Dinner & A Book - Culinary Travels - The Great Railway Bazaar
Marshall V. King
The story of a dish can be hazy, particularly if alcohol is involved.
Keo Phannavong, owner of Bangkok Place Thai Restaurant in Elkhart, tells the story of drunken noodles as being the result of a cook tossing in all sorts of ingredients with noodles after a night of drinking.
It's not because pad kee mao, as the Thai dish is known, has alcohol in it.
He's not necessarily wrong. But he may not be right either. The same goes for Amish haystacks, General Tso's Chicken and other foods. How it went from invention to commonplace is a twisted, hazy road shaped by those who tell the story along the way.
At Bangkok Place, Phannavong's version uses prik pao (chile paste with soybean oil), sambal oelek (chile paste made by the same folks who originated sriracha), soy sauce and oyster sauce. The sauces are sauteed with fresh, wide noodles, vegetables and meat or tofu. Sliced jalapenos are tossed in for good measure, though I'm guessing that's because they've become most accessible fresh hot pepper in the United States.
Pad Thai, the best known Thai noodle dish, has a sweet and tangy tamarind base. It's not spicy and uses thin rice noodles.
I don't have experience eating drunken noodles in Thailand or even after a night of imbibing. I just enjoy them for lunch, preferring them actually to pad Thai, but not using it as the same kind of measuring stick for how good a restaurant is. Perhaps I should. There would be worse things than becoming an expert on drunken noodles.
I love Asian noodles in any form. I've yet to find one that doesn't turn me into a fanboy. But drunken noodles, with their wide noodles, spicy bite and vegetables are my favorite. So watching Phannavong make them was wonderful. Learning how easy it is and that the richness comes from the simplicity, was a lovely way to spend an afternoon.
As a Wikipedia writer pointed out, if they were originally an accompaniment to drinking, it may be better to call them "drunkard's noodles." Whatever you call them, I call them delicious.