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Fistfuls of Basil Make Pad Gra Prow Sing

You can make this ultrapopular, ultraflavorful Thai street food in your home kitchen.
By Published July 20, 2022

Pad gra prow—a spicy, garlicky stir-fry with an irresistible savory-sweet sauce and fistfuls of peppery, vibrant, aromatic holy basil—is a popular street-food dish in Thailand that’s become a staple in home kitchens and restaurants across the country. 

Once you have the right ingredients, the dish is simple to make and a great candidate for home cooks looking for a meal with maximum flavor in a short amount of time. 

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Most commonly made with ground or finely minced pork or chicken and served over jasmine rice with a crispy fried egg on top, the dish offers an intense yet balanced mix of textures and flavors. The sweet soy sauce holds the fiery heat of the Thai chiles (also called prik kee noo or bird’s eye chiles) in check; the mild rice and rich egg yolk balance the savory, pleasantly funky fish and oyster sauces; and the whole thing is brightened and elevated with heaps of emerald-green fresh basil. 

Pad Gra Prow with crispy fried egg.

For guidance on developing our recipe, I reached out to Nuit Regular, executive chef and co‑owner of PAI and Kiin in Toronto, Canada, and author of Kiin: Recipes and Stories from Northern Thailand (2020), which won an IACP Award in the international category in 2021. Regular grew up eating pad gra prow with holy basil harvested fresh from her mother’s garden. Her restaurants have been recognized by the Thai government for their excellence and authenticity. 

Asked to give advice to home cooks making pad gra prow for the first time, Regular focused my attention on the star ingredient: the basil. She emphasized the uniqueness of the holy basil (“gra prow” in Thai), which has a flavor and aroma distinct from Italian sweet basil or Thai basil, and stressed its importance in Thai cuisine. “Holy basil has a much stronger peppery flavor with notes of clove,” she said. “It releases a really beautiful, intense aroma and flavor when used in cooking.” 

Holy Basil

But Regular, who herself had to forge relationships with local farmers in order to get holy basil for her restaurants, also recognized how difficult it can be to source the herb in North America. Here, her advice is crucial: “If you really can’t find holy basil, you can make the stir-fry with sweet basil or Thai basil, but just don’t call it pad gra prow, which means ‘stir-fried holy basil’ in Thai!” 

So don’t be daunted if you’re unable to find holy basil at the market. Regular inspired me to keep looking, and after some searching, I found live holy basil plants at a local nursery near my home in New Orleans and even online sources that would mail me seedlings. I’ve now made this stir-fry with all three types of basil, and though I agree with Regular that holy basil is uniquely delicious, the versions with Thai and sweet basil were excellent—savory, sweet, salty, aromatic—as well. 

“If you really can’t find holy basil, you can make the stir-fry with sweet basil or Thai basil, but just don’t call it pad gra prow, which means ‘stir-fried holy basil’ in Thai!”
Nuit Regular

Making the recipe is as simple as this: Buzz two chopped shallots, eight garlic cloves, and two (or more, to taste) Thai chiles to a paste in a food processor. Heat your pan (we’ve provided instructions for both a wok and a nonstick skillet) with some oil, and then add the shallot paste and brown it. Crank up the heat, add the ground pork, and cook for about 5 minutes. Next, add a combination of Thai sauces (thin soy sauce, sweet soy sauce, fish sauce, and oyster sauce) and then—handful by handful—the small mountain of basil. That’s it. 

The flavor payoff for this easy recipe is incredible. I hope you’ll try it out and see.