Genius Recipes

This Simple, Genius Pad Thai Is All Thanks to a Chef’s Grandma

If you're not sure you'll be able to find all the ingredients, stop right there.

January 15, 2020

Every week in Genius Recipes—often with your help!—Food52 Creative Director and lifelong Genius-hunter Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that will change the way you cook.


For determined but schedule-strapped home cooks, there’s little better than discovering that a trusted recipe recommendation is telling you: Do less.

Home cook friends, this is one of those moments.

The trusted expert here is third-generation chef Kris Yenbamroong of Night + Market restaurants in L.A., where his pad Thai could have easily involved any number of ingredients and steps—the grocery-ordering pathways are there; the line cooks are deft and committed.

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Top Comment:
“Used instant noodles, broccoli instead of shoots, almonds instead of peanuts, threw in cooked shrimp at the last minute and red pepper flakes were just fine. A new favorite! Would definitely make again! Brilliant and so easy!!! This recipe is a GIFT for which I am very grateful. Next time I will shop ahead and try to do it *right*. 💜”
— RedFoxCooks

But Yenbamroong’s ingredient list is surprisingly short, and could be found at virtually any grocery store in America. His steps are minimal and precise, too. The active cooking won’t push past two minutes; and even the prep time is meager (just a rough 30-minute noodle soak while you gather yourself).

All of this convenience is simply because it’s the pad Thai he grew up with—and how he wants it to taste.

“I like my sauce to be direct and sharp, which is why I use white sugar and white vinegar as opposed to the subtler (and harder to find) palm sugar and tamarind water,” he writes in the Night + Market cookbook. He learned his technique from his grandma Vilai, the first chef at his family’s restaurant Talésai that would lead to Night + Market as it exists today.

When I asked Yenbamroong if his grandma had always done the sugar and vinegar swap, he said he’d asked her the same thing a number of times and still wasn’t certain—and at this point it doesn’t really matter. Her simple sauce ratio—conveniently measured in equal portions of fish sauce, vinegar, and sugar—works out to be salty, sour, and sweet in balance, and entirely traditional for him.

The rest of Yenbamroong’s ideal pad Thai is equally streamlined and precise: He prefers dried noodles to fresh as he finds them more consistent, plumped and then stir-fried in the bubbling sauce. He scrapes the noodles to the side to quickly scramble an egg so you find it scattered in soft pockets, instead of as a slick of carbonara-like sauce. He throws the bean sprouts and thinly sliced scallions into the wok just at the end, off the heat, to keep their crunch but to let them mingle.

So next time you're near a store that carries Thai ingredients, feel free to pick up some palm sugar and tamarind (and dried shrimp and salted radish, while you're at it) so you can try other styles of pad Thai whenever the mood strikes.

But this one is altogether perfect as is. And, thanks to Yenbamroong and his grandma, there’s nothing to keep you from making it tonight.

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Perhaps something perfect for beginners? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]. Thank you to super-tipster, editor, and stylist Ali Slagle for this one!

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Terry Kludt
    Terry Kludt
  • Julie Bodnick
    Julie Bodnick
  • FrugalCat
  • eirroc
  • Francesca Stirpe
    Francesca Stirpe
I'm an ex-economist, ex-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


Terry K. January 19, 2020
Is this recipe one serving?
Julie B. January 17, 2020
I am always leery about fish sauce and tend to cut it in half the first time I make a recipe. Can those of you who have made the dish confirm the recipe has the correct amount?
Dbons January 17, 2020
Oh geez. Yes, it's the correct amount.
FrugalCat January 16, 2020
I used turbinado sugar and Taijin for the roasted chili powder.
eirroc January 16, 2020
Does anyone have a recommendation for a vegetarian substitute for fish sauce?
Natasha S. January 18, 2020
Mushroom boullion, (Better than boullion brand is what I use) soy sauce and a touch of white or rice wine vinegar. Should be salty/tangy.
Francesca S. January 16, 2020
Thank You for sharing this recipe 💜
What kind of Wok are you using?
cyndi January 16, 2020
Kristen - I adore the giggle! Thanks for making this recipe!
Alexandra S. January 16, 2020
So excited to make this!!
JESSICA January 16, 2020
I dry roast some cayenne powder in place of the Thai chili powder. I also sub coconut sugar for white sugar. Turned out perfect.
Parvin January 15, 2020
Thai roasted chili powder:
RedFoxCooks January 15, 2020
Just made this with what I have on hand taking great license with substitutions. It turned out fine and was even pretty! I figured a stir fry would be pretty forgiving. Used instant noodles, broccoli instead of shoots, almonds instead of peanuts, threw in cooked shrimp at the last minute and red pepper flakes were just fine. A new favorite! Would definitely make again! Brilliant and so easy!!! This recipe is a GIFT for which I am very grateful. Next time I will shop ahead and try to do it *right*. 💜
tracy O. January 15, 2020
I'm allergic to cane sugar and was wondering if there was an alternative I could substitute. Would honey work? thanks!
2tattered January 15, 2020
You must have found a substitute by now, right? Use that.
Parvin January 15, 2020
I think anything sweet would work... Agave, maple syrup, coconut sugar, date sugar, rice syrup, palm sugar...even Splenda or Truvia if you were avoiding added sugar. It's just the sweetness to counterbalance the sour and salty that is important.
tracy O. January 16, 2020
Thank you!! I've noticed there are some Asian recipes that don't work as well if you sub cane sugar w/ alternatives, which is why I asked :)
some1105 January 16, 2020
I’m going to try it with Swerve, and will try to report back. Totally fair question!
Skip R. January 16, 2020
I’m anxious to hear the results of this!
HalfPint January 15, 2020
For those looking for the dry roasted chili powder, here's a recipe:

Apparently, you can take dry Thai chilis and dry fry in a skillet or pan until fragrant and then grind it.
some1105 January 15, 2020
This I can do! Thank you!
Lori O. January 15, 2020
Same question about roasted chili it some kind of Asian chili powder?
HalfPint January 15, 2020
I would use dry red pepper flakes.
some1105 January 15, 2020
What is roasted chile powder? I have about ten different kinds of chile powder, none of which I associate with Thai flavor profiles, as well as whole dried Thai chiles, but I’ve never Seen them in powder form. Any hints much appreciated!
tastysweet January 15, 2020
I have same question.
violist January 15, 2020
My thought was to dry roast Chile powder in a small skillet like a dry roasted spice. Haven’t tried it yet, but any other ideas?
Joan S. January 15, 2020
Wow, that not only looks good but it seems easy to make.
HalfPint January 15, 2020
Looks scrumptious! I think I have all the ingredients too :)
tastysweet January 15, 2020
Where did you get the roasted chili powder
HalfPint January 15, 2020
I use red pepper flakes, like the ones from the little packets that you get with pizza :)