What is the difference between Pad Woon Sen and Pad Thai?

Pad Woon Sen and Pad Thai are two popular Thai noodle dishes that are often confused with each other. Both dishes use rice noodles as the base, but have distinct ingredients, flavors, and textures that set them apart.

In the opening paragraphs, we’ll provide quick answers to key questions about the differences between Pad Woon Sen and Pad Thai:

– Pad Woon Sen features glass noodles made from mung bean starch, while Pad Thai uses rice stick noodles.

– Pad Woon Sen has a more transparent, vermicelli-like appearance, while Pad Thai noodles are opaque and off-white.

– Pad Woon Sen is seasoned with soy sauce, garlic, and other savory flavorings, giving it a salty umami taste. Pad Thai has a nutty, mildly sweet flavor from its tamarind and palm sugar ingredients.

– Pad Woon Sen has a soft, silky texture from the glass noodles. Pad Thai has a pleasant chewiness from the rice noodles.

– Pad Woon Sen is often made with seafood like shrimp and squid. Pad Thai contains tofu and preserved radish, along with shrimp or chicken.

– Pad Woon Sen can be served chilled as a salad, or warm in a soup form. Pad Thai is always served warm or hot, directly from the wok.

Now we’ll explore the ingredients, flavors, preparation methods, and origins of each dish in more detail. We’ll also compare and contrast their textures, tastes, and presentation styles.

Origins and History

Pad Thai and Pad Woon Sen come from different regions of Thailand, which influenced the development of each recipe.

Pad Thai History

Pad Thai originates from central and eastern Thailand. It was initially created in the 1930s-1940s by a prime minister named Plaek Phibunsongkhram. At the time, Thailand was pushing for modernization and trying to culturally distance itself from China. As Chinese noodles were very popular in Thailand then, a competition was launched to create a new national noodle dish using native Thai ingredients. The winning recipe combined rice noodles, tamarind, fish sauce, dried shrimp, garlic chives, peanuts and egg to make Pad Thai.

The dish quickly became popular throughout Thailand. After World War II, Pad Thai spread internationally when Thai immigrants opened restaurants abroad. It is now one of Thailand’s national dishes and has many regional variations. Common proteins used in Pad Thai recipes include chicken, shrimp and tofu.

Pad Woon Sen History

In contrast, Pad Woon Sen likely originated from northern Thailand’s Lanna region, which shares a border with Myanmar. The name “Pad Woon Sen” means “stir-fried glass noodles.” Unlike Pad Thai, Pad Woon Sen has roots in Chinese cuisine.

Glass noodles were introduced to Thailand by Chinese immigrants centuries ago. Locals adapted the noodles into a quick stir-fry dish with soy sauce, garlic, vegetables, eggs, meat and seafood. Pad Woon Sen is often served in northern Thai restaurants. It remains closer to the original Chinese glass noodle preparations than Pad Thai.


The primary ingredients set Pad Woon Sen and Pad Thai apart in terms of taste, texture and appearance.

Pad Woon Sen Key Ingredients

– Glass noodles (also called bean thread noodles or cellophane noodles) – These transparent noodles are made from mung bean starch and water. This gives Pad Woon Sen its signature translucent, gelatinous texture.

– Soy sauce – Provides salty umami flavor.

– Oyster sauce – Adds a savory accent.

– Garlic – Essential for aroma and flavor.

– Vegetable oil – For sautéing noodles and ingredients.

– Egg – Scrambled egg adds richness.

– Bean sprouts – Crunchy texture.

– Green onions – Scallions provide freshness.

– Optional protein – Common options are shrimp, squid, chicken or pork.

Pad Thai Key Ingredients

– Rice stick noodles – These off-white noodles have a firm, chewy texture. They are made from rice flour and water.

– Tamarind pulp – Gives Pad Thai its distinctive sweet-sour taste.

– Palm sugar – Adds sweetness to balance the tamarind.

– Fish sauce – Salty, fermented flavor.

– Dried shrimp – Provides an umami kick.

– Garlic chives – Offer mild onion flavor.

– Eggs – Scrambled eggs lend protein and richness.

– Tofu – Tofu is a typical protein.

– Peanuts – Crushed peanuts provide crunch.

– Lime – Fresh lime juice balances out the noodles.

– Bean sprouts – For refreshing crunch.


Due to the very different ingredients involved, Pad Woon Sen and Pad Thai have distinct flavor profiles.

