What are the noodles in pad thai made of?

Pad thai is one of the most popular Thai noodle dishes. The primary noodles used in pad thai are rice noodles. Rice noodles, sometimes referred to as rice sticks, are made from rice flour and water. They are a staple ingredient in many Southeast Asian cuisines. For pad thai, flat rice noodles are used. They have a chewy, bouncy texture and readily soak up the flavors of the sauce.

Types of Rice Noodles

There are a few main types of rice noodles that may be used interchangeably in pad thai:

Sen Yai

Sen yai are wide, flat rice noodles. They are about 1/4 inch thick. Sen yai are also known as pan-fried noodles. They are often sold pressed into sheets that are then cut into wide strips before cooking. Sen yai have a soft, smooth texture.

Sen Lek

Sen lek are thin rice noodles, about 1/8 inch wide. They are also referred to as rice vermicelli. Sen lek noodles are made by pressing rice dough through a sieve to create long, thin strands. These noodles have a delicate texture and are quick-cooking.

Sen Chan

Sen chan are medium-width rice noodles. They are between sen yai and sen lek in width, about 1/8 inch thick. Sen chan provide a compromise between the wider sen yai and the delicate sen lek. They have a pleasantly chewy texture.

Why Rice Noodles Are Used

Rice noodles are traditional to Southeast Asian cuisine. Their neutral flavor allows them to absorb the spices, sauces, and other ingredients in dishes like pad thai. Rice noodles also hold up well when stir-fried, without becoming mushy. Their texture complements the other ingredients like eggs, peanuts, and lime.

Some specific benefits of using rice noodles in pad thai include:

  • Gluten-free – Rice noodles are naturally gluten-free, which makes pad thai accessible to those avoiding gluten.
  • Resistant to overcooking – Rice noodles do not become mushy easily like wheat noodles.
  • Neutral flavor – Rice noodles have a relatively plain flavor thatShowcases the sauce and other ingredients.
  • Good sauce absorption – The porous structure of rice noodles allows them to readily soak up pad thai’s flavorful sauce.
  • Stays separated – Unlike some noodles, rice noodles won’t stick together in a big clump after cooking.

Thai rice noodles also provide an authentic base for this quintessential Thai dish. Using rice noodles for pad thai helps connect it to its cultural roots.

Other Asian Noodle Options

While rice noodles are traditional in pad thai, other Asian noodle varieties can sometimes be substituted:

Cellophane Noodles

Cellophane noodles, also known as glass noodles or fensi, are made from mung bean starch. They have a soft, gelatinous texture when cooked. Cellophane noodles are transparent when raw but turn white when they are boiled or soaked in hot water. They can be used as a gluten-free substitute for rice noodles. However, cellophane noodles have a much softer, stickier texture than rice noodles.

Egg Noodles

Egg noodles contain wheat flour and egg. They have a rich, eggy flavor. Egg noodles are also thicker than traditional rice noodles used for pad thai. But they can work in substitution if rice noodles are unavailable. Keep in mind egg noodles may overcook and get soggy more quickly than rice noodles.

Soba Noodles

Soba noodles are made from buckwheat flour. They originate from Japan. Soba noodles have a firm, resilient texture and a nutty, earthy flavor. Their strong flavor means they are best paired with assertive sauces in pad thai. The texture of soba noodles also stands up well to stir-frying.

Shirataki Noodles

Shirataki noodles are made from the konjac yam. They are almost zero calories and carb-free. Shirataki noodles are gelatinous and chewy, with little flavor of their own. Their texture makes them a bit different from traditional rice noodles. But shirataki noodles can be used as a healthy, low-carb swap for rice noodles in pad thai.

Using Alternative Noodles in Pad Thai

If using a noodle substitute in pad thai, a few adjustments may be needed:

  • Reduce stir-frying time – Alternative noodles may overcook faster than rice noodles.
  • Rinse well – Rinsing removes starch and prevents stickiness.
  • Use smaller amounts of sauce – Noodles like soba and shirataki are flavorful on their own.
  • Add more structure – Extra bean sprouts or shredded vegetables can compensate for softer noodles.
  • Watch for gluten – Check labels to ensure the noodles are gluten-free if required.

The most important factor is cooking the noodles properly to match their unique texture. Following the package instructions is crucial to get the ideal firmness. With the right adjustments, many types of noodles can stand in place of rice noodles in pad thai.

Rice Noodle Preparation

To prepare rice noodles for pad thai:


Straight from the package, rice noodles may be brittle and dry. Soaking softens them and makes them pliable. Allow rice noodles to soak in hot or boiling water for 5-15 minutes until pliable. Drain and rinse.


For added texture, rice noodles can be briefly blanched before stir-frying. Boil them in water for 45-90 seconds, then drain, rinse under cold water, and drain again. Blanching helps remove excess starch.

Pan Fry

For pan-fried (sen yai) noodles, add oil to the wok over medium-high heat. When hot, add the noodles. Fry for 2-3 minutes per side until lightly golden brown.

Stir Fry

Once softened and drained, rice noodles are ready to stir-fry. The noodles only require stir-frying for 1-2 minutes with the sauce and other ingredients.

Properly preparing the noodles prevents gummy or mushy texture and allows them to soak up all the flavors.

