When you think about Thai food, what kind of food are you think about?
Most people outside Thailand always think that Pad Thai is the common food in Thailand because the menu contains the word “Thai.” But, to be honest, not many places in Thailand have Pad Thai and Thai people don’t usually eat Pad Thai on a regular basis in Thailand.
But, if you don’t eat pork, you can substitute pork with ground chicken or ground shrimp. You can even substitute pork with beef or squid. However, for the fish fillet, the spicy basil has a sightly different way to cook spicy basil with fish. We deep fry fish with some batter first and then make the spicy basil sauce to stir fry with. So, please keep this cooking instruction for pork, chicken, beef, shrimp, and squid. If you don’t like ground meat, you can even use sliced pieces of those proteins.
If you want more common and authentic, you have to eat with steam rice and a fried egg (A sunny side up egg – Thai style).
Before we get started, I want to share one more thing about this dish. Thai basil stir fried dish is very special as it is one of the most controversial dishes in Thailand. Thai people are very sensitive about this. When you talk with a Thai person and bring this dish up, there will be a long conversation about that especially if they know you want to discuss how they feel.
First, in Thailand, there are many types of basil. The basil you see in the US is not the basil we used in this dish traditionally. Even though it’s called Thai basil, it is not holy basil. In Thailand, there are three main basils we extensively used in Thai cooking. They are not interchangeable and we never use them together.
First, it’s Thai basil (or sweet basil). It is the one you have been seeing in an Asian market in the US. In Thailand, we called this “Hor-Ra-Pa”. The basil edge is smooth. The flowers of this basil are purple but the leaves are very green. The stem of this basil is very smooth. This basil we used in green curry and some other dishes. The second basil is Thai Holy Basil. In Thailand, we called “Bai-Kra-Pow”. It is actually the name of this dish. Kra-Pow basil has purple and green on the leaves. Some types of Thai holy basil can be just green. But, the stems have to be furry. The edge of the leaves has to be serrated. This Thai holy basil is stronger and a bit more spicy. The third basil is Lemon Basil. In Thailand, we called “Bai-Mang-Luck”. This basil is very similar to Thai Holy Basil. The stems have fur but the edges are smooth like the first basil. We used this in Kang-Liang and some curry steamed cake (Hor-Mok).
I know the basil topic is complicated and Thai people take this very seriously. That’s why you will never see me teach this dish in any of my cooking classes at all because it’s almost impossible to get Thai holy basil locally. One more sensitive thing about this dish is we will never add some other vegetables to the dish. Thai people will get very offended and pissed if they get some other vegetables in the Thai basil stir fried dish. To sum up, this easy (but somehow sounds complicated) dish only contains ground meat, garlic, Thai chili, fish sauce and/or soy sauce, some cooking oil, and a lot of Thai holy basil with a choice of sunny side up egg. That’s it. Period! The conversation ended here. We don’t talk about improvisation. We don’t talk about nutritional value. We don’t talk about substitutes. If you want to add nutritions and some greens in your life, you just order a vegetable side dish to eat with this dish.
Take a look at this dish. This dish is still acceptable as it doesn’t have any other vegetables on the dish. I stir fried ground pork with garlic and chili with some oil and fish sauce. I deep fried the Thai basil and served with a poached egg. I also used brown rice. Somehow I didn’t get criticized for this dish. It’s still considered a proper Thai basil stir fried dish.
In contrast, if I served this dish to a Thai person, they will complain and talk bad about my food in the next several days. What’s wrong with this dish? I had onions, carrots, and green beans. It’s a no no for Thai basil stir fried among Thai people’s eyes. But, to be honest, when it comes to home cooks, you can cook whatever you want. You can add whatever you want in your food. Thai people just don’t call this dish Thai basil stir fried anymore. They call ground pork stir fried with vegetables.
I wrote this article didn’t want to discourage you from cooking this dish. I just wanted to share the perspective of the Thai basil stir fried dish to my friends here outside Thailand. At the end of the day, I cook whatever I feel like to cook and I still add some vegetables to my Thai basil dish. When we live outside Thailand, many ingredients are limited. But, please just don’t let this limitation stop you from cooking delicious food.
