When you ask most people about Thai food, they’ll think of green (or red, or yellow) curries, Pad Thai (stir fried noodles Thai-style), Tom Yum Kung (hot & sour prawn soup), sticky rice with mango or maybe Tom Kha Gai or Somtum (the papaya salad).
But almost nobody mentions Pad Krapao Moo Sap (ผัดกระเพราหมูสับ), which is kind of ironic, because it’s probably the most commonly eaten Thai dish by Thai people themselves. It’s easy to prepare, it’s fast, it’s yummy, it’s filling and satisfying, and pretty much every food vendor who has a wok nearby will have it on the menu.
If Pad Krapao Moo Sap sounds nothing but mysterious to you, let’s look at what the name actually means in Thai:
Pad = stir fried
krapao = holy basil
moo = pork
sap = minced
So Pad Krapao Moo Sap means stir fried holy basil with minced pork. What you hear is what you get.
Maybe it’s such a plain and simple dish that Thai people aren’t eager on offering it to tourists? But then, so is Pad Thai. Another reason why it might not be as popular with tourists could be that it’s a dish that should be eaten spicy. Of course, you can make it without the chilies or just put half a chili inside, but that’s just not going to be delicious. A good Pad Krapao must be at least a bit spicy, otherwise it’s really lacking an important dimension.
I’d say Pad Krapao Moo Sap is to Thai’s what Spaghetti Bolognese is to the Italians. But then I’m no expert on Italian cuisine, so I might just end up getting a beating for this comparison.
It’s what the car mechanic, the school kid, the office worker, the cab driver and cashier from the supermarket eat if they want to fight their hunger-feeling. And it works wonderful.
It typically comes with a Thai-style fried egg. That means the egg has been put into plenty of really hot oil, and fried very quickly, so that the edges are crispy and form a brown frame, whereas the egg yolk often is still a bit fluid in the center.
As you can tell, it’s one of my favorite dishes, probably also because it’s so simple to prepare that even I can cook up a decent Pad Krapao. (I’m a really fantastic eater, but my cooking skills can’t keep up with my munching marksmanship). Not something I really eat often, but when there’s nothing else, Pad Krapao is always the trusted friend who’s there for you when you need him and never fails to disappoint.
There are a thousand variations how to make a good Pad Kaprao Moo Sap (and even different ways of writing it: Pad Kaprao, Pad Krapao, Pad Grapao, Phat Graphao, Pat Krapow, all are fine, which can be confusing – however, when speaking, most people say Pad Krapao, even though it’s not completely accurate). Notice that the “Pad” is not pronounced like in iPad. The “a” is pronounced like in “another” (and the same is true for all the following a’s in Pad Krapao).
It also comes as a chicken version (Pad Krapao Gai).
I don’t think I’ve ever eaten a really bad Pad Krapao, but I’ve eaten some really great ones. I’d say the most deciding element is actually the quality of the holy basil which is used. In Bangkok you get mostly a kind of plain holy basil – it’s not bad, still flavorful, but once you’ve tasted really fresh, wildly grown holy basil (holy basil that just grows on a farm between other plants, on land where no fertilizers and pesticides are used), the Bangkok version of holy basil will always fade in comparison.
In Bangkok I can never get enough holy basil, and I developed this habit of telling the vendors to put more holy basil into my Pad Krapao. Well, one day I did that in a small village in northeastern Thailand, and boy did that backfire!
This was the first time that I learned that holy basil is actually REALLY SPICY! After requesting my Pad Krapao to be made with extra amounts of holy basil, I ended up trying to discreetly push the holy basil leaves to the side of the plate, but it was to no avail: the woman who cooked up my dish noticed it and laughed heartily at my humble retreat.
I excused myself for requesting more holy basil than I could handle, especially because in those villages they really don’t like wasting food, but she wasn’t upset and just had a good time teasing me every time she cooked something up for me ever since. (“Do you want extra holy basil with that? Hahaha!”)
You can try your hand at cooking up a Pad Krapao yourself. Here’s a really nice video by Pailin Chongchitnant that goes into A LOT of detail (she’s doing a Pad Krapao Gai, not Moo Sap, but it’s easy to exchange whichever you like):
And as an alternative, Leela from SheSimmers has a published a good recipe, although I just can bring myself to use kecap manis instead of sugar.
Oh, and before we come to an end: this is going to be the first of a series of posts on Thai food. And since today is Friday, we figured to name this series Thai Food Fridays, so watch out for next week if you enjoyed this one.
When you travel through Thailand with wetours, and you’re a foodie, then our Adventures in Taste might be just right for you.