Thai Dish Pad Kee Mao Is Delicious But Dangerous-If You Can't Stand The Heat...
You don't have to go to Thailand to find a satisfying plate of pad kee mao.
(photo by Dominic Riley)
Temples, Buddha, floating markets, basil, massages, beaches, chilies, and elephants: just a few words that come to mind when someone mentions Thailand. But only two of those words really stand out-basil and chilies. How'd you guess? Thai basil and Thai chilies are welcome in my home any day of the week.
Fragrant basil could stand in as air freshener and Thai chilies could be that go-to remedy for annoying hangovers (just don't rub your eyes during that special one-on-one moment you share with the porcelain god). However, there's no need to keep those guys hanging around your kitchen unused when together they make up one of the best Thai dishes: Pad kee mao.
In my book pad kee mao might well translate to spicy tears of joy, but in Thai it actually means drunken noodle. And your mouth will indeed be drunk off the robust, pleasant flavors this dish has to offer. Chicken, shrimp or tofu stir-fried with thick, flat rice noodles coated in a rich, spicy sauce will also have your taste buds leaping from your tongue.
They won't necessarily be leaping for joy; instead they'll be trying to escape the heat. Since I prefer my Thai food "so spicy that it makes me cry" (thanks to a close friend of mine, I use that phrase when ordering, but soon regret it when the acid reflux hits about an hour after) the amount of chilies used in the pad kee mao I tend to order is almost hazardous.
The fresh basil, onions, peppers and tomatoes throughout the dish appear bigger than the diced chilies, but chilies pack the surprise punch. Speaking of punch, if your lips aren't puckered, red, swollen or in the process of running away from your face once you finish, then you didn't have the full pad kee mao experience.
Thai chilies come in at a score of 50,000-100,000 (very hot!) on the Scoville pungency scale. This scale detects the pungency of the chemical, capsaicin, found in a chili's placenta. The scale ranges from 0 (bell pepper) to 15,000,000 to 16,000,000 (pure capsaicin). The Guinness World Record's winner for hottest chili on earth, naga jolokia, scored 855,000-1,050,000: one seed of that pepper produces enough heat to cause intense burning in the mouth for up to 30 minutes. So, there's no excuse for not ordering your pad kee mao very spicy (I'm not judging or anything)!
The best Thai food I ever had was in Thailand at an elephant farm outside of Bangkok. I wandered upon what we'd call in America an outdoor food court. It was summer, I was sweating and little bugs kept flying around my face and food. It couldn't get more authentic than that (I'm sure it could have, but we'll save that for my next visit) and the food was fragrant, fresh and spicier than ever.
It'd be nice to recreate that experience. I could pitch a tent in New York and share a nice plate of pad kee mao with Moammar Gadhafi, but that may not be the exact experience I'm looking for. It just makes more sense to head on over to Palms Thai in East Hollywood. An order of pad kee mao costs about 7 bucks and your taste buds won't be the only things entertained during the meal. Palms Thai is home to the infamous Thai Elvis Presley whose smooth crooning distracts you from the fire in your mouth.
If Elvis isn't your cup of tea (Thai iced tea that is, a must have companion to your pad kee mao) and you find yourself in Eagle Rock, there is a small family-owned restaurant, Thai Eagle Rox, which will sure have you in tears, if you dare order your food extra spicy.