There is no ketchup in Pad Thai!

It’s not unusual to sit down in a new country, take the first bite of food and discover that it tastes completely different than we expected.

Unexpectedly massive and delicious Dosa!

It’s shocking to taste just how badly we Westerners have butchered a recipe and created a less tasty, more fattening version or the original.  Here are some of our more egregious errors:

* There is no duck sauce in China. In fact there is very little orange colored food in Asia – including sweet and sour anything. General Tso must have served in US military because he’s an American creation. We can all cry fat tears into our third chin because Chinese food as we know it was created for us by Mao Zedong in a long tail effort to eliminate the US  imperialist enemy.

* There is more than BBQ meat in Korea. The cuisine also includes soup, rice, and even the occasional Chinese cabbage. Surprisingly there is one key ingredient that we don’t use in the US. Korean food includes a not un-substantial amount of added flavor from blood. Ox blood, duck blood, blood-blood.  In America we generally don’t use blood as a topping.

* And now I have discovered that Pad Thai is not made with ketchup and peanut butter. Somehow I always knew that 1,068 people that reviewed Osha Thai Noodle were as dumb as they look when they dine on a plate of neon orange, sugary sweet $15 pad thai and sip their overpriced ‘Hott Pink’ soju martini. PS Assholes: Soju is Korean, go drink it and dine on ox blood soup.

This is how you drink Soju in the ROK.


Way back in the glory days of 2006 when I started to enjoy cooking, I decided that I would master the art of Thai food. I failed miserably, notably because I used half a jar of crunchy peanut butter and ended up with peanut noodle soup. But now thanks to the help of the best cooking school in Chiang Mai, I have  learned the secret to Pad Thai!

A Lot of Thai's van

Yui and her husband picked me up in her VW van and we spent an entire day cooking my favorite Thai food. We shopped, chopped, and stir fried until the rain came pouring into our outdoor kitchen. Yui and her family are awesome! Her daughter threw a tantrum in her tutu and her son ate my spring rolls. It actually felt like I was cooking in a real kitchen for a real family.

But beyond the family atmosphere, Yui is also one fantastic teacher. Generally speaking, I am not a consummate stir fry queen, (I’m more of a soup and sauces kind of girl). To be honest woks kind of scare me. But I overcame my fear of lid-less cookware and since we had to use a Wok for all of the 5 dishes, I think I may have actually learned how to mitigate a smoking, burning stove top.

Hint: Vegetable oil is your friend. Keep that Wok well oiled!

Master Chef Kristine

So what you’re really asking is, if peanut butter and ketchup don’t make an appearance in Pad Thai, what makes it orange?  Let me share the secret – Tamarind Sauce!

Here is Yui’s recipe (it’s also in her cookbook and on her website). If you happen to be in Chiang Mai, stop by and learn how to make the real thing.  Yui is awesome and the class was a blast.

Pad Thai - I made this!

Yui’s Pad Thai from A Lot of Thai cooking school in Chiang Mai

3 tbsp cooking oil

1/4 Tofu (cut into itty bitty pieces)

1 tbsp Shallot – chopped

1 tbsp Garlic- chopped

50 g Minced Pork (Yes! Mince it! The pork should be in tiny pieces)

1 tbsp Fish sauce

1 tbsp Light soy sauce (Hint: light does not mean less salty it means light in color)**

2 tbsp Tamarind paste

1 1/2 tbsp Palm sugar (Palm sugar is nutty and less sweet.  This may be the place where we go wrong in the US)

200 g Fresh narrow rice noodles -or- 150 g  Dried rice noodles

4-6 tbsp water or chicken stock

100 g Bean sprouts

1/2 cup Chinese chive (cut diagonally into bite sized pieces)

2 tbsp Ground Roasted peanuts

Optional and delicious

1 tbsp dried shrimp

1 tbsp sweet turnip


If using  dried noodles, place them in water and let them soak until they’re almost bite-able. They will soften more during cooking.

Fry tofu in 2 tbsp of hot oil over medium heat.

Cooking school hint: Add the oil, tofu at the same time and then turn on the heat.

When the tofu starts of change color add garlic and shallots

When your kitchen begins to smell of delicious garlic and shallots, add pork and turnip. Cook for about one minute.

Cooking school hint: Make some room in the wok.  Push all the cooked ingredients to the top of your wok and make room for the noodles.

Add the noodles and then immediately add water. Cook until noodles are soft.

Cooking school hint: Email me if you want noodles that aren’t sticky.  This is Yui’s huge secret and I don’t want to put it on the ‘net!

When the noodles are soft, mix all the noodle with the other ingredients in the wok.

Add fish sauce, soy sauce, tamarind puree and palm sugar.  Cook for about one minute.

Add bean sprouts and cook until soft-ish, then add the Chinese chive.

When the Chinese chive turns bright green, move all the ingredients over to the side of the wok.

Add 1 tbsp cooking oil and cook the egg.  When the egg is nearly cooked (but still a little runny), mix in the noodles once again.

Turn off the heat and add roasted peanuts.

Garnish with a lime, cabbage and bean sprints

To Serve

At this point your job as a chef is done, it’s all up to the people eating your food to customize their Pad Thai.  Every meal in Thailand is served with the following accompaniments: chili flakes, sugar, salt, pepper, chili sauce and two varieties of fish sauce.

The Pad Thai that you just whipped up is probably less spicy, less sugary, less salty, less whatever than you expected. But it should be.  Let your guests add their preferred amount of heat or sweet.  That’s how it’s done!

Thanks Yui!

A lot of Thai and an Urban Hiker

** If you’re in the States, you may want to try Aloha light soy sauce or Pearl River Bridge light soy sauce.  Or if you really want to discuss light and dark soy sauces, join the intense conversation over at Chowhound! There is something for everyone on the internets.

9 thoughts on “There is no ketchup in Pad Thai!

  1. Your pad thai looks AMAZING, wow!  But your cooking lesson wasn’t nearly as interesting as the Vegan Black Metal Chef!

    (Your story about being LEFT ON THE SIDE OF THE MEKONG RIVER, on the other hand… holy cow, what a story!!  Glad your trip is going so well!)

    1. haha, yes, that’s a hard food prep to match – both from a recipe quality standpoint and from that kicks ass standpoint!

  2. As a side note, not only is duck sauce an American creation, it is also an East Coast phenomenon.

    I had never seen duck sauce until I moved to Boston, where Chinese restaurants also referred to potstickers as “Peking Ravioli” and had a strange dish called Crab Rangoon (fried wonton skins stuffed with cream cheese) that was served with duck sauce.

    1. Chris,
      When I moved to the west coast I COULD NOT understand why I was given vinegar with my dumplings.  Where was the duck sauce?!   These days I can’t imagine eating my jiaozi without rice vinegar.   Yum….

    2. Ha, add that to my list of American creations I thought were really Chinese.. Like Fortune Cookies!!! Which I also hear were a west coast invention.

  3. How exactly did we westerners screw up Pad Thai?  Every Thai restaurant that has served me ketchup Pad Thai (about 13 of them out of the 17 places I’ve tried) has been owned and operated by 1st and 2nd generation Thais.  Amazing that somehow, the dirty American is at fault.

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