Drunken noodles, or Pad Kee Mao is a popular stir fry noodle dish served in Thailand. It’s one of our favorite quick weeknight meal because you can easily change out the protein and vegetables with whatever you have on hand, so it never gets boring.

Similar to chow fun, pad kee mao is made of flat rice noodles and a dark brown sauce. What makes it special is the savory stir fry sauce mixed with holy basil and colorful vegetables. It gives it a special aroma and flavor that you can’t find in other dishes.

Contrary to the name, there is no alcohol involved in making this, although it pairs nicely with a cold beer or a glass of wine.

Tofu and Mushroom Pad Kee Mao
Tofu and mushroom pad kee mao

Stir frying tips

Stir frying should be relatively easy and only take a couple minutes to cook your food. Do what you need to be prepared to make it a seamless and fun experience. Here are some tips to help your stir-frying journey.

Tip #1: If you’re not used to lifting iron (literally), use a light carbon steel wok so you won’t struggle like I did on my early woking days. I used a heavier wok, so I couldn’t move very fast until I learned my lesson and upgraded my wok.

If you are ready to buy a new wok, I like using CraftWok’s carbon steel wok. After you properly season it, super easy to clean up. It’s a good economic choice and I have not had any problems with mine. I’ve also gifted one to my mother in law and she loves hers. I also swear by these accessories to toss the food.

Tip #2: The second thing is you need to do a little preparation beforehand. I advise you chop up the ingredients in advance, that way you don’t feel rushed and you can throw the ingredients together in a confident way, without scrambling around.

Tip #3: When stir frying, work on high heat (I like medium-high), and add the ingredients that take the longest to cook first (ie the meat, then the dense, dark green veggies), then finishing off with the rice noodles.

Tip #4 (bonus): If you achieve the “wok hei” aka the breath of the wok, you get a nice char on your veggies and noodles. This will give it a bonus tasty texture. Not a necessity, but something fun to aim towards.

Special ingredient: Holy basil

I like this dish for the distinct spicy pepperiness of holy basil. You can find it at your local Asian market. Otherwise, substitute with Thai basil. If no Asian basils exist around you, you can use basil or no basil at all.

Protein choice

I have made this with beef, tofu, mushrooms, and chicken. Depending on the protein you use, your dish may taste slightly different from the flavors released from the protein. So make sure you make a good choice.

The version I’m showing is with chicken and tofu, which gives a balance to the sweet savoriness of the sauce. It doesn’t compete with the flavor of the stir fried noodles.

You can also make it vegetarian by using tofu and mushroom as the protein source. My toddler loves it with chopped up Portobello mushrooms. Check out my recommendations for vegetarian sauce ingredients.

Chicken Tofu and Mushroom Pad Kee Mao
This pad kee mao is made with chicken. The kids gobbled it up.

Vegetable choice

At restaurants, I’ve seen this dish made with so many different types of vegetables. I think that’s why I never could pin down a good description of it. Each restaurant served it differently. I commonly see red bell peppers and basil, so those are considered go-to’s to me.

Pad kee mao shines as one of my favorite stir fry noodle recipes because it still tastes delicious even if you pack it with a lot of different vegetables. Bell peppers, baby corn, Chinese broccoli, you name it. It’s my excuse to load this dish with a ton of vegetables. Here are some ideas in the order of when to to add it to the wok (add the first items first):

  • Chinese broccoli
  • Broccoli
  • Baby corn
  • Bell peppers
  • Mushrooms (Portabello, white bella, etc.)
  • Tomatoes

Stir fry cooks the outside super fast, making it crispy on the outside and tender inside. The nutrients are retained more this way.

Tip: I usually add 1/2 a cup of sliced vegetables for whichever variety I like (for example 1/2 cup of bell peppers with 1/2 cup of mushrooms). The more veggies you add, the more sauce you’ll need to evenly coat it.

Pro Tip: If you leave the vegetables on a thin layer touching the wok as you add it, in a couple seconds, you can get a nice char to it.

What oil should I use?

The fast stir frying method means you don’t need to use a lot of oil, making it more healthy than other fast food alternatives.

My favorite choices are rice bran oil and avocado oil for their high smoke points as well as the more nutritious options. You only need a little bit of oil for this dish.

Pad kee mao’s best tasting secret

There are two secrets to this dish. The first secret is in the rice noodle preparation, then the sauce ratios.

When I was younger, my mom would make my sister and I hand peel each noodle strand to separate them. I didn’t understand the importance of that until I stir fried blocks of noodles out of laziness. The flavor doesn’t coat, and you basically feel like you’re eating a chunk of stale rice. Separating the rice strands is worth the time because you get silk smooth, chewy rice noodles as a result. This really was a labor of love.

I’ve looked far and wide for easy way to make delicious rice noodles. I’ve tried steaming them, microwaving them, quick blanching them, slow blanching. Sadly, the only way is to separate each strand by hand. This allows the sauce to coat each strand, infusing it with flavor. So if you have the patience, do it and you will be rewarded. Otherwise, you’ll have to settle for second best.

Some people like their pad kee mao super saucy, some like it completely absorbed by the ingredients. I like it more saucy, but I didn’t want to overwhelm the dish with sodium because my toddler would be eating with us, so I made extra sauce, didn’t use it all during the stir fry, and just added more as needed.

What to serve it with

Serve this by itself, or alongside other awesome Asian dishes like Tofu Pad Thai and Hibachi Style Chicken Fried Rice.

To prepare the fresh rice noodles

Most fresh rice noodles are bought in store, in the refrigerated section. Buy 16 oz, it should be good enough to feed 4 people. You can add more or less noodles to your liking. I use a little less because I like my dish with a lot of vegetables.

Cut the noodles into strips, to the shape you like. I like thick noodles, so I cut them at 3/4ths inch thick, long ways. Some of them will naturally break apart when you stir fry, but I like to try to keep it in long strips as long as possible.

Microwave the noodles in 30 second instruments. Check to see if you can separate the noodles. Be careful because it will be hot. If it still feels cold/frozen, microwave for another 30 seconds. The noodles should be a little soft and easy to separate.

Separate all the noodle strands. Maybe play some Netflix or Youtube in the background.

To prepare the Stir Fry Sauce

The sauce is super easy. Double up if you want to store and save for next time. It will keep well for 2-4 weeks refrigerated in a sterilized airtight container.

Stir Fry Sauce

1/4 cup oyster sauce (Panda brand)
2 teaspoons light soy sauce (Kikkoman)
2 teaspoons dark soy sauce (Lee Kum Kee)
1 teaspoon fish sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar

Mix everything together and set aside. You will be adding these by the spoonful to your stir fry.

The recipe

Ingredients

1/4 cup of Stir Fry Sauce (above). More to taste.
1 pound meat, marinated in 1 tablespoon of soy sauce for 10-20 minutes. I used chicken breast.
1 tablespoon avocado oil (or any healthy vegetable oil)
2 white parts of green onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 to 5 fresh Thai chili peppers, chopped, optional for heat
4 stalks Chinese broccoli (or dark leafy green, thin sliced at an angle)
1/2 cup portabello mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup firm tofu pressed to remove juice, cut into cubes
12 ounces (about 340 grams) fresh thick rice noodles, cut into 1/2 or 3/4 inch strips
1/4 cup holy basil, or Thai basil, packed

Instructions

  1. Make the stirfry sauce by combining the sauce ingredients in a small bowl. Mix well then set aside.
  2. Marinate the protein with the dark soy sauce in a medium-sized bowl. Set aside.
  3. Prepare the fresh rice noodle sheets.
  4. Heat the oil in a wok or large nonstick pan over medium-high heat until hot. Add the garlic, chilis, and white parts of green onion and stir fry for 30 seconds, or until fragrant.
  5. On medium heat, add the protein on a flat layer. Let it cook for 2 minutes, then stir fry it in the heat.
  6. Add the Chinese broccoli, stir fry, then add the other vegetables. Cook and stir until the protein (meat) is cooked.
  7. Add the noodles in a flat layer. and pour in the sauce in a circular motion to coat the layer of noodles. Stir fry until the noodles have absorbed the sauce and has a soft texture. Add the basil, turn off the heat, and stir the ingredients. Serve.
  8. If you made extra, add more stir fry sauce to your liking, if you your dish prefer to be saucy.
  9. Turn off the heat, add the basil, and stir the ingredients for another 30 seconds. Serve.

