Holy Basil Meets Hellish Fire

What started as lunchtime favourite has now turned into a trendy delicacy.

Words: Sarita Urupongsa

A huge favourite among Thais, Phad Kaphrao (stir-fried mince with holy basil) is now gaining a fiery reputation among food lovers across the world. Once a lunchtime favourite at street side eateries, this simple dish has now spawned its own dedicated Kaphrao-only restaurants all around Bangkok.

Traditionally, Phad Kaphrao comprises leaves of holy basil stir-fried with either pork or chicken and is given a fiery kick with a good dose of sliced green chillies. Nowadays, the dish has been given a fresh twist with the addition of assorted veggies, namely yard-long beans, baby corn, sliced carrot and even onion. The choice of protein has also extended to cover beef, squid or prawn.

Creating a dish of Phad Kaphrao is easy, because its ingredients are simple – minced meat (or seafood), holy basil leaves, garlic, birds-eye chilli and seasoning. However, it takes a careful cook and a hot flame to get the blend of strong flavours just right. The key is in the district aroma of holy basil, which gives the dish its perfect balance of herbal subtlety and fiery heat.

Start by pounding a palmful of chillies and peeling a few cloves of garlic. Set your pan on medium to high flame, heat two tablespoons of oil and throw in the chilli and garlic when it starts to smoke. Stir until the garlic releases its aroma and then add minced pork or other meat/seafood. Once the meat starts cooking, add fish sauce and sugar. Then turn the flame off and stir in the holy basil. Turn the mixture until the leaves soften, before serving it with fresh rice topped with a fried egg. A duck’s egg is ideal in this case because its stronger taste complements the powerful flavours of chilli, garlic and basil.

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