When it comes to eating on excursions, we tend to think simple: three-ingredient concoctions, dry goods that travel well, and unfussy fare that’s feasible—but also somewhat uninspired. However, what happens when you simply add a few steps to your trip prep, plus a dash of creativity (and cilantro)? That’s what we sought to explore.
Pad thai has always been a classic: flavour-drenched rice noodles sauced with an intricate mixture of peanuts, soy sauce, ginger and garlic. It’s equal parts salty and sweet, simple yet immensely satisfying. The ingredients and instructions are straightforward enough—heat and toss, to be concise—but could it be replicated in all its glory on the trail?
When I visited Ko Samui several years ago, there was no shortage of the traditional Thai staple. We ordered it off the printed menu at an air-conditioned restaurant, whisked to our table on an oblong plate garnished with a sprig of scallion. We gestured towards curlicued characters on a chalkboard at a dingy cafe, then chowed down while chucking the odd piece of chicken to strays lingering around the table. Against the advice of Lonely Planet, we even got it plunked right into our hands from a rickety 5x2x3 street cart with plumes of grey smoke pouring into the air. And, surprisingly, we discovered that the latter often punched above its weight.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way. And, where there’s fire, there’s the ability to cook—and to cook something that might just be a tad overambitious. We’ve only been doing it for about 1.9 million years.
Although an honest-to-goodness pad thai depends greatly on the authenticity of the ingredients used, you likely already have half of the ingredients needed to make an abecedarian—yet wildly delicious—version of the dish at any given time. So, without further ado, I introduce to you: over-the-fire-friendly Backcountry Pad Thai.
- 2 handfuls flat rice noodles
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 inch piece ginger, peeled and minced
- ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper, or 2 tablespoons chili sauce
- 3 tablespoons sesame oil
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- ¾ cup peanut butter, preferably chunky (if using all-natural, you will need more water for the sauce)
- ¼ cup cilantro, chopped (optional)
- Pan (we used a crepe pan made of thin aluminized steel that heats quickly)
- Cast iron pan (optional)
Before your trip, prepare both the garlic and ginger as directed. Store in a small, airtight container. As well, combine the red pepper, sesame oil, soy sauce, and peanut butter, and store in a separate container. You may also chop the cilantro ahead of time and bring in a Ziploc bag. Otherwise, just bring a small handful that you can tear apart by hand later on.
When you have arrived at your campsite and created a fire that has burned down to a slight flickering (as opposed to leaping flames), you’re ready to cook! I recommend using a simple standing grill you can place directly over the smoldering bits. Boil your water in the pot, and start heating up the garlic and ginger mixture. This won’t take long! Make sure you keep a close eye on it so that it doesn’t burn.
When the water starts to bubble slightly, you can deposit the noodles into the pot. When the garlic and ginger have been sufficiently cooked, add the other container of sauce ingredients into the pan. Stir thoroughly before returning to heat. At this time, you can also begin adding small amounts of water if the mixture appears to be too thick. You’re aiming for a sauce that is slightly thinner than paste-like consistency.
After the first round of noodles have finished, transfer it into your cast iron pan while reserving the water. Return water to boil and begin the second round of noodles. If you do not bring a cast iron pan, you can divide the noodles directly into your bowls. Continue stirring the sauce to ensure that it doesn’t burn. The sauce will also reduce quickly, so you may need to remove it from the heat from time to time while waiting for the rest of the noodles to finish cooking.
When the second round of noodles is complete, combine all of the noodles and sauce in the cast iron pan (or directly into your bowls). Mix until noodles are evenly covered. Put the cast iron pan over low heat (you may need to shift the grill) to keep warm if needed.
- Need protein? Bring pre-cooked chicken and mix it into sauce when it’s almost finished.
- Veggie lover? Bean sprouts can be boiled quickly after the noodles have been cooked, and stirred into the pad thai before serving.
- Less no-frills, more foodie? Bring a lime for that finishing touch of acidity.
Check out more awesome camping recipe ideas here!