phat kaphrao (ผัดกะเพรา)
holy basil stir-fry
Also spelled pad kra pao, pad gaprao, phat kaphrao, and other spellings, pad krapow is a Thai spicy stir-fried basil and meat dish that has become popular worldwide. Its history is similar to that of the beloved pad thai, with both being a more modern creation — albeit with many old influences — that were “invented” and popularized around the 40s and 50s.
Pad krapow is often made with chicken, but other meats, seafood, or vegetarian versions exist too. The basil used is traditionally holy basil that grows throughout Southeast Asia and has more of a kick than the related Thai basil, which is more minty and floral. That said, if you don’t have holy basil on hand, Thai basil is still a tasty substitute, even if a slightly different flavor profile.
Cooks will sometimes include other vegetables of their choice alongside the meat and basil, but it’s that protein and fragrant basil that are the focal points. These ingredients are flavored with a mixture of soy sauce, Thai fish sauce, oyster sauce, and a bit of sugar, plus a heap of paste made from lots of garlic and a couple types of chilis ground together in a pestle and mortar.
This combination of herbs and spices, sauces, aromatics, meat, and veggies are stir-fried on a wok before being served with rice. The final dish is especially popular served with a Thai-style crispy fried egg, which is achieved by cracking an egg into a shallow fry of crackling hot oil, causing the edges to get browned and crispy and the whites to bubble up.
All this together is a delicious dish that’s sweet and savory, aromatic, garlic-y, spicy, and just delicious.