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Pad ka-prao (moo)

Sat, 8 June, 2024

Pad ka-prao (moo) is spelt in many different western ways but it only means one thing: a fabulous Thai dish. And ‘moo’, counterintuitively, means pork.

pad ka-prao moo


Pad ka prao, pad kra-pao, phat kaphrao or pad ka-pow, however you bastardise and westernise the spelling and pronunciation is Thailand’s simplest stir fry.

Probably the best English translation will be ‘basil stir fry’, considering the word ‘pad’ means ‘fried’ and bai ka-prao is Thai holy basil. And indeed it is often called chilli and basil stir fry in Thai restaurants.

It is my benchmark for Thai food: if I visit a new Thai place, unless reliably recommended a special, I’ll go for pad ka prao with, variously, chicken, beef or prawn.

In England I’ve had some excellent ones, I’ve had some very mediocre ones but in every one of them the featured meat element was chopped into strips or chunks. Little did I know until recently how wrong that is.

pork pad ka-prao

What is it when it’s at home?

I have never been to Thailand but have now reliably learned a little about this popular street food, how easy and how frugal it is.

Indeed, it can be made with pork (pad ka-prao moo), chicken (gai) or beef (neua wua, this one looks complicated so recipe writers just call it default pad ka-prao), but more often than not the meat is minced. I said it was frugal.

My Thai source, Leela Punyaratabandhu of She Simmers, says she prefers to chop up her own chicken or pork, so the quality in home cooking will obviously be better. But street stalls will probably use cheap mince, which is not to say will make it less delicious.

So for this dish I usually buy good pork mince or beef. If I make chicken pad ka-prao, I follow Leela’s example: shop bought chicken mince is probably a bit too cheapskate.

minced pork

Holy basil!

Even if you are knowledgeable in your pad ka’s, tasted the real thing in the streets of Bangkok and cook it proudly at home using minced meat, if you’re a farang, you’ve probably been using wrong basil.

Thai basil is not the same as Thai holy basil, ka-prao, which is the herb that gives the dish its name and should be the flavour of.

Thai basil is available in UK supermarkets and smells exotic enough to fool us, has purple leaves and stems and you would never put it in your caprese.

thai basil


The genuine article is green all over, with feathery leaves and a peppery smell. It is also near impossible to purchase in Europe, specialist Thai suppliers and market excepted.

But hey! if you can’t have what you like, you like what you have as my Dad (infuriatingly) used to say. Better to have pad ka-prao with wrong basil than not to have it at all. Plus, I’m reassured by Kenji Lopez-Alt that it’s fine to use Thai basil, or even Italian basil at a push if there’s no other way.

The basil is added to the finished meat so it wilts in the heat but retains and imparts the flavour, so pick the leaves off the stems and prepare them in a bowl before starting to cook.

Thai basil and chilli pork

How to make the chilli paste for pad ka-prao

How many chillies? The answer is: as many as you can manage. Thai bird’s eye chillies are mighty potent, even if you try and scrape some of the seeds out. I do that (wimp!), and my limit for a pound of meat is three, usually.

The next thing is several garlic cloves, peeled, with a shallot, also peeled and it all needs to be pounded with palm sugar into a coarse paste. If you don’t have palm sugar, use brown sugar.

That is where a pestle and mortar becomes indispensable, unless you’re one of the kitchen wussies who food-processes single cloves of garlic.

garlic chilli paste

The sauce

Fish sauce is a must, as is oyster sauce, both easily available these days. Ketsap manis, the sweet soy sauce might be less easy to procure, in which case replace it with dark soy sauce with a spoonful of sugar.

The preparation

As in many Asian dishes, all the effort is in preparing your ingredients, peeled, chopped or pounded, the sauce mixed and all the stuff in separate bowls.

Once that’s done, it’s minutes before you can tuck in. Provided, of course, you have put the rice on to cook early enough.

The fry

In this recipe you don’t even need a wok: any frying pan or skillet will do. Medium heat, a little oil and the first step is to cook the garlic-chilli-shallot paste until fragrant.

Meat is added to it next and you can proceed as if you were cooking Bolognese, breaking up the meat and pushing it around until it’s evenly browned and cooked through.

cooking pork mince

Last, sauce goes in and when it’s absorbed and coloured the meat nicely, check for seasoning – and no, there’s nothing you can do if at this point you realise it’s FAR too hot.

Off the heat, fold in the basil and either serve immediately, over rice and sprinkled with crispy shallots, or quickly fry a crispy egg to top each portion.

finishing pad ka prao with basil

More Thai recipes

Thai noodles with cinnamon and ginger, unbelievably easy, unbelievably flavoursome. I ripped this recipe off Nigella Lawson’s one for Thai noodles with prawn, but this is a vegetarian version of egg or rice noodles flavoured with cinnamon, star anise, ketjap manis and ginger.

Thai beef salad made with finely sliced seared bavette steak, aka flank or skirt steak. Perfectly flavoursome beef on a bed of crunchy vegetables, with classic Thai nam pla dressing makes a delightful dish.

Green papaya salad with sweet and sour dressing is crunchy, juicy and incredibly full of goodness. Plus, it helps digest meat!

More minced pork recipes

Easy dirty rice with minced pork and homemade Creole seasoning, a bomb of flavours and a healthy main course ready in about 40 minutes.

Crispy fried minced pork with noodles also called 'ants climbing a tree' in Sichuan cuisine. Traditionally glass vermicelli, my recipe is for egg noodles, so the poor ants have more traction!

Pork and smoky bacon meatballs with tomato flavoured bulgur wheat, a variation on Swedish, Italian and Moroccan meatball classics.

pad ka-prao chilli and basil Thai pork

Pad ka-prao (moo)

Servings: 4Time: 20 minutes


  • For the paste:
  • 5 large cloves of garlic
  • 2 shallots
  • 3-5 bird’s eye chillies (or however many you can tolerate)
  • 1 tbsp palm sugar
  • For the sauce:
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 2 tbsp light soy sauce or shoyu
  • 1 tbsp dark sweet soy sauce (kecap manis)
  • 1 tbsp oyster sauce
  • For the pork:
  • 1 bunch Thai holy basil
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 400g (1 pound) lean minced pork
  • 3 kafir lime leaves (optional)
  • fried eggs, to serve
  • crispy shallots, for garnish


1. Peel the garlic and shallots, and chop roughly. Trim the chillies and scrape out some seeds if you wish.

2. Pound it all in a pestle and mortar with the palm sugar to a rough paste.

3. Mix all the sauce ingredients in a cup.

4. Pick the leaves off Thai basil stems and set aside.

5. Heat 2 tbsp of the oil in a wok or a frying pan over medium heat. Add the aromatic paste and cook until fragrant.

6. Add the pork and cook breaking up with a spatula. Turn up the heat and continue until cooked through, lightly browned and any liquid is reabsorbed.

7. Stir in the sauce and check for seasoning. Take the pan off the heat and stir in the basil leaves so they only just wilt. Transfer everything to a bowl and keep warm.

8. Wipe the wok or frying pan, add the remaining 1 tbsp of oil and heat up until shimmering. Break in the eggs and fry until crisp, tilting the pan to baste them in oil.
Serve pad ka-prao over plain rice, topped with a fried egg and crispy onions if you like.

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