Pad Kee Mao (Drunken Noodles)

published Dec 10, 2021
Drunken Noodles Recipe

This intensely spicy and flavor-packed dish only takes 25 minutes to make.

Serves2 to 3

Prep15 minutes

Cook10 minutes

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Drunken Noodles (Pad Kee Mao) is a favorite Thai dish made with rice noodles and Thai basil, often eaten in Thailand on late nights after drinking) on a white plate with a fork
Credit: Perry Santanachote

Pad kee mao, or drunken noodles as they’re commonly known in the United States, is one of the most popular dishes in Bangkok, where it’s easier to find than pad Thai — especially late at night. The intensely spicy and flavor-packed dish was originally intended to sober someone up after a bout of heavy drinking, so the translation is more accurately drunkard’s noodles. It’s loaded with chilies, garlic, and basil: a combination that wakes up the senses.

In Thailand, they make this dish with holy basil, which is still a rare find in America. Thai basil and sweet basil are fine stand-ins, but if you ever come across a bouquet of holy basil, snag it and whip up these noodles! You don’t even need to imbibe first. 

What Is the Difference Between Pad Thai and Drunken Noodles?

There are more differences than similarities between these dishes. They both have rice noodles and are stir-fried, but the commonalities end there.

  • Drunken noodles use fresh wide rice noodles, which are soft and sticky, while pad Thai uses dried thin rice noodles, which are more al dente and chewy.
  • The flavor profile of drunken noodles is salty, spicy, and anise-like from the basil. Pad Thai is sweet and sour from the tamarind.
  • Drunken noodles are much easier to whip up quickly.
Credit: Perry Santanachote

What Are Drunken Noodles Made Of?

Pad kee mao sauce is very simple and made of just a few ingredients.

But what’s more important than the sauce is the chile paste, which features the following ingredients:

  • Serrano chile
  • Thai (bird’s eye) chile
  • Garlic
  • Basil

Are Drunken Noodles Spicy?

Yes! There is no proper version of this dish that isn’t spicy. Pad kee mao should make your brow glisten and your tongue just a little numb. You can make it less spicy, but chiles aren’t optional.

Drunken Noodles Recipe

This intensely spicy and flavor-packed dish only takes 25 minutes to make.

Prep time 15 minutes

Cook time 10 minutes

Serves 2 to 3

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1 pound

    fresh wide rice noodles, or 8 ounces dried wide rice noodles

  • 1

    serrano pepper

  • 2 cloves

    garlic

  • 1 cup

    loosely packed fresh Thai basil leaves (see Recipe Note)

  • 1

    fresh Thai (bird's eye) chile (optional)

  • 1

    medium red bell pepper

  • 3 tablespoons

    fish sauce

  • 2 tablespoons

    sweet dark soy sauce

  • 2 teaspoons

    granulated sugar

  • 2 tablespoons

    vegetable oil

  • 8 ounces

    ground pork

  • 4 ounces

    mung bean sprouts (about 2 cups)

Instructions

  1. Prepare 1 pound fresh wide rice noodles if needed: If uncut, cut lengthwise into 1-inch-wide noodles. If using dried noodles, soak 8 ounces dried wide rice noodles according to package instructions.

  2. Prepare the following, adding each to a mortar or a mini food processor as you complete it: Stem and chop 1 serrano chile, smash 2 garlic cloves, mince the stems from 1 cup loosely packed fresh Thai basil leaves until you have 1 teaspoon (opt for the softer, less woody stems), and trim and chop 1 Thai chile if using. Grind or process to a paste.

  3. Core, seed, and slice 1 medium red bell pepper into 1/2-inch strips. Place 3 tablespoons fish sauce, 2 tablespoons sweet dark soy sauce, and 2 teaspoons granulated sugar in a small bowl and whisk to combine.

  4. Drain the ric enoodles if needed. Heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a large wok or a 14-inch nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the paste and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Increase the heat to high, then add 8 ounces ground pork and stir, breaking up the meat into small pieces, until cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the noodles, bell pepper, and fish sauce mixture. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the noodles soften and the sauce is absorbed, 3 to 5 minutes. The noodles should look slick but there will not be any sauce pooling in the pan. If the noodles are too dry, add a splash of water.

  5. Add 4 ounces mung bean sprouts (about 2 cups) and the Thai basil leaves, and toss until wilted.

Recipe Notes

Noodles: If you can’t find wide rice noodles, use thick spaghetti or fettuccine noodles and cook them until al dente.

Basil: Traditionally, holy basil is used in this dish but it’s very hard to find. If you ever come across it, definitely get some and make this dish! Sweet basil is also a fine substitution in a pinch.

Vegetables: If you’re not a fan of bell pepper and bean sprouts, feel free to substitute other vegetables, such as broccoli, carrots, or green beans — just not more than 2 to 3 cups total.