Rice Noodle Texture

One of the hallmarks of pad thai is the texture of the rice noodles. They should have a pleasant resilience and firmness.

Ideal rice noodles for pad thai have:

  • Springiness – Rice noodles should bounce back when chewed. They shouldn’t be mushy.
  • Silkiness – When cooked properly, the noodles should have a smooth, silky mouthfeel.
  • Absorbency – The rice noodles need to be able to soak up sauce but not get soggy.
  • Separation – Individual noodles should separate and not stick together in clumps.
  • Brightness – The noodles should look shiny and bright white after cooking.
  • Chew – There should be a gentle resistance when chewing, without rubbery toughness.

The rice noodles are essential for the iconic pad thai mouthfeel. Their texture contrasts nicely with the crunchy peanuts and soft egg.

Tips for Perfect Rice Noodles

Follow these top tips for flawless rice noodles in your pad thai:

  • Use fresh noodles – Dried rice noodles rehydrate better than old or stale noodles.
  • Don’t oversoak – Rice noodles only need 5-15 minutes of soaking to soften.
  • Blanch for extra texture – 30-60 seconds of blanching removes excess starch.
  • Fry pan-fried noodles before stir-frying – This helps develop their signature texture.
  • Toss noodles in sauce off heat – Coating noodles without overcooking keeps them springy.
  • Rinse alternative noodles – Shirataki, soba etc may need extra rinsing to prevent sticking.
  • Work quickly – Have your ingredients prepped and ready to prevent mushy noodles.
  • Use the right sauce ratios – Noodle type affects how much sauce clings best.
  • Separate any clumps – Gently pull noodles apart if they stick together before serving.

Fresh, properly cooked rice noodles are irreplaceable for creating the quintessential pad thai experience. Careful prep and quick cooking are key for that ideal chewy, bouncy texture.

Troubleshooting Rice Noodle Texture

If your rice noodles turn out gummy, mushy or gluey, try these fixes:

Use drier noodles

Very fresh, moist noodles breakdown faster. Opt for well-dried noodles that need soaking.

Soak for shorter time

Excess water absorption makes noodles mushy. Try soaking for just 5-10 minutes.

Blanch before stir-frying

Blanching removes extra starch that causes gumminess.

Fry pan-fried noodles longer

Pan-frying develops the sen yai noodles’ signature texture. Fry until golden brown.

Stir-fry noodles separately

Cooking noodles alone first prevents sticking and overcooking.

Toss noodles in sauce off heat

Removing from heat prevents noodles overcooking in sauce. The residual heat will flavor.

Use less sauce

Too much sauce softens noodles. Use moderate amounts just to coat.

Rinse alternative noodles well

Other noodles like soba need extra rinsing to remove excess starch before using.

Work swiftly

Have everything prepared and work quickly to keep noodles optimally textured.

Separate any clumps

Gently pull apart any noodles stuck together before serving.

Perfect pad thai noodles may take some trial and error. Adjusting soaking and cooking times helps get that ideal bouncy, non-mushy texture. With the right techniques, you can achieve restaurant-quality rice noodles.

Do Other Types of Noodles Work?

While rice noodles may be traditional, pad thai is sometimes also made with other noodle varieties. However, the texture and flavor profile will differ significantly from the original dish.

Some other noodles that can work in pad thai include:

Glass Noodles

Glass noodles made from mung bean starch are common in many Asian dishes. They can be used as a gluten-free substitute for rice noodles. Their very soft, gelatinous texture is quite different though. Glass noodles lack the springy bite of rice noodles. They are also much more prone to sticking together.

Egg Noodles

Fresh or dried egg noodles contain wheat flour and egg. They have a richer flavor and denser texture than delicate rice noodles. Egg noodles hold up well to stir-frying. But they are more likely to get soggy and overcooked compared to resilient rice noodles.

Soba Noodles

Japanese soba noodles contain buckwheat flour. They have a distinct nutty, earthy taste. Soba noodles are firmer than rice noodles, with a pleasant chew. Their flavor can stand up to pad thai’s spices. But they lack the neutrality to absorb flavors.

Shirataki Noodles

Shirataki or konjac noodles are gelatinous, zero-calorie noodles. Their rubbery, chewy texture differs significantly from rice noodles’ bounce. Shirataki noodles taste very mild. With extra rinses to prevent stickiness, they work decently in pad thai.

Cellophane Noodles

Cellophane noodles are made from mung bean starch, just like glass noodles. They have a very soft, gummy texture when cooked. Cellophane noodles become nearly transparent when boiled. They lack the body of rice noodles, but provide a gluten-free alternative.

Overall, rice noodles still provide the best taste, texture, and cultural authenticity in pad thai. But some noodle substitutions can work in a pinch if rice noodles are unavailable. The dish may just need some adjustments to balance the flavors.


Rice noodles are the traditional and best choice for pad thai. Their neutral flavor, resilient texture, and ability to absorb sauce make them perfectly suited to the dish. Flat rice noodles provide the right balance of firmness and bounce.

Soaking and stir-frying the noodles properly ensures they have that ideal springy, non-mushy texture. While other noodle varieties can be used, rice noodles remain the closest to the quintessential pad thai experience. Their pleasant chew and ability to mingle with the other ingredients make rice noodles the right choice for this classic Thai stir-fry.

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