Just like most Asian delicacies, Thailand’s food needs little introduction as its spicy flavours are simply irresistible. From San Francisco to Sukhothai, its profusion of exotic flavours and fragrances make it among the most coveted of international cuisines. As a walk through Bangkok forcefully reminds, these flavours and fragrances are seemingly inexhaustible. However, whether it be juicy pieces of grilled pork on a stick or a fiery bowl of ‘Tom Yum’ soup, it has the ability to leave lasting memories in as many open minds.
An incredibly popular ‘one plate’ dish for lunch or dinner, fried basil and pork is certainly one of the most popular Thai dishes. It is made in a piping hot wok with lots of holy basil leaves, large fresh chilli, pork, green beans, soy sauce and a little sugar. The minced, fatty pork is oily and mixes with the steamed white rice for a lovely fulfilling meal. It is often topped with a fried egg (kai dao) you will most likely be asked if you would like an egg with it. Most Thai people ask for lots of chillies in this dish so if you are not a fan of tingling lips, ask for you pad krapow ‘a little spicy’.
Pad Krapow is a ubiquitous fast-food dish in Thailand. You can walk into just about any food shack on any street corner and ask for Pad Krapow, they’ll make one for you. You can also have it with just about any protein you want, pork (minced or cut into bite-size chunks), chicken (ditto), beef (yup, ditto too), or even tofu. Some people like to add cut up onions or sweet bell peppers to add a little more interest to the dish. But the best thing about it, besides being really delicious, is that it’s so simple to make you hardly need a recipe. So I’m not going to give you one. Instead, I’ll tell you how you can easily make it at home. If you can’t find Bai Krapow or Holy Basil, you can even use the regular Thai basil you can find at any Asian markets near you. In which case you’ll technically be making Pad Horapa (Stir-fry with Thai Basil) instead of Pad Krapow (Stir-fry with Holy Basil), but it’ll be good just the same.
The Krapow plants may differ slightly. The ones in Thailand have longer, narrower leaves, and are a slightly paler shade of greyish green. The ones growing in other gardens may have fatter leaves, with an interesting purple shading on some of the leaves. They actually look more like Thai Basil, but when you pick one up and crush it between your fingers, the scent is undeniably Krapow. Thai Basil is more licorice-y. This Krapow in the picture above, on the other hand, is spicier with a hint of citrus and mint. It’s hard to explain in words really. You just have to find them and smell them side by side. Or you don’t have to. Buy whichever you can find at the stores near you, they both make pretty tasty stir-fries.
You’ll need a few cloves of garlic. You’ll want to be generous with the garlic here, don’t skimp. You’ll be ok; just don’t plan a big date after eating this dish. Or make sure your date share has eaten it too, so you both are even. Or evenly stinky, I should say. Chop the garlic up with a few Thai bird-eye chilli too. A little less than half the amount of chopped chilli to chopped garlic is needed, but it all depends on the spiciness of your chilli. If you put too much in the beginning then you’d have to resort to using sugar to reduce the spiciness. And that wouldn’t be so cool. About 6 garlic cloves and 3 hot bird-eye chilli are used all chopped together. Also, a handful of the bell pepper cut into strips is used to make the dish prettier at the end.
About a pound (500g) or ground pork will be okay for a regular-sized dish. Experts have recommended fatty instead of lean ground pork. Fat is where the flavour is, people often say. But, as I said, you can use just about any protein you want. So, pick whatever that’ll make you happy.
So you get your well-seasoned wok nice and hot, add just a tiny bit of oil. You won’t need much now; the ground pork will release yummy fat as it cooks. If you’re using the not-so-fatty protein you’ll need just a tad more oil here to keep everything properly lubricated.
Ok, in goes the chopped up garlic and chilli first. Yes, they go first. Won’t they get all burnt, you asked? Yes, they might so be quick. Give it a couple stirs, just to get it nice and fragrant. Oh, don’t stick your face right into it to check if it’s fragrant yet, by the way. You just add hot chilli into a hot pan.
Now you throw in the ground pork. Give it a couple of toss. A few splashes of fish sauce. Yes, fish sauce, or alternatively a splash or two of thick soy sauce. That’s what they use everywhere in Thailand, just to give this stir-fry a bit of colour.
If you’re adding onion or bell pepper or whatnot, you can do it now. Give it a few more stir, taste and adjust the seasoning as needed. If it’s not spicy enough, take a few chilli, smash then with the blade of a knife until they’re all squished with seeds spilling out. Toss them into the pan, they’ll add a nice bit of spiciness to the dish, plus I like the flavour of fresh, uncooked chilli in the finished dish too so I always add one or two in mine.
When everything is done and cooked, turn off the heat and add a big handful of Bai Krapow or Holy Basil. Toss, and then serve immediately on top of steamed rice.
If you want to be really authentic, fry up an egg, over easy, but do it in a pan with a lot of hot oil, so the edges get brown and crisp while the yolk is still bright orange and liquid. Put it right on top of the rice and the Pad Krapow, a squeeze of lime (or lemon would do in a pinch) over everything and there you have it, Pad Krapow Moo over jasmine rice. Easy, fresh, and quick to prepare. I hope you love it as much as I do.