I Watched ‘Hunger,’ Then Tried the Pad See Ew at These Thai Restaurants
Here’s how the street food dish stacked up at Bangkok Chef, Olay’s Thai-Lao Cuisine and Noi Thai Cuisine.
Ever watch a movie about food, only to become obsessed with the featured dish? Chef did that for Cubano sandwiches, Jiro did that for sushi, and Sideways did that for Pinot Noir. Hunger, Netflix’s latest culinary drama from Thailand, could do the same thing for one of the humblest of Thai dishes: pad si ew.
Let me admit that I don’t know much about the Thai staple, but Hunger piqued my interest. It wasn’t so much the movie’s social commentary as it was the scenes of flat noodles, soy sauce, eggs and broccoli dancing in a sizzling, flame-cradled wok, the airborne noodles cresting and crashing against the wok’s lip like waves against a cliff. Mesmerized, I wondered, should I finish watching this movie or grab my wallet and head out the door?
I finished it. But every day for the next three days, I was compelled to go to a different Thai restaurant to try the pad si ew. Here’s what I found.
This was a good introduction. Pad si ew is basic. Flat rice noodles are coated in soy and a little bit of fish sauce for a swaying savoriness and umami that’s familiar and homey. It’s as unpretentious as its surroundings. You order at the counter and the food is served steaming in a takeout container. The chicken is sliced thinly along the grain and a little dry. The broccoli tastes a bit watery, like it was frozen. The wide noodles are silky but broken—there are a lot of squares instead of long flat ribbons. But broken or not, those noodles have the texture of butter mochi cut thin. Very soft. The dish disappears quickly.
Priced at $12.25. Multiple locations, bangkokchefexpress.com
Olay’s Thai-Lao Cuisine
The server sets the dish down and I immediately notice a difference. The noodles are prominent, longer, and denser with a good chew. The flavors are bold. In Olay’s pad see ew, you can taste the wok and the fire. The Chinese broccoli are crisp and glistening, having been freshly flash fried. The chicken has a slight char, and though sliced along the grain is still moist and flavorful. The noodles are lacquered in Olay’s special sauce and caramelized from the heat. This is a simple dish—wok-fried chow fun noodles, Olay’s special soy sauce, eggs and Chinese broccoli. Yet it tastes layered and complex.
Priced at $18. For a humble street dish, this is getting up there. 66 N. Hotel St., (808) 536-5300, olaysthaihawaii.com, @olays_thai_lao_cuisine
SEE ALSO: Chinatown’s Best Hidden Courtyard Is a Thai-Laotian Gem
Noi Thai Cuisine
From gold and wood accents to Lai Thai-inspired arched doorways, there’s a restrained yet opulent vibe at Noi Thai Cuisine. I feel guilty about ordering just one dish, so I also order an appetizer—a Cock-a-doodle-doo of egg shell cups filled with a sweet-sour tom yum bisque mousse topped with deep-fried crispy shrimps, tobiko and a single cilantro leaf ($8.95). It’s airy and decadent.
Given the Cock-a-doodle-doo’s artistic plating, I anticipate an avant-garde version of pad see ew. But it comes out plain and unadorned. The flavors are familiar and mellow. The noodles are somewhere in between Bangkok Chef and Olay’s—soft, broken and not very chewy. The chicken is moist and tender, as if braised for hours. The broccoli seems more steamed than stir-fried in a flame-engulfed wok. The char and caramelization are missing. I wouldn’t say it was a flaw—just a different preparation. An elevated interpretation, maybe.
Prices are $14.95 at lunch, $20.95 for a larger portion at dinner. 2301 Kalākaua Ave. Bldg. C Level 3, (808) 664-4039, noithaicuisine.com,@noithaicuisine_hawaii
Are any of these great examples of real Thai street food? I can’t answer that. But I could taste the culture in the food. And that’s not something you can put a price on. So stream it, and then go eat it.