Check out the recipe below for the traditional Thai basil stir fried. I think you might want to know how it looks like and how to cook it. If you want to add something else to this dish, you definitely can. Please just don’t tell anyone that you add other ingredients in. haha! Yes! Just keep a secret to yourself. Let’s get started :))))
Ingredients (Serve 2-4 people)
1.5 Lb Ground Pork
3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
2 Fresh Thai Chili, Minced
1 Handful Fresh Thai Basil (Use only the leaves; no stems please)
2 Tablespoons Fish Sauce (Thai brands are highly recommended)
2 Tablespoons Soy Sauce (Any Brands)
2 Tablespoons Vegetable Oil
2-4 Eggs (one person serve each) [we fry an egg one at a time]
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
THAT’S IT!!!! Really Easy! and EASY to PREPARE
PLEASE READ before COOKING
Before I go further for the cooking direction, I would like to reveal the secret of how to cook Thai food.
– Authentic Thai Basil is HOT BASIL (holy basil) where it is very difficult to find in Northeastern part of the U.S.A., but you can find at some Asian markets. We also have Sweet Basil where it is the common basil you can probably find at any groceries. It makes a difference, but if you cannot find HOT BASIL, regular basil is good enough. Don’t tell anyone.
– There are many Fish Sauce available in Asian markets in the U.S.A.; however, not every brand provides the same taste. All Thai brands are good enough to cook Thai food. I recommend any Thai brand. Please do not buy other fish sauce brands from other countries to cook Thai Food. The taste will be changed dramatically.
– You can buy soy sauce from any brands. The taste from different brands does not make a difference, but please be not confused with Teriyaki sauce; it’s different. There are 3-4 soy sauce brands from Thailand at Asian markets. If you buy a new one for cooking Thai food, I recommend to buy a Thai brand. But, if you have soy sauce at home from other brands, you can use the sauce you have.
– You can also buy fresh chili at Asian markets. Sometimes, I find fresh chili at regular groceries. So, it’s not that difficult. You cannot use dry ground chili because the taste will be different. Therefore, please use fresh ones :)))
Okay! Now I am ready to cook.
How to Cook:
1. Heat up a pan with high heat and add oil, garlic, and chili.
2. Once the garlic and chili became fragrant, add ground pork, fish sauce, and soy sauce. If you start to sneeze, you are on the right track. You may sneeze from the spicy of the chili. It’s very normal. My grandma always says if you sneeze while you cook chili, you are a good cook.
3. Reduce the heat to medium and keep stirring until the ground meat is cooked through.
4. Turn off the heat and add Thai basils. Stir to combine.
5. Give it a taste. If you need more salty flavors, just drizzle some fish sauce. If it’s too salty, you can add a bit of sugar. But, I recommended to under season better than over season especially for this dish that we cannot use lime or vinegar to balance the flavors.
How to Fry an Egg
1. Warm the vegetable oil. Fry an egg one at a time.
2. Need to wait until the vegetable oil is super hot. Then, add an egg gently into the skillet/pan.
3. You have to keep an eye on it. You will take the hot oil and pour over the egg white part until it’s crispy. Never flip over. The egg yolk can stay running. Just cook an egg as many as you plan to eat right away. There are no other ways to reheat the eggs. Never microwave the eggs.
Serve the Thai basil stir fried on top of steamed rice and place the fried egg on top.
Question: If I don’t eat spicy, can I skip the chili?
Answer: I recommend adding one whole chili in the dish (do not mince it). After you finish cooking this dish, just take out the chili. Chili will help enhance the basil taste and the fragrance of the dish.
Question: Can I skip Basil if I cannot find any places to buy?
Answer: Basils are available almost every grocery even though you cannot get Thai holy basil. But, as I mentioned, just use sweet basil instead and don’t tell anyone. You cannot skip basil AT ALL; otherwise, the food will not be called Thai basil stir fried.
Originally this recipe was written in 2014 and was updated in 2020.