and stir to combine. Turn off the heat.
  • Toss with Paprika – Add the paprika and toss until the noodles turn slightly red in color. Add the green onions and allow them to wilt slightly.
  • Garnish and Serve – Transfer to a serving plate, top with bean sprouts and chopped peanuts, and serve with lime wedges.

Recipe Video

YouTube video

Notes

  • Palm Sugar Substitutes: Brown sugar, granulated sugar, coconut sugar, honey or pure maple syrup.
  • Tamarind Paste Substitutes: Fruit jam, preserves, or marmalade like guava, strawberry, or orange. Tangy pomegranate molasses syrup. Dried fruit like apricots, dates, raisins, pineapples, prunes that have been soaked in warm water, drained and pureed into a paste. Balance the taste with lime juice and rice vinegar as needed.
  • Saucier Noodles: Double the sauce for more of a coating on the noodles.
  • Spicier Sauce: Use some hot paprika (reducing the amount of sweet paprika), sambal oelek, or Thai chili paste. Start with ¼ teaspoon and increase to desired spice level.
  • More Protein: Use 8 ounces of shrimp instead of 4 ounces for a heartier dish.

Nutrition Facts

Serves: 4 servings
Calories 521kcal (26%)Carbohydrates 96g (32%)Protein 12g (24%)Fat 9g (14%)Saturated Fat 6g (30%)Cholesterol 117mg (39%)Sodium 1141mg (48%)Potassium 193mg (6%)Fiber 2g (8%)Sugar 9g (10%)Vitamin A 315IU (6%)Vitamin C 8.7mg (11%)Calcium 81mg (8%)Iron 2.1mg (12%)

Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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26 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Andy says

    Great tip! That, and making sure that the noodles were already al dente when we started the cold water rinse, did the trick. Now a family favorite. Thanks!

  2. Andy says

    Jessica, I love all your recipes (your Chicken Marsala was a gold star for us last week) and was looking forward to this one. I had made Pad Thai previously and always had problems with the noodles getting sticky after being in the stir fry. I added some oil and that helped, but what do you do to avoid them getting sticky while the dish is finishing in the wok? Thanks and keep up the great recipes!

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Great question! Since the starches from the rice are sticky, the noodles like to stay together after soaking. I found that after rinsing with cold water once, right before you add it to the wok, rinse it again and separate the noodle with your hands under the water. Shake of the excess water and stir fry. Let me know if that works for you.

  3. Ed Mullin says

    How much Thai chili paste would you add to give it some heat? We usually get a medium level of heat when we order it out.

    Thanks

  4. erose says

    The taste was excellent; however, the proportions were way off for me. I was immediately alarmed when I opened a package of noodles and realized the recipe called for 14 oz! and 4 oz of shrimp. I cut the pasta amount to about 9 oz and used a lb of shrimp. Doubled the sauce amount. I had leftovers for lunch and I now have 1 shrimp left and a bunch of pasta. I also used a ton of bean sprouts while chowing down. I will amend the recipe and pass it along to my cooking buddies. Will continue to follow your offerings factoring in my many years of cooking experience. Oh! I am going to try velveting the shrimp.

  5. Maria Terry says

    I just made a version of this recipe in my new carbon steel wok. I stuck with your Pad Thai sauce recipe. Used chicken, added Mung bean sprouts, bok choy, carrots the other ingredients in your recipe. Had to use honey and marmalade since I didn’t have Palm Sugar or Tamarind Paste. The sauce was perfect. I think this will be my basic stir fry recipe going forward because the flavor is that goo. Another winner Jessica! You have become my first go to when searching for new or better recipes.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Great job Maria! Great to hear that the sauce is so versatile and that you are rocking your wok!

  6. Maria Terry says

    Just in time for my new and newly seasoned carbon steel wok! I’m going to make this dish very soon! Looks delicious.

  7. Lizanne says

    Hi. I see recipes where you can add beef, pork, etc. to make it a combination. Is that difficult and if not when do you add the extra meat. Thank you for a wonderful recipe, I can’t wait to make/eat it.

  8. Paige says

    This was great! I subbed the bean sprouts bc I’m pregnant and shouldn’t have them. Instead I used julienne sliced sugar snap peas, carrots, and onion and added them in with the shrimp. Also we love spice so I used a healthy amount of sambal oelek instead of paprika! The only issue that I had was with the tamarind paste- the block I bought had seeds and pulp in it, and I was inexperienced how to use it- if this happens to you, you need to dissolve that block in water and either strain it through a sieve or use your hands to squeeze out the pulp and seeds to remove it from the flesh… I added my paste straight into my sauce, but had to microwave it and then push it through a sieve with a spoon for a while- I wouldn’t recommend doing it that way it was definitely not ideal. Regardless, now that I’m schooled in tamarind & have perfected my veg- I’ll be making this pad Thai often! Bookmarked this recipe thank you!

  9. Bonnie says

    I wonder if your protein aka shrimp is wrong. 4oz of16/20 shrimp would yield 1 shrimp per person. I’m making this recipe tonight. Sooooo excited

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Bonnie- Thanks for your comment! I had about 5-6 shrimp, but if you want more, please go ahead and double the amount 🙂

  10. Anne says

    This recipe for pad Thai is awesome. I did double the sauce and used Smokey hot Spanish paprika. Hope you will try it.

    • Surati Ivey says

      Jessica, This recipe looks great . I’ll make this weekend. I have made Pad Thai a few times, and there’s always been an issue with the noodles being too soft. So I like your idea of simply soaking them, and not cooking them,before putting the whole dish together in the wok. One question tho’ ; Is the rice vinegar you are calling for the sweetened kind or the unsweetened kind ?

      • Jessica Gavin says

        Hi Surati- I learned the soaking of the noodles in culinary school, works great! You can use sweetened or unsweetened rice vinegar. If you use unsweetened taste the sauce and add a little more palm sugar or granulated sugar if needed.