Pad Thai is an underrated dish. It’s what your vanilla friend orders when you go for Thai food or the one fancy recipe you knew how to make as a student—with heavy assistance from a supermarket all-in-one meal kit.
But Orachun Yodkamlue, head chef at London Thai restaurant Greyhound Cafe, has a pad Thai recipe unlike anything you’ve ever tasted before.
“Just because every other Thai restaurant serves it, that doesn’t mean they make an authentic pad Thai,” he says. “We stick to what a pad Thai should be, but add our own little twist.”
Yodkamlue moved to London from Thailand and began his cooking career at Thai restaurant brands Busaba and Thai Leisure Group, before switching to Greyhound Cafe when it opened in January. The original Greyhound Cafe launched nearly 40 years ago in Bangkok as a fashion house. Since then, it has evolved into a “lifestyle cafe” specialising in Bangkok-style street food, and now has locations across South East Asia, China, and Hong Kong.
“Pad thai is everyday food for Bangkokians,” explains Yodkamlue. “Despite the word ‘Thai’ in the name, pad Thai isn’t actually a Thai dish, but a Chinese origin dish. Our government wanted to make pad Thai the national dish as a part of transforming the country’s culture and identity after World War II.”
Pad Thai may be eaten across the globe, but the dish has countless variations in ingredients and spices. I want to know what makes Yodkamlue’s version stand out, so I head to the restaurant’s London outpost. With a black-and-white tiled bar and artworks hanging from the ceiling, the space looks more like the lobby of a trendy hotel than a hub for Thai street food. But Yodkamlue awaits me in the kitchen, along with the ingredients for his signature scallop pad Thai.
“If you skimp out on a lot of ingredients, you’ll end up making a generic stir-fried noodle dish,” he says. “We use scallops instead of the traditional river prawns and make our own sauce. Our version comes from the Chanthaburi province and we want to be a bit different, but not too different—you still need to keep the soul of dish.”
Yodkamlue’s first top tip for making pad Thai is to have a really hot pan and work quickly.
“Don’t be afraid to crank up the heat,” he advises. “Make sure your wok or frying pan is at the highest setting, otherwise your rice noodles will stick to the pan.”
With the wok now smoking hot, he adds fresh scallops.
“We don’t grill our scallops, but instead stir-fry without any oil to sear the edges to give them a crispy, smoky edge,” he says, adding a small amount of pad Thai sauce to marinate the scallops. “When the scallops go from see-through to a solid colour, that’s when you know they’re done, so plate up and put aside for now.”
Next, Yodkamlue adds vegetable oil to the hot wok and cooks the shallots and dried shrimps. He then adds fresh flat rice noodles, cubed tofu, and the rest of the pad Thai sauce.
“Our sauce is made from a mix of tamarind sauce, fish sauce, Sriracha chili sauce, and palm sugar—but we can’t tell you the quantities as that’s under lock and key,” he smiles. “But it’s fine to use store-bought pad Thai sauce too.”
Pad Thai might be a simple dish to cook but scrimp on ingredients and you’ll upset the balance of flavour.
“What makes pad Thai such a special dish is because no flavour is left behind and everything works in harmony,” Yodkamlue explains. “Spicy, sour, sweet, salty, and bitter flavours all make appearances in a single dish.”
Back to the noodles at hand, and Yodkamlue adds stock to the wok, causing them to soften and cook through. He then throws in a handful of Chinese chives and beansprouts.
“Pad thai is such a comforting dish and it instantly reminds me of home,” he grins. “It’s the perfect pick-me-up for a rainy day. Or any day, in fact.”
Finally, Yodkamlue pushes the noodles and vegetables to one side of the wok and cracks in an egg. Once the egg is cooked and mixed into the noodles, it’s time to start building the dish. A large portion of noodles goes into a bowl, followed by the scallops and a drizzle of pad Thai sauce. On top of that, Yodkamlue adds Chinese chives, raw bean sprouts, crushed peanuts, chili powder, dried shrimps, and a wedge of lime.
“It’s our take between the two continents and modern Thai-style cooking—our new invention with our little Thai twists here and there,” he says proudly.
I slurp a large mouthful of noodles and sauce. All at once, I taste the spicy Sriracha, sweet palm sugar, the sourness of the tamarind, and umami undertones from the fish sauce. Yodkamlue was right about every flavour working in harmony—this perfectly balanced dish is a far cry from any of my student kitchen creations.
Pad Thai, where have you been all my life?