Why is the color of Pad-Thai different on the east and west coast?
February 25, 2004 6:29 PM   Subscribe

I recently moved from the west coast to the east coast - specifically from the SF Bay area to the Boston metro area. One thing I've noticed is that on the west coast all of my Pad-Thai orders have been a redish orange color. On the east coast, they've all been pretty much white. Why is that?

I don't care about the specifics regarding each recipe - which is to say that I don't care what makes the pad-thai red. What I want to know is why ALL of the west coast pad-thais are red or orange and why ALL of the east coast pad-thais I've encountered have been whitish. (though, a description of the ingredients is certainly welcome...that's not what I'm after)

Personally, I like the east coast version better....
posted by jaded to Food & Drink (10 answers total)
Not sure about the pad thai because I never ate it before moving to the Bay Area but just see what happens if you order chicken chow mein in NY/NJ area for an even bigger surprise.
posted by billsaysthis at 7:03 PM on February 25, 2004

That's odd. In New York (city and upstate) the only pad-thai I've ever eaten has been the red/orange variety. I've eaten from both take-out places (Taste of Thai in Ithaca.. best thai food for under five dollars) and at your more standard Thai restaurant. I've never even seen white pad-thai. What's the difference in taste?
posted by Raze2k at 8:43 PM on February 25, 2004

The Pad Thai I make always turns out red. If I'm not mistaken, it comes from both the Thai fish sauce (Nam Pla) and the Tamarind pulp.
posted by sharksandwich at 9:12 PM on February 25, 2004

I actually didn't try pad thai while in NY, but I DID notice that everywhere I ate, the Thai iced tea and tom kha gai were very different from (and inferior to, IMO) what I was used to out west...and different in the same way. I am wondering if there are different Thai regional variations being represented due to different settlement patterns or something?
posted by rushmc at 10:31 PM on February 25, 2004

I've had both styles in New York City. Based on taste, the reddish-orange variety has a seasoning that gives it a little more kick, like a cayenne pepper (though one that is probably more Asian than Cajun). That's an anecdotal analysis, though.
posted by werty at 7:14 AM on February 26, 2004

I suppose I didn't answer your question--I expect multiple factors to be at play here, including ingredients from suppliers, the spread of popular recipes within regions, and adjusting menu items to local tastes.
posted by werty at 7:16 AM on February 26, 2004

It really seems to depend on the place in Boston. I get occasional pad thai from three different places. One is reddish, the other two are very white.

(My former boss (who is from Bangkok) always went to Rod Dee on Beacon Street in Brookline, where the pad thai is red.)
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:22 AM on February 26, 2004

The Sauce:

What makes pad thai, in addition to the rice noodles, is the
sauce. The general mix of flavors is sweet, salty, sour, and
hot. Typical ingredients are:

* fish sauce (sometimes soy sauce is used in addition, or in
place of for pure vegetarian versions)
* sugar (sometimes palm sugar is suggested)
* vinegar (various kinds specified; tamarind sauce or lime
juice are sometimes used instead)
* "red stuff" -- may be paprika, tomato paste, catsup, chili
powder, hot chili sauce, chili paste with garlic, tomato sauce,
or cayenne pepper, depending on the recipe.
* Other possible additions: salt, black pepper, chicken stock,
dried shrimp powder. One recipe calls for boiling the sauce
before using.
posted by squirrel at 11:05 AM on February 26, 2004

In my town (I'm in Alaska), there is one restaurant that serves it red and another that serves it light tan. So I wouldn't think it was a regional thing - though it may be a regional Thai thing. Of course, I am just guessing. IANThai.
posted by rhapsodie at 11:55 AM on February 26, 2004

Could it be Sriracha sauce? I usually add this spicy sauce to the white style of pad thai, and sure enough, it turns a nice red-orange color when you do so.
posted by vorfeed at 1:35 PM on February 26, 2004

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