Pad Woon Sen Flavor

With its soy sauce seasoning, Pad Woon Sen has a predominantly salty, savory umami taste. The glass noodles have a subtle flavor, while the soy sauce, oyster sauce and scrambled egg yolks lend a rich, mouth-coating quality. The garlicprovides pungent aroma without an overly strong taste.

Overall, the flavors of Pad Woon Sen are more subdued and blend together into a harmonious salty-savory medley. There are no distinctly sweet, sour or spicy notes. The ingredients work to create a comforting, hearty dish.

Pad Thai Flavor

Pad Thai derives its signature flavor from the dynamic interplay between sweet, sour, and salty tastes. The palm sugar and tamarind paste create sweet and sour accents, while the fish sauce provides a big hit of salty umami. This sets the stage for bright pops from the garlic chives and fresh lime juice at the end.

The complex layers of flavor and contrasting tastes give Pad Thai its addictive appeal. The soft and chewy rice noodles have little inherent flavor, allowing the sauce to take center stage. Their neutral background lets the sweet, funky, salty and tangy tastes sparkle.

Preparation Methods

Pad Woon Sen and Pad Thai use a similar cooking technique – stir-frying over high heat. But the preparation process also has some differences.

How to Prepare Pad Woon Sen

To make Pad Woon Sen, ingredients are assembled in a logical order:

1. Soak the dried glass noodles in hot water for 5-15 minutes until pliable. Drain and set aside.

2. Heat oil in a wok over high heat. Lightly beat eggs and cook into a scrambled egg pancake. Remove and slice.

3. Sauté aromatics like garlic, onion and chilies.

4. Add meat or seafood and briefly stir-fry.

5. Toss in noodles and season with soy sauce, oyster sauce and fish sauce. Fry for 2-3 minutes, allowing noodles to soak up sauce.

6. Mix in eggs, bean sprouts and scallions.

7. Remove from heat and transfer to plates. Top with extra scallions and a wedge of lime.

The technique involves gradually layering ingredients from dense to delicate. This enables even thorough cooking in the wok.

How to Prepare Pad Thai

Cooking Pad Thai requires a similar staged process:

1. Soak rice noodles in tepid water for 30 minutes to soften. Drain well.

2. Make Pad Thai sauce by combining tamarind pulp, palm sugar, fish sauce and dried shrimp.

3. Scramble eggs lightly in wok.

4. Sauté garlic chives, tofu and aromatics.

5. Toss in soaked noodles and sauce mixture. Cook while tossing for 2-3 minutes.

6. Add bean sprouts and stir-fry briefly just to wilt.

7. Transfer to plate and top with crushed peanuts, lime wedges, extra chives.

The main difference is Pad Thai cooks the noodles along with the sauce, allowing flavors to directly penetrate the rice noodles.


The textures of the noodles and other components also diversify the two dishes.

Pad Woon Sen Textures

– Glass noodles – Soft, slippery, and gelatinous

– Eggs – Silky creaminess from scrambled eggs

– Bean sprouts – Provides crunchy contrast

– Green onions – Crisp and juicy

– Shrimp or squid – Added protein has firm, bouncy texture

The glass noodles have an exceptionally smooth, almost liquid-like consistency. This makes Pad Woon Sen feel nourishing and comforting. The tender noodles and eggs envelop the palate, balanced by al dente bean sprouts.

Pad Thai Textures

– Rice noodles – Pleasantly chewy and resilient

– Scrambled eggs – Light fluffiness

– Crushed peanuts – Nutty crunch

– Bean sprouts – Crisp, refreshing

– Garlic chives – Light onion tones

– Tofu – Pillowy softness

Pad Thai has more variation in textures from the springy rice noodles, crunchy peanuts, and soft tofu. This provides contrast to the creamy scrambled eggs. The rice noodles have a nice bite.

Serving Styles

Pad Woon Sen and Pad Thai come together differently when served.

How to Serve Pad Woon Sen

Pad Woon Sen can be served chilled at room temperature, or hot directly from the wok.

For a cold salad style, ingredients are stir-fried then chilled in the refrigerator. It is eaten at room temperature, with a sprinkling of crispy fried shallots on top.

For a soup, Pad Woon Sen is presented steaming hot in a bowl, often with broth. Garnishes include lime wedges, chopped cilantro, chili powder or pepper flakes for spiciness.

How to Serve Pad Thai

Pad Thai is only served freshly cooked at a hot temperature, directly from the wok. It comes on a plate or in a take-out box. A lemon or lime wedge and chopped peanuts are always provided as garnish. Thai chili flakes are usually available to add spiciness.

