Drunken Noodles vs Spicy Noodles: How Do These Thai Classics Differ?

Thai cuisine is renowned for its complex medley of sweet, sour, salty, and spicy flavors. Two noodle dishes that often get lumped together are drunken noodles and spicy noodles. But what sets these noodle greats apart?

Understanding Drunken Noodles

True to their name, drunken noodles (pad kee mao in Thai) were supposedly created as late-night fare for thirsty pub-goers. Their hallmarks include:

  • Broad rice noodles – Chewy and able to stand up to bold sauces.
  • Spicy chili sauce – Uses Thai chilies and sometimes spicy chili paste. Can range from mild to very hot.
  • Basil – Fresh Thai basil adds aroma and slight anise-like flavor.
  • Protein – Popular additions are chicken, beef, shrimp, pork, or tofu.
  • Veggies – Onions, tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage, baby corn etc.

The finishing touch is a squeeze of lime juice. When done right, the taste is an irresistible combo of sweet, salty, and spicy.

Digging Into Spicy Noodles

Spicy noodles is a broad term that can refer to various stir-fried noodle dishes with a hot and savory sauce. Common examples include:

  • Pad see ew – Brothy, sweet soy sauce flavor.
  • Rad na – Chinese broccoli and oyster sauce taste.
  • Pad kee mao – When made spicy, it becomes drunken noodles.
  • Pad thai – Tamarind and dried shrimp notes. Can be spicy or non-spicy.

As you can see, spicy noodles have diverse ingredients and preparation methods. The heat level also varies from mild to volcanic.

Key Differences Between the Two Noodle Styles

| Drunken Noodles | Spicy Noodles |
| Chili heat + Thai basil | Varying spice levels |
| Uniform drunken noodle sauce | Different sauce bases |
| Broad rice noodles | Multiple noodle types |
| Defined flavor profile | Versatile, customizable |

So while drunken noodles are always fiery and fragrant, spicy noodles encompass all kinds of noodles tossed in a spicy sauce.

Ordering Tips to Get the Dish You Want

Because the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, be specific when ordering to avoid mix-ups:

  • Ask for drunken noodles by name for iconic Thai basil flavor.
  • Specify noodle type and spice level for customized spicy noodles.
  • Request a taste before adding extra chilies if concerned about heat.
  • Clarify non-spicy preferences if you don’t want any burn.
  • Sample different Thai noodle specialties to find your favorites!

Satisfying Thai Noodle Cravings

Whether you seek the chili kick of drunken noodles or a more mellow spicy noodle stir-fry, Thai cuisine offers options for all preference levels.

The array of noodles, sauces, proteins and toppings means the possibilities are nearly endless. Just don’t forget a cold drink when indulging in these mouthwatering noodle dishes!


1. What type of noodles are typically used in drunken noodles?

Wide rice noodles like pad thai noodles or chow fun noodles are common. The thick chewiness stands up well to stir-frying.

2. What makes the sauce in drunken noodles spicy?

It’s spiked with fresh Thai chilies, chili garlic sauce, or nam prik pao chili paste. The heat level can vary.

3. Can you make pad see ew spicy?

Definitely. Pad see ew can be made mild or extra spicy. Just adjust the amount of chili garlic sauce or pepper flakes.

4. What vegetables work well in spicy noodles?

Common choices are cabbage, broccoli, green beans, carrots, baby corn, and mushrooms. Pick crisp, sturdy veggies.

5. Is oyster sauce spicy?

No, oyster sauce adds savory umami flavor but no heat. It’s popular in noodle dishes like pad see ew.

Let me know if you need any other FAQs covered or have additional questions to address!

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Bill Kalkumnerd
Bill Kalkumnerd

I am Bill, I am the Owner of HappySpicyHour, a website devoted to spicy food lovers like me. Ramen and Som-tum (Papaya Salad) are two of my favorite spicy dishes. Spicy food is more than a passion for me - it's my life! For more information about this site Click

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