Thai Drunken Noodles (Pad Kee Mao)

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Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Servings 4 plates
Calories 698
Thai drunken noodles, or pad kee mao, is a savory stir fry rice noodle dish featuring holy basil and colorful vegetables. Great vegetarian weeknight dish.

Equipment

Ingredients

Stir Fry Sauce

  • ΒΌ cup oyster sauce (Panda brand)
  • 2 teaspoons light soy sauce (Kikkoman)
  • 2 teaspoons dark soy sauce (Lee Kum Kee)
  • 1 teaspoon fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar

Stir Fry Ingredients

  • 1 pound meat (marinated in 1 tablespoon of soy sauce for 10-20 minutes.)
  • 1 tablespoon avocado oil (or any healthy vegetable oil)
  • 2 white parts of green onion (chopped)
  • 2 cloves garlic (minced)
  • 3 to 5 fresh Thai chili peppers (chopped, optional for heat)
  • 4 stalks Chinese broccoli (or dark leafy green, thin sliced at an angle)
  • Β½ cup portebello mushrooms (sliced)
  • Β½ cup firm tofu, pressed to remove juice (cut into cubes)
  • 12 ounces fresh thick rice noodles, cut into 1/2 or 3/4 inch strips ( about 340 grams)
  • ΒΌ cup holy basil, or Thai basil (packed)

Instructions 

  • Make the Stir Fry Sauce: Combine the sauce ingredients in a small bowl. Mix well then set aside.
  • Marinate the protein with the dark soy sauce in a medium-sized bowl. Set aside.
  • Prepare the fresh rice noodle sheets. Microwave in 30 second increments until it becomes semi-soft, then separate the noodles.
  • Heat the oil in a wok or large nonstick pan over medium-high heat until hot. Add the garlic, white parts of green onion, and optional chilis, Stir fry for 30 seconds.
  • On medium heat, add the protein on a flat layer. Let it cook for 2 minutes, then stir fry for an additional 1-2 minutes to cook the meat a little more.
  • Add the Chinese broccoli, stir fry to mix, then add the other vegetables. Add a couple tablespoons of the sauce to start to coat the vegetables and meat. Cook and stir until the protein is cooked. This should take 1-2 minutes. (Pro tip: Remember 165 degrees Fahrenheit is fully cooked for most meat protein, less for fish and vegetables).
  • Add the noodles in a flat layer on top of the ingredients in the wok and pour in the remainder of the sauce in a circular motion to coat the layer of noodles. Gently stir fry until the noodles have absorbed the sauce and has a soft texture. Don’t be too rough with it this time or you’ll break the noodles. This part should take no more than 1-2 minutes, depending on how soft your noodles already are. Pro tip: You can get wok hei if you turn the heat up high and let the noodles sit directly on the wok to give it a little smoky taste. Totally optional.
  • If you made extra, add more stir fry sauce to your liking, if you your dish prefer to be saucy.
  • Turn off the heat, add the basil, and stir the ingredients for another 30 seconds. Serve.
Author: denthu
Calories: 698kcal
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Asian
Keyword: stir fry

Nutrition

Serving: 1 plate | Calories: 698kcal | Carbohydrates: 87g | Protein: 35g | Fat: 24g | Saturated Fat: 6g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 6g | Monounsaturated Fat: 10g | Trans Fat: 0.1g | Cholesterol: 85mg | Sodium: 1077mg | Potassium: 757mg | Fiber: 8g | Sugar: 7g | Vitamin A: 6085IU | Vitamin C: 48mg | Calcium: 325mg | Iron: 7mg

FAQS

Alcohol content

I had held off on trying this dish for years because I thought it was made with alcohol. When I tried it, it was so exciting and tasty, I didn’t mind if there was alcohol because it was just so good. For my recipe, there is no alcohol needed, so that’s even better!

Is this dish vegetarian friendly?

You can make it vegetarian by using a vegetarian fish sauce (Ocean Halo or Tofuna’s vegan Fysh sauce) and vegetarian oyster sauce like Wa Ja Shan. Use tofu and mushroom for protein.

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