Pad kee mao ผัดขี้เมา or drunken noodles is stir fried noodles with holy basil and lots of chilies. It's a cult-favourite Thai street food. The combination of chewy fresh rice noodles, the epic savoury sauce, and the fragrance of holy basil ... there is nothing quite like it and it never gets old.
In this recipe I share 7 secrets to making the perfect, authentic pad kee mao, guaranteed to make this better than take out; and once the prep is done it takes literally 3 minutes to make each portion. You can see the video in the recipe card where I show the cooking in real time!
Here are all the ingredients for drunken noodles. You can change up the vegetables and I love using carrot and Chinese broccoli, though traditionally baby corn, long beans, and straw mushrooms are often added.
- Golden Mountain Sauce
- Oyster sauce
- Fish sauce
- Soy sauce
- Chinese broccoli
- Young peppercorns
- Fingerroot (grachai)
- Holy basil or regular basil
- Thai chilies.
- Protein of your choice, I'm using shrimp.
- Fresh rice noodles (ho fun noodles)
- Large, mild chilies such as spur chilies, anaheim peppers or red bell pepper.
Why I use 2 types of chilies in this recipe
Pad kee mao uses a lot of chilies, so the chili flavour, not just the heat, is part of the flavour profile. If we only used the fiery Thai chilies, we can only add a few before it becomes too spicy, and not enough chili flavour would come through. So we also use the milder chilies to add more chili flavour without the heat.
In Thailand, prik chee fa, or spur chilies are used, but any mild red pepper such as anaheim peppers or even red bell pepper would work in a pinch.
How to Make Authentic Drunken Noodles
Be sure to check out the detailed recipe and full video tutorial in the recipe card below to ensure success - but here's a bird's eye view of what you'll need to do.
- Make a rough paste with chilies and garlic.
- Cook off the protein and remove from the pan.
- Sauté the chili garlic paste.
- Add gai lan stems, carrots, grachai and young peppercorns.
- Add the noodles, the sauce, and sugar and toss until the sauce has been absorbed.
- Let noodles sit and char slightly before tossing. Then repeat the charring a few times.
- Add gai lan leaves and holy basil.
- All done!
7 Secrets to Epic Pad Kee Mao
It is not hard to make a decent plate of drunken noodles, but an epic one? Not so simple. There are a few things you need to know:
- Do not eyeball the ingredients. Weigh the noodles, and measure all sauce ingredients. There are times when winging it is okay, and using your cook's intuition is romantic. But this is not one of those times. The noodle-to-sauce ratio is extremely important, and there's nothing more disappointing than pad kee mao that's bland, or worse, too salty (which cannot be fixed afterward).
- Make a chili and garlic paste. One of the great flavours of drunken noodles come from the garlic and chilies. Adding chopped garlic and chilies can only get you so far, but pounding them into a paste in a mortar allows for more flavour to come out and infuse into the whole dish. Also, adding extra peppers that are not spicy gives more chili flavour without it becoming too spicy.
- Cook 1 portion at a time. This is the secret to well-charred noodles that are not broken or soggy. Crowding the pan traps too much moisture and causes you to stir more which breaks the noodles. It seems tedious but watch the video below and you will see that once the prep is done, each batch literally takes 3 minutes to cook!
- Cook the protein separately, and do a "mini brine". By cooking off the protein first and adding it back in at the end you can control exactly how long it cooks, ensuring perfectly cooked protein every time. Good news is you do not have to cook the protein 1 portion at a time, just cook it all off together in the beginning. Also, if using chicken, pork, or beef, marinate it with seasoning plus a little extra water, like a mini brine, to get extra juicy meat.
- Allow noodles to char. Once noodles are mixed with the sauce, allow them to sit and "grill" a bit on the hot pan. This creates a little browning, a little smokiness, and a little extra flavour that makes all the difference.
- Use fresh noodles. Yes, dry rice noodles exist; and they will work, but it is not the same and not nearly as good as fresh. Cooked previously-dried rice noodles do not yield the same soft and springy texture of fresh noodles, in the same way that cooked dried pasta is not the same as fresh pasta. I understand you gotta use what you have, but if you can, it's worth either looking around for them or making them yourself.
- Use a non-stick or well-seasoned wok. These fresh rice noodles are notoriously sticky. So it's important you use either a nonstick wok (even a 12-inch skillet will do) or a well-seasoned wok.
ALSO IMPORTANT: Make sure you watch the video in the recipe card below! You'll see me cooking pad kee mao in REAL TIME with no cuts. It'll show you how it's done in only 3 minutes, give you an idea of how the process goes and how to organize your prep, and I promise it'll be so helpful for when you cook!
Frequently Asked Questions
You can make them using my recipe here! You can also use dried wide rice noodles, but the results are not nearly as good.
Yes! Anything works, or even omit the protein altogether. If using chicken, pork, or beef though, I would marinate them following the instructions in the recipe card. That simple marinade yields wonderfully tender meat with the extra bit of water that gets absorbed into the meat.
You can use vegetarian stir-fry sauce instead of oyster sauce, and use soy sauce instead of fish sauce. You can also do a simplified version and use 2 parts soy sauce to 1 part Golden Mountain Seasoning Sauce.
A 12-inch non-stick skillet will work, it's just a lot easier to toss things in a wok.
Anything! This sauce is actually my Universal Stir-Fry Sauce and it's good in any stir-fries, fried rice, as a marinade, or in another fried noodle dish.
Other Popular Noodle Dishes
Pad Kee Mao - Drunken Noodles
- 1 lb fresh wide rice noodles, (see note 1)
- 4-5 cloves garlic
- 1-3 Thai chilies, or to taste
- 1 spur chili, or ⅛ red bell pepper, chopped
- 8 oz protein of your choice, (see note 2)
- 2 oz carrots , cut in thin sticks
- 2.8 oz Chinese broccoli, (see note 3)
- 2 Tbsp julienned grachai , (optional)
- 2 stems young peppercorns, cut in small chunks (optional)
- 4 Tbsp pad kee mao sauce, recipe below
- 2 ½ tsp sugar
- A dash black or dark soy sauce, (optional, see note 4)
- 2 cups holy basil leaves , (see note 5)
FULL VIDEO TUTORIAL
All my recipes come with step-by-step video tutorials with extra tips not mentioned in the blog post, so make sure you watch the video to ensure success. If you enjoy them, consider subscribing to the YouTube Channel to not miss an episode. Thank you!Subscribe to my YouTube Channel
- *I highly recommend cooking 1 portion at a time for best results, so divide up your prep before you start cooking.
- Mix the sauce ingredients together in a small bowl and stir to combine.
- Separate the rice noodles from each other (see video for technique). If they are cold, hard and stuck together, you need to heat them up until soft or they will break when you try to separate them. Carefully divide the noodles into 3-4 smaller bundles and spread them out onto a large plate. Microwave at 70% power, stopping every minute to move the noodles around for more even heating. Once they are soft, pull the noodles apart and divide them into portions.
- Add Thai chilies into a mortar and pestle and pound until fine. Add garlic and spur chilies and pound into a rough paste.
- Before you cook, organize your prep: 1) separate the ingredients into batches; 2) combine all non-leafy vegetables, grachai and young peppercorns together; 3) put the basil and leafy greens together; 4) put a tablespoon measure into the sauce and a teaspoon into your sugar crock.; 5) have a bowl ready to put your cooked protein into.
- In a well-seasoned or non-stick wok, heat about 2 Tbsp of vegetable oil over high heat. Once very hot, add your protein to the pan and spread it out into a single layer. Sear on one side until browned or halfway cooked, then flip or toss and cook the other side until done. Remove from the pan and set aside.
- Put the pan back on the stove with the heat still off, add the chili/garlic paste and a little more oil if needed. Turn heat on to medium and stir just until the small pieces of garlic start to turn golden brown.
- Add your bowl of non-leafy vegetables, turn the heat on high and stir for about 30 seconds.
- Add the noodles, drizzle the sauce (2 Tbsp per serving) and sprinkle the sugar (1¼ tsp per portion; you can eyeball the ¼ tsp) and toss until all the noodles are evenly coated and the sauce has been absorbed. If you want a darker colour, you can add a dash of black or dark soy sauce at this time, a little at a time.
- Once the noodles are well coated, add the protein back in and toss to mix. Then let the noodles sit in the pan without stirring for 15-20 seconds or until the noodles are charred in some spots. Flip the noodles and repeat 1-2 more times.
- Add the basil and any leafy greens and turn off the heat. Toss for just a few seconds until they wilt. Plate and repeat with your other batches. Enjoy!