Pad thai: Homemade vs takeout, which is cheaper?
Everyone loves slurping up a delicious pad thai. But what's better value: picking up takeaways, or making it yourself at home?
Chewy noodles, crunchy peanuts, a hint of sweet, sour and spice. Add some chicken, tofu, eggs and prawns and you've got yourself pad thai, one of New Zealand's favourite takeaway dishes.
This Friday night in homes around Aotearoa, friends, flatmates and families will be looking for something simple to eat. But as the cost-of-living crisis and rising inflation continue to bite, how much will a feed of pad thai set you back?
Is it cheaper to make pad thai yourself, or opt for the takeaway version?
Consumer NZ decided to try and find out.
For six weeks, we're choosing a people-pleasing meal, then surveying our four big supermarkets to see how much it will set you back to cook that meal for four people. Then we're comparing those prices to takeaway options.
Now we're turning our Friday night fake-away survey on: pad thai.
To make your pad thai
With all those components, pad thai may look intimidating to cook. But it's all about the sauce – and there are ready-made tamarind-based mixes available to help making your own pad thai at home a little easier. We found Passage to Asia's Pad Thai Sauce stocked in all major supermarkets.
You'll also need a packet of rice noodles, onion and garlic, a chicken breast, frozen prawns, tofu, two eggs, bean sprouts, roasted peanuts, lime juice and fresh chilli to complete your pad thai meal.
First up, soften your noodles in boiling water. Then fry up thinly sliced chicken, and throw in the diced onion and garlic, cubes of tofu and the prawns. Once browned, push everything to one side and fry two scrambled eggs, gently tossing all the ingredients together.
Lastly, stir through the sauce, sprouts and drained noodles. Serve in bowls with freshly chopped chilli and a squeeze of lime. You'll need chopsticks for this one – enjoy!
Which supermarket was the cheapest?
As we filled our online baskets, one ingredient affected the outcome of this supermarket survey more than any other: prawns. To get 500g of frozen prawns, the difference in price could be a whopping $17.50, depending on where you go and what brand you buy.
Supie offered the cheapest option with 500g packets of Sea Cuisine prawns at $10; while Pak’nSave charged $12.99 for Kingfisher prawns – far cheaper than New World, where the same prawns cost $16.49. Far and away the most expensive was Countdown, which charged $27.50 for a bag of its own-brand jumbo prawns.
A single free-range chicken breast also varied in price depending on brand. Supie offered a 380g Rangitikei breast for $7, while New World had a 400g Pams breast for $8.99. Pak’nSave offered a 400g Bostocks organic breast for $12.40; you'll pay $13 at Countdown for 450g.
Another factor affecting the price was limes, which at times are hard to find fresh. If you want a squeeze of lime over your pad thai year round, you'll need to purchase a bottle of pre-squeezed lime juice. In our survey, they ranged in price from $5.29 and $6.20. (Or you could grab a lemon off your neighbour’s tree.)
Ultimately, with a total checkout price of $73.54, Countdown came out as the most expensive option thanks to its prohibitively expensive prawns. New World was second at $65.15, and Pak’nSave third at $59.17. Supie was the cheapest at $56.66 (be aware, though, that the online-only supermarket has delivery fees and a membership programme, which may add to the total cost).
How does that compare to takeaways?
It's not hard to find a decent Thai restaurant around town. In my former Auckland suburb of Te Atatū Peninsula, there were three thai restaurants within a stone's throw of each other. I tested their prices and compared them to those at the supermarkets.
Thai Flavour, a takeaway-only joint nestled in a block of shops on Te Atatū Road, was the cheapest option. It offered a pad thai dish with chicken, beef or pork for $12, rising to $14 if you wanted seafood. Four of those would cost $48 to $56.
At Khawhom Thai Restaurant on Gunner Drive, prices rose significantly, with a basic pad thai costing $17.90, with chicken an additional $3 and prawns another $4. That's $24.90 in total, or $99.60 for four.
At Thai Peninsula, pad thai costs $18.90 with your choice of chicken, beef or pork. Prawns weren't available as an option, but as other dishes on the menu included them, the chef can probably be persuaded to add them in – for a price. It would cost $75.60 for four prawn-less meals.
Your cheapest option for pad thai depends on where you buy your ingredients, and how much you're being charged for takeaways at your local Thai joint.
If you have a cheap and cheerful Thai restaurant nearby, buying takeaways could cost about the same as making it yourself – if you bought your ingredients from Pak’nSave or Supie that is.
But if you shopped at Countdown or New World, all those ingredients would cost you much more. One option would be leaving out the prawns, taking up to $27.50 off the cost of your homemade pad thai.
But is it really pad thai without a few prawns thrown in the mix? The choice is yours.
Prices were accurate as of week beginning 2 October.
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