Best Thai dish on this side of the Atlantic. And some of the Pacific – Pad Krapow at Vancouver’s Thai Basil Restaurant

By Tana Kosiyabong

pad krapow nua

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.

padkeemao

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

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57 thoughts on “Best Thai dish on this side of the Atlantic. And some of the Pacific – Pad Krapow at Vancouver’s Thai Basil Restaurant

  1. Pad Kee Mao is my most favorite Thai dish, next time I’m in Portland I will go to Uwajimayua, they have Thai holy basil

    1. Thank you Rich,
      If I ever visit Portland, I’ll got Uwajimayua. That’s quite a name:) If you’d like to review Uwajimayua, I’d love to post it on my Fan Favorites section. You can either email me at CheapAppetite@gmail.com or submit a comment, I will make sure to post it. Check out http://CheapAppetite.com/fan-favorites for samples.

      Thanks again for sharing. Now I know two restaurants that have Thai Holy Basil. Should’ve moved to the west coast a long time ago!

  2. The Pad Krapow beef looks so delicious! I’m salivating! I love Thai food. I bought some dry holy basil when I was in Thailand and they store quite well too. But then there’s nothing like the fresh stuff!

    1. Margie,
      I totally agree with you. The dry one is not as good as the fresh. You may also find chili paste with holy basil and garlic in bottle from some Asian grocery stores, but it doesn’t taste as good either.
      Thanks for your comment:)
      Tana

    1. Hi Avanti,
      Thanks for you comment:) I got quite a few suggestions from my blog readers to put pictures on the homepage. I agree that it looks better. I’m glad you like it too:) If have any other feedback, feel free to let me know!
      Cheers,
      Tana

    1. Thanks Polarmichael. British Columbia is very beautiful. Now is probably the best time to visit. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it here.
      Cheers,
      Tana

    1. Miranda, I wish you could try this. With you comment in mind, I will try to write about food that everyone can enjoy too. Stay Tune:)
      Cheers,
      Tana

  3. Stop!! I’m so glad you were able to find that. I was ecstatic when I found a Korean restaurant that wasn’t bogged down by American ideals. Even now just thinking of the kimchi, fried fish, and fish cakes, it’s making me drool!

    1. Tiffany,
      I’m glad you found your favorite Korean restaurant. I love korean food too. Bulgogi, spicy seafood noodle soup, and spicy squid and stir-fry are among my fav:)
      Tana

  4. Your excitement from your discover of some authentic tastes of home really comes out from this post. A great read, and definitely makes me want to visit this place. Thanks for the intel!

    1. Thanks Shokutsu,
      This is really my biggest find so far. I’m glad you like it and hopefully you’ll have a chance to visit Thai Basil in the near future.
      Cheers,
      Tana

  5. I’m stuck at the office, working late, I read your post and saw your photos and I want to gnaw on the screen. Dammit!!! The dishes look amazing — I’ll have to remember that place when I’m back in Vancouver.

    1. Thanks Wasabi Prime,
      They were really delicious. If you have ever come to Vancouver, you’ll definitely need to try them. They are very authentic.

  6. Hi Tana,

    I live in Yaletown and have been disappointed with Thai food in Vancouver ever since I sampