By Tana Kosiyabong
I was born and raised in Thailand, so I’m well aware of the authenticity of Thai cuisine. More often than not, Thai food in North America tastes remotely like the authentic siblings. Sometimes I don’t even recognize them, especially those frozen dinners at the grocery stores. Thai chicken this. Thai noodle that. I had tried them all and still wondered which parts of them were Thai. Could it be the packaging? Anyway, that’s enough of my pet peeves.
Pad Grapow (spicy basil meat stir-fry) is my most favorite Thai dish ever. I could eat Pad Grapow and rice at every meal for a month. However, most Pad Grapow I normally find in North America is actually not Pad Grapow. The word “Grapow” means a type of basil known in English as Thai Holy Basil. However, most Pad Grapow dishes in this continent contain the wrong kind of basil named “Horapa” or Thai sweet basil (also known as Thai basil). Although I have learned to live with this substitute, I always long for the authentic one.
It’s been over 12 years now since I’ve been living in the U.S. and Canada. During that time I’ve been a nomad, moving from East Lansing, Michigan to Atlanta, Georgia to New York City to Jackson, Mississippi to Lincoln, Nebraska to Vancouver, BC. Phew. Along the way, I tasted what the local Thai restaurants had to offer. Unfortunately, none of them served the authentic Pad Grapow.
Until a couple of weeks ago, I stumbled upon a small Thai restaurant called “Thai Basil.” (What a coincidence!) The restaurant had a weekly special on the Pad Grapow Gai (chicken). So I ordered it with the expectation that they would use “Horapa,” instead. To my incredible surprise, I did actually smell the scent of Grapow when the dish was served. Was I dreaming? Or just hallucinating?
No, it was real. I started to shake with excitement. The first bite was so heavenly I could see the light beaming through the clouds and shining onto me. The Hallelujah music burst out. I almost cried with happy tears. After twelve years of searching for an authentic Pad Grapow in North America, I finally found it in Canada. And it’s right here in downtown Vancouver. This to me is as big as Christopher Columbus first discovering the New Land.
The Pad Grapow Gai was a slam-dunk. It was as spicy as it should be (but you can ask for a milder one if you can’t stand the heat). It tasted exactly like what I’ve had in Thailand. Unfortunately I didn’t have a camera with me to record this special moment. But I must write about this on CheapAppetite.com. The whole world needs to know about this. So I walked up to the cashier with my sweaty forehead, burning tongue, and slightly runny nose to ask if I could order Pad Grapow next time even if it wasn’t on the Weekly Special. “Yes. But only with beef,” she said. “The chef had to specially prepared the chicken beforehand for this particular dish,” she added. Well… Pad Grapow Nua(Beef) is totally fine with me.
Ten days later, I went back to Thai Basil again and ordered me a Pad Grapow Nua. This time I made sure to bring my camera. The dish was as slam-dunk as it before. Only it didn’t catch me off guard this time. The Pad Grapow Nua was served on white Jasmine rice with a fried egg. The yolk was still running when I poked into it. Fried egg is a very popular side that Thai people love with their Pad Grapow.
After I finished my dish, I asked if I could talk to the chef to get more information. At this point I had to tell him why I wanted to talk to him. The chef’s name is Goh. He and his wife have owned this restaurant for just over a year. He told me he bought the Thai Holy basil from a vendor in Chinatown. He also suggested that I should try Pad Kee Mao chicken, a spicy rice noodle dish that also uses Thai Holy Basil. “This one is on the House,” he said.
Of course, I couldn’t say no to the free food even when I was already full. The Pad Kee Mao was also very delicious. Again, this dish tasted very authentic. The noodle was cooked just right and stir-fried with Thai Holy basil, fresh peppercorn, tomatoes, cabbage, Thai hot chili and bell peppers. The fresh bean sprout helps reduce the heat from the hot chili and adds crunchiness to the dish. It’s a perfect ensemble.
Pad Grapow beef (or chicken) on Jasmine rice with a fried egg is sold for $8.50 plus tax. Pad Kee Mao chicken is sold for $7.95 plus tax. Though they are not in my “Cheap Eats Vancouver under $5” category, considering that I no longer have to fly to Thailand for these dishes, their prices are worth every penny!
Pad Grapow Beef/Chicken: ©©©©© 1/2*
Pad Kee Mao Chicken: ©©©©©
*Extra half point is for making me so happy I almost cried like a little girl.
Note on September 6, 2010: During the past few months I have received a couple emails from Cheap Appetite readers. The first one mentioned that Thai Basil sometimes can’t make Pad Grapow. Chef Goh told me that occasionally the vendor he bought the Holy Basil from ran out of it. And it could be ongoing for weeks. Another email mentioned that a Thai Basil waitress said that the restaurant is no longer make Pad Grapow with beef. I believed you can now get it with chicken or pork though. However, don’t take my words for it. If you want to try Pad Grapow at Thai Basil, please call the restaurant at 604.685.6754 to confirm before you make a trip there. Enjoy and Cheap Appétit.
Note on September 20th, 2010. I went to Thai Basil again last week to ask chef Goh about the Pad Grapow issue above. He said that sometimes the kitchen ran out of ground beef and he doesn’t have time to chop beef by hands. You may ask for slice beef, but Chef Goh said it’s not as good as the chopped ones. And now you can also order Pad Grapow pork or chicken too. Yum!
Thai Basil Restaurant is located at 1215 Thurlow St., Vancouver, BC. 604.685.6754