The heat helps the rice noodles absorb the sauce and meld the sweet-sour-salty flavors. Pad Thai is meant to be enjoyed hot and is never served chilled.


Both Pad Thai and Pad Woon Sen provide a range of nutrients, as they contain protein, carbs, vitamins and minerals. However, their nutrition profiles do have some variations.

Nutrient Pad Thai Pad Woon Sen
Calories Around 360 kcal per serving 280 kcal per serving
Carbs 56g per serving 45g per serving
Protein 12g per serving 11g per serving
Total Fat 10g per serving 9g per serving
Fiber 2g per serving 3g per serving

Pad Thai contains more calories and carbs, as rice noodles are higher in those than glass noodles. Both provide protein from eggs, meat or tofu. Pad Woon Sen has a bit more fiber thanks to the glass noodles.

Ultimately, both can be part of a healthy diet in moderation. Those watching carbs or calories may prefer Pad Woon Sen.

Price Comparison

At most restaurants, Pad Thai costs slightly more than Pad Woon Sen. Here are some average prices in the United States:

Dish Average Price
Pad Thai $12 – $15 per plate
Pad Woon Sen $10 – $12 per plate

Pad Thai uses specialty imported dried rice noodles, tamarind, and palm sugar, which can be pricier ingredients. Pad Woon Sen uses lower-cost items like soy sauce. But both dishes are affordable noodle options.

In Thailand, a street food version of Pad Thai costs about 50 Thai baht, while Pad Woon Sen is around 40 baht. At nicer restaurants, Pad Thai can cost 200+ baht.


Pad Thai is significantly more popular globally than Pad Woon Sen. As Thailand’s national dish, Pad Thai is on the menu at virtually every Thai restaurant worldwide. Many stores even sell instant Pad Thai kits, allowing home cooks to easily make it themselves.

In contrast, Pad Woon Sen is still mainly found at more traditional Thai restaurants. It is not as ubiquitous and remains lesser known outside of Thailand itself. Inside Thailand, however, locals may eat Pad Woon Sen just as commonly as Pad Thai in certain regions.

Pad Thai has also garnered more cultural publicity internationally. For instance, it has been featured in movies like The King and I and the Pad Thai scene in Along Came Polly. Pad Woon Sen has not permeated pop culture to the same extent.

Regional Variations

Both Pad Thai and Pad Woon Sen can take on localized adaptations and characteristics depending on the region of Thailand.

Some Pad Thai variations include:

– Chiang Mai style – Uses local sticky rice noodles, pork rind, and pickled cabbage.

– Southern style – Spicier version with dried chilies, shrimp, and banana blossom.

– Kanom jeen Pad Thai – Soft, thin rice noodles replace stick noodles.

Regional Pad Woon Sen specialties can include:

– Northern style – Mushrooms, dill, fermented pork sausage.

– Isan style (Northeast) – Seafood, lemongrass, green papaya.

– Southern style – Turmeric, cumin, fish curry.

So recipes can change significantly across Thailand. But the essential noodles, seasonings, textures, and wok technique remain consistent.

Comparison Chart

This chart summarizes the key differences:

Pad Woon Sen Pad Thai
Noodles Glass noodles Rice noodles
Texture Soft, gelatinous Pleasantly chewy
Flavor Savory, salty, umami Sweet, sour, salty
Seasonings Soy sauce, oyster sauce Tamarind, fish sauce
Major Ingredients Eggs, garlic, seafood Peanuts, tofu, eggs
Origin Northern Thailand Central Thailand
Serving Style Chilled or hot Only hot

This outlines the primary contrasts between the two classic noodle dishes.


Pad Thai and Pad Woon Sen represent the diversity of Thai cuisine through fried noodles. While they appear similar at first glance, everything from their history, main ingredients, texture, taste and serving style actually set them far apart.

Pad Thai stands out with its chewy rice noodles bathed in sweet, sour and salty sauce. Pad Woon Sen is savory and comforting, with soft glass noodles and egg binding together the umami flavors. Both can be topped with crunchy bean sprouts, peanuts or lime to liven up the textures.

Ultimately, Pad Thai has gained more global popularity for its complex and dynamic flavors. But in Thailand, Pad Woon Sen also holds an important place, especially in northern regions. They each shine light on unique aspects of Thai culinary heritage. Whether craving the bright pop of Pad Thai or the mellow garlicky essence of Pad Woon Sen, both noodle dishes satisfy any Thai food lover.

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