Drunken Noodles

There is no alcohol in these drunken noodles, yet they will surely get you high on flavors. A popular Thai street food that’s high enough on the umami meter, it comes together fast, making it ideal for a weeknight meal.

Spicy drunken noodles with chicken in a wok.

The literal translation of ‘Pad Kee Mao‘ is drunkard’s noodles, confusing anyone new to it. Sorry to disappoint the seekers of a divine recipe made with the magic liquid (alcohol), but there is none of that in this dish. But these spicy, drunken noodles pair well with chilled beer and taste even better when you have a hangover.

It has chewy flat rice noodles, tender chicken strips, fragrant holy basil, and Thai chilies tossed in a salty, savory sauce.

How did it get its name? There’s no precise answer to that. But having made it a few times at home, I can say two things for sure: first, it is a very well-balanced sweet and savory stir-fried noodle dish. Second, no matter how many times you make it, you will never get bored of it

You can make drunken noodles with everyday Asian ingredients and sauces. There’s nothing fancy here, but it’s big on flavor. The Thai bird’s eye chili is one of the main ingredients, as the heat it brings makes it unique, and the Thai basil gives it a burst of freshness.

Close up view of Spice Drunken Noodles ( Pad Kee Mao) with juicy chicken, birds eye chilies and Thai basil.

Ingredients To make Drunken Noodles

Here is a quick rundown of the list of ingredients you need. Pretty much all the ingredients are easily available in the Asian aisle of supermarkets.

  • Rice noodles: The wide noodles are designed to pick up a lot of sauce. They are chewy. Fresh rice noodles (aka ho fun noodles) are used authentically. However, sourcing and storing fresh rice noodles can be difficult. Your next best bet is dry wide rice noodles, which are easily available.
  • Chicken: Boneless chicken cut into thin slices. Chicken thighs can also be used instead.
  • Oil: Any neutral cooking oil.
  • Sauce: For the depth of flavor, all of these sauces are a must, and I am afraid they can’t be substituted. Fish sauce doesn’t have a pleasant smell, but there is no doubt that it completes the dish. Dark soy sauce gives that deep color and can be substituted by regular soy sauce in a pinch.
  • Shallots and garlic
  • Sugar: brown sugar or regular white sugar is used to balance all the salty sauces.
  • Birds eye chilli: For the heat. Look for small red chillies in the Asian section.
  • Basil: Holy basil or Thai basil. While authentically Holly basil is used, it could be hard to find. Both of these basils have a spicy, peppery, anise flavor. Italian basil has a more sweet taste, so it will not have the same flavor.
  • Green onion

There is some flexibility in the add-ons, I have used bok choy here, but you can use other veggies like Chinese broccoli, baby corn, and straw mushrooms.

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Ingredients for making Thai style Drunken Noodles.

How to make it: Step by step

The detailed recipe, along with measurements, is on the recipe card. Here is a quick step-by-step walkthrough of the recipe. Make sure to prep and measure all the ingredients before you start cooking. It will take less than 10 minutes to finish off the noodles.

  • Measure all the sauces and prepare the stir-fry sauce in a bowl. Cook rice noodles as per package instructions. I usually soak the noodles in hot water in a large bowl (until fully submerged) for about 15-20 minutes. Drain and keep aside.
Make stir fried sauce and cook Wide Rice noodles.
  • Cut chicken breast into thin strips and marinate with soy sauce and a pinch of pepper. Let it rest for 30 minutes, while you prep the rest. Sear marinated chicken in a hot wok until it is no longer pink and has light charred marks all over.
  • In the same wok, add shallots, the white part of the green onion, red chilies, and garlic. Cook on high heat and let the flavor from the aromatics infuse into the oil.
Sear marinated chicken. Cook shallots, garlic, chillies in hot oil.
  • Next is to add veggies. Soft veggies like Chinese broccoli, and bok choy don’t take long to cook. If using baby corn, cut into thin strips and cook a little longer.
  • When the veggies are done, add cooked rice noodles, cooked chicken, green onion, roughly torn basil leaves, and stir-fry sauce. Toss it until the noodles are coated well with the sauce.
Cook veggies and then add rice noodles, basil, stir fry sauce and green onion.

Can’t handle the spice?

The hot spice notes from fresh Thai chili hit differently and that is the best part of these drunken noodles. But not everyone can handle that level of heat and this recipe has the flexibility of dialing down the spice level. For the best flavor, chilies and garlic are pounded together and then cooked in oil. But to reduce the amount of heat, I have used chilies slit lengthwise.

Another way to adjust the heat is to use 2 types of chillies, hot ones and mild chilli peppers. Mild peppers will add flavor without making the dish too spicy.

If spicy noodles are not your thing, then you could give the Pad Thai, Pad See Ew recipes a try.

Do I have to use a wok?

To get that smokey flavor of Thai street-style noodles, use a wok. The wok gets heated quickly and is wide enough to toss the noodles. In case you don’t have a wok, use a 12-inch-wide skillet.

