Literally, 'fried (with) soy sauce', this easy 15-minute vegan phad si io is one of the quickest meals you'll ever make. And it's not only really filling but truly delicious too.
Easy 15 Minute Vegan Phad Si Io Recipe
Everyone knows about phad Thai but have you ever eaten phad si io*? No? You really need to. Like, now!
(*AKA pat see ew, pad siu, pad siew, etc.)
With just a handful of basic ingredients, it's a really simple dish to make, and as with my Thai morning glory, is super-quick too. You can have it on the table in a shade under 15 minutes - far quicker than getting a takeaway, and a billionty times better too…
Unless you happen to be in SE Asia, and are getting your takeaway from a noodle cart. Be still, my rumbling tummy.
Thai Street Food
I've always found it curious that in Britain, fast food is often looked down upon, and yet almost everywhere else I've lived around the world, fast food tends to be a cherished institution. I can honestly say, with my hand on my heart, that I would far rather eat a meal from a Thai noodle cart than in a fancy-schmancy restaurant.
- I can see the food being cooked right there in front of me.
- I stand more chance of the cook being able to customise my meal.
- I get great value for money.
- I get to people-watch, sometimes even to chat to other hungry customers.
- I always get utterly delicious food!
Street food makes you sick
In all my years of travelling, I have never had a bad street food experience, whether in terms of flavour or health. The same cannot be said of restaurant meals in Britain.
I'm not in any way anti-restaurants, BTW, I just prefer street food; it's fast, it's cheap, it's delicious. And all life is there, it really is.
Street food is a great leveller too; go to any food cart in Chiang Mai or Penang, for example, and you'll be rubbing shoulders with folk in suits, folk in sarongs, folk in jeans, folk in shorts - street food is for everyone.
Damn, I miss those carts!
What is phad si io?
Known as char kway teow in Chinese-speaking areas, Thai phad si io (ผัดซีอิ๊ว) is a simple dish of stir-fried wide rice noodles, flavoured with two kinds of soy sauce; light, si-io khao, and dark, si-io daam.
Actually, khao means white - and is also the word for rice, and daam means black. Thai is a beautifully simple language!
Which soy sauce to use for phad si io?
My favourite light soy sauce is Golden Mountain, which doubles up as a seasoning sauce too (great for simple fried rice dishes, for example).
Pearl River Bridge Superior Light Soy sauce is another I cook with a lot, and the same brand dark soy is far better than most I've tried here in Britain. If you're particularly fond of heavy, slightly sweet dark soy sauce, go for Healthy Boy or kecap manis.
Healthy Boy seasoning sauce is a good alternative to Golden Mountain, BTW. I just don't like the dark soy from that brand.
If you can't have gluten, substitute tamari instead, for both the dark and the light soy, and add a little extra sugar... maybe another quarter of a teaspoon.
Noodles for phad si io
It really is best to use fresh rice noodles for phad si io; you'll want the wide ones ((kway teow sen yai in Thai, which means 'big strip noodles' - usually just called sen yai).
Sen yai can be bought online or at your local Asian store. Depending on the type of store, they may also be called kway teow (Chinese) or ho fun (Cantonese).
If you're feeling adventurous, you could make your own sen yai. It's really not difficult but it can be time-consuming. It's well worth the effort though. My friend, Kip, has a recipe on her most excellent blog, Messy Vegan Cook.
Fresh noodles are infinitely superior to dried ones but if you really can't get fresh, and don't fancy making any, then soak some dried wide rice noodles in warm water until they're soft. Should take around 30 mins.
Vegetables for phad si io
Along with the noodles, and soy sauce, phad si io is always made with garlic and Chinese broccoli (pak kana in Thai, gai lan in Cantonese).
If you can't get Chinese broccoli (Asian stores usually stock it), then I suggest substituting with some rapini (broccoli rabe in the US, friarielli/cime di rapa in Italy).
You could also add carrots, cabbage, green beans, mushrooms, beansprouts... I've had phad si io with all of these at various cafés and carts around Thailand and Malaysia. The recipe below is the most basic one for this dish, so feel free to customise to your heart's content. Just be aware that if you add a load more veggies, you may need to use a little more soy sauce.
Adding protein to phad si io
Since phad si io was originally a quick and cheap meal to feed to labourers, a goodly amount of protein is added; some kind of meat, seafood, or tofu, plus egg. Naturally, I eschew the egg and meat, and favour the tofu.
Thai tofu (dou gan) comes in small dry blocks weighing around 250g, and is either off-white or bright yellow (don't worry, it's just turmeric). It's super-firm, and is sometimes labelled as dry tofu or pressed tofu.
It's available from Asian stores, and can also be bought online; if however, you can't find any, you can sub extra firm tofu (not silken) but you'll need to press it first to get as much moisture as possible. To do this, either wrap in a clean tea towel, and place a heavy saucepan on top for 30 mins (I use my medium-sized le Creuset casserole), or use a tofu press. The latter is less faff but the former has more comedy value.
Cooking phad si io
Phad si io is fried very quickly over a really high heat - the highest your cooker can muster. If you have a well-seasoned wok, you really don't need a lot of oil. Don't be tempted to try to cook this over a wimpish heat, if you do, you'll have a wimpish meal. Trust me on this.
Phad si io needs to taste slightly smoky. If a little sticks to the wok, no problem, it's easily removed later with a brush. Don't be timid with the heat - it's key to the success of this noodle dish!
Although we moved to Thailand at the beginning of 2012, amato mio and I didn't actually try phad si io from a street hawker until we visited Penang in 2013, where our favourite guy (pictured above) would add beansprouts too. It was so delicious, I could have lived on just that!
TBH, I'm really not sure why we didn't seek out phad si io in Chiang Mai - perhaps it was the abundance of excellent phad Thai, or maybe because of all the other wondrous and exotic fare so readily available on the streets.
When we went to live in Mae Hee (near Pai) in 2014, we discovered a lovely woman who made such delicious phad si io that despite the wealth of amazing food on offer at the night market in Walking Street (or Nomming Street, as we called it!), we found ourselves returning to her over and over again.
Her phad si io was well worth the 2,5km walk into town during the rainy season. Sometimes it was so muddy along the edges of the rice fields that my flip flops got sucked off my feet with such regularity that it was far easier to just take them off, and walk home barefoot!
If you like my Easy 15-Minute Vegan Phad Si Io, check out these other Thai yums while you're here!
Easy 15-Minute Vegan Phad Si Io
- really simple
- packed with protein
- full of goodness
- simple to make gluten-free
- customisable with any veggies you desire
Whether you make this basic recipe or add extra veggies, you're going to love these street food noodles!
Gin hai aroi kha!
Have you ever had authentic phad si io before?
Easy 15 Minute Vegan Phad Si Io
To finish (optional):
- Chilli flakes
- White pepper
- Chilli vinegar
- Separate any noodles that have stuck together, and set aside. If they are particularly stubborn, you can heat them in the microwave for 30 seconds or so.
- Peel, smash, and roughly mince the garlic.
- Cut the tofu into bite-sized pieces.
- Slice the pak kana stalks into 1cm strips, and the leaves into approximately 5cm pieces.
- Heat your wok over a high heat (the highest you can muster), and when it's hot, add the oil.
- After a few seconds, once the oil is hot, add your garlic, and stir-fry for 10-15 seconds. It should be sizzling but not burning!
- Add the tofu, and fry for 2-3 minutes.
- Add the rest of the ingredients, and toss together for about 2 minutes.
- Turn out into a bowl, and season to taste with chilli flakes, white pepper, and chilli vinegar.
- When tossing the noodles, don't be too rough, or else you risk releasing a ton of starch, and them clumping together (this is also why you shouldn't stir pasta and rice while it's cooking!). If you're not used to cooking like this, then the easiest way is to use two wooden spatulas - wood is far more gentle than silicone or metal, both of which tend to have thinner edges, which makes it all too easy to bork the noodles!
- Chilli flakes; some of you know that I invariably favour Korean red pepper flakes (gochugaru); they are far more flavoursome than regular chilli flakes, have a great colour, and aren't evil! If you want to use regular chilli flakes or grind up your own dried chillies, that's absolutely fine.
- Chilli vinegar (nam som phrik dong); simply, vinegar with the addition of sliced chillies. One of the standard table condiments in Thai cuisine, which include white sugar, ground roasted chillies, crushed peanuts, phrik nam pla etc. These are used to season food and balance the flavours… just like having salt and pepper on the table in the West.
- 1 cup = US cup = 240 ml
- 1 tbsp = US/UK = 15 ml
- 1 fl oz = US = 30 ml