Pad Woon Sen vs Pad Thai Differences

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When you think of Thai noodle dishes, comparing pad woon sen vs pad Thai shows just how different Thai cuisine can be. In this post, we’ll compare everything from flavors, ingredients, and preparation.

Pad woon sen vs pad Thai comparison.

After reading this article, make sure to try one of my recipes for pad woon sen, authentic chicken pad Thai, beef pad Thai, and vegetarian pad Thai vegetables!

Pad Thai vs pad woon sen ingredients

Both of these Thai dishes have classic ingredients that define them. Let’s take a look at what makes each dish unique, from the noodles to the flavors and proteins.

Noodles

Just like how pad see ew typically uses sen yai noodles, or fresh rice noodles, pad Thai and pad woon sen each have their own classic noodles.

Pad woon sen noodles: Pad woon sen is made with glass noodles, also known as cellophane noodles or woon sen in Thai. These noodles are transparent and made from mung bean starch. They are light and slippery, with a slightly chewy texture.

When cooked, they absorb the flavors of the sauces and seasonings, making them perfect for stir-fries. They’re also gluten-free, which makes them a great option for those with dietary restrictions.

Thai glass noodles.

Pad Thai noodles: Pad Thai uses thin rice noodles, called sen lek in Thai. These noodles are made from rice flour and water, giving them a chewy and slightly sticky texture when cooked.

They are ideal for absorbing the tangy, sweet, and savory flavors of the tamarind-based pad Thai sauce. Rice noodles are also gluten-free and are a staple in many Thai dishes, making them a popular ingredient in Thai cuisine.

Rice noodles on a bamboo dish.

Flavors and sauces

The sauces and seasonings used in each noodle dish create their unique flavors.

Pad woon sen flavors: The pad woon sen sauce is typically a savory blend of soy sauce, oyster sauce, and sometimes fish sauce. It’s seasoned with garlic and a touch of sugar to balance the flavors. The result is a salty and slightly sweet stir-fry.

Pad Thai Flavors: Pad Thai’s signature flavor comes from its tamarind-based sauce, which is tangy, sweet, and savory. Authentic pad Thai sauce is made with tamarind paste, fish sauce, and sugar.

Vegetables

Vegetables add freshness and crunch to both dishes. While the vegetable options are versatile and can differ from recipe to recipe or household, there are some common choices that you’ll often find in each.

Vegetables in pad woon sen: Pad woon sen typically includes a vegetable mix like carrots, onions, and cabbage. These veggies are stir-fried until they are tender but still have a slight crispness. Some Thai restaurants may include other vegetables like mushrooms and tomatoes.

Vegetable pad woon sen with chopsticks, served in a traditional bamboo dish.

Vegetables in Pad Thai: Authentic Pad Thai is made with shallots, sweet preserved radish, bean sprouts, and garlic chives. While some recipes might include green onions, in Thailand we use garlic chives. The bean sprouts and garlic chives are typically added towards the end of cooking to maintain their crispiness, adding a fresh crunch to the dish.

Authentic chicken pad Thai served in a traditional bamboo dish, accompanied by chili flakes and a lime wedge.

Garnishes

Garnishes are the finishing touch and add extra flavor to both dishes.

Pad woon sen garnishes: Pad woon sen is often garnished with fresh coriander, green onions, and lime wedges. The coriander adds a fresh, herby note, while the lime juice provides a bright, tangy contrast to the savory flavors.

Pad Thai garnishes: Pad Thai is traditionally garnished with crushed peanuts and fresh lime wedges. The dry roasted peanuts add a crunchy texture and nutty flavor, while the lime juice brightens up the dish. Sometimes, additional Thai chili flakes and white sugar are offered on the side for those who prefer extra heat or sweetness.

Hand squeezing lime over beef pad Thai garnished with bean sprouts, chili flakes, and peanuts.
Beef pad Thai garnished with lime, bean sprouts, chili flakes, and peanuts.

Proteins

Both pad Thai and pad woon sen can be made with a variety of protein options. Either can be made with chicken, pork, beef, tofu, shrimp, or other seafood. Pad Thai typically includes dried shrimp.

Both dishes also often includes scrambled eggs, which add a rich flavors and extra protein.

Pad woon sen vs pad Thai calories

Pad woon sen typically has fewer calories than pad Thai. For example, a serving of pad woon sen with glass noodles may have around 250–300 calories, while a serving of pad Thai with rice noodles can range from 400–600 calories, depending on ingredients and portion sizes.

Summary

Pad woon sen

  • Preparation: Quick and easy, perfect for a fast meal.
  • Noodles: Traditionally made with glass noodles.
  • Flavor: A light, savory flavor, with a subtle sweetness from dark soy.
  • Sauce: A simple stir-fry sauce that’s light, often made from soy sauces and oyster sauce.

Pad Thai

  • Preparation: Typically, requires a bit more time with special ingredients like tamarind sauce, fish sauce, and roasted peanuts.
  • Noodles: Traditionally made with rice noodles. However, pad Thai can also be prepared with glass noodles, in which case it’s called pad Thai woon sen.
  • Flavor: Bolder, more tangy, and sweet.
  • Sauce: Pad Thai sauce is more complex, with sweet and sour flavors.

More Thai noodle comparisons

Conclusion

Both dishes are delicious and bring out different flavors of Thai cuisine. Do you like the light and savory pad woon sen or the bold and tangy pad Thai? Share your favorite Thai noodle dish in the comments! Follow me on social media: FacebookInstagram, and Pinterest.

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