What other protein can I substitute?

Chicken and shrimp are popular choices for protein. Vegetarian protein options could be tofu or bean sprouts.

How to cook rice noodles

Place wide rice noodles in a large dish, add hot water until it is fully covered, and rest for 15 minutes. Then drain it in a colander. Rice noodles tend to stick when they cool down and look like lumps. In that case, sprinkle some cold water and loosen/separate the noodles.

Tips

  • The high heat of a wok is a key ingredient in what makes drunken noodles (pad kee mao) so delicious. It’s not just the blazing hot temperatures, though, but the smoky, charred flavors imparted by the wok itself that elevate the dish. This smoky char adds a depth of complexity to the flavors that are difficult to achieve in a home cooking environment. To imitate the same flavor, use a wok or a wise skillet. Cook on high heat, tossing frequently to prevent it from burning. Let the noodles char a bit to get the smokiness.
  • Don’t skip marinating the chicken. Marinating the chicken not only seasons it but also helps tenderize the meat. Sear the chicken on high heat to get the charred, caramelized bits
  • If cooking a large quantity, then cook in batches without overcrowding the pan/wok
Close up view of Spice Drunken Noodles ( Pad Kee Mao) with juicy chicken, birds eye chilies and Thai basil.

Storing and Reheating

It’s a great dish for meal prep because it can easily be refrigerated. Portion it and store it in airtight containers for up to 4 days. Reheat in the microwave before serving. The oil in the noodles will prevent them from sticking. If the noodles look dry, add a few drops of water while reheating.

Serve With

This is a wholesome dish and is a meal in itself. A refreshing salad, like Asian cucumber salad, helps cut through the heat of the drunken noodles. Crispy spring rolls make a delicious appetizer or side dish.

Close up view of Spice Drunken Noodles ( Pad Kee Mao) with juicy chicken, birds eye chilies and Thai basil.

More Noodle Recipes to try

Quick Stirfried noodles like this make a great weeknight meal and are always better than takeouts. Here are a few noodle recipes that you might like to give a try

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Drunken noodles

Course Main Course
Cuisine Asian
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Drunken Noodles (aka Pad Kee Mao) is a popular Thai street food that's high enough on the umami meter. It comes together fast, making it ideal for a weeknight meal.
Servings 4 servings

Ingredients
  

  • 250 grams medium wide rice noodles dried
  • 250 grams chicken thighs or chicken breast
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil divided
  • 1 tablespoons minced garlic
  • ½ onion sliced
  • 2-3 Thai red chili peppers
  • 4-5 baby bok choy
  • 1 cup holy basil

For stir fry sauce

  • 3 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons oyster sauce
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon fish sauce
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • pinch ground white pepper
  • ¼ cup chicken stock or water

Instructions

  • Cut chicken against the grain into thin strips. Add 1 teaspoon of soy sauce to the chicken, mix well, and let it rest for 15-20 minutes while you are preparing the rest of the things.
  • Prepare rice noodles as per package instructions. To avoid overcooking, I prefer adding hot water to the noodles until fully submerged, covering them, and letting them soak for 15-20 minutes. Then drain the noodles and keep them aside.
  • Clean and cut baby bok choy. Clean and pluck basil leaves.
  • Mix all the ingredients for the sauce.
  • Heat a large wok or skillet with 2 tablespoons of oil. When the oil is hot, add the marinated chicken and sear it for 2 minutes on high heat without disturbing it. Flip and sear it again for one more minute. Because the chickens are cut into thin strips, they should be cooked at almost 90% by then. Remove the chicken from the pan and keep it aside, covered. The chicken will cook further in the remaining heat.
  • Clean the skillet/wok if there are bits of chicken stuck to it. Heat the remaining oil. Saute the sliced onion for about 30 seconds. Add the white part of the green onion after slicing, minced garlic, and red chili (if using). Saute for another 30 seconds-1 minute.
  • Stir-fry bok-choy for about 30 seconds. Keep the heat on medium-high. Then add drained rice noodles and cooked chicken along with its juices, Thai basil, and green onion. Pour the sauce around the edges of the pan.
  • Toss everything over high heat until the noodles are coated well with the sauce. Stir fry it for about 2 minutes, scraping the bottom of the pan to prevent the noodles from sticking.
  • Serve hot.

Notes

  1. The chicken thighs will take a little longer to cook. Cook for 2 more minutes. 
  2. If adding veggies like pepper, mushrooms, carrots, or baby corn. Cook the harder veggies first. Mushrooms need to be sauteed separately. 

Nutrition

Serving: 1serving | Calories: 228kcal | Carbohydrates: 52g | Protein: 2g | Fat: 0.3g | Saturated Fat: 0.1g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 0.1g | Sodium: 114mg | Potassium: 19mg | Fiber: 1g | Calcium: 11mg | Iron: 0.4mg
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5 from 1 vote (1 rating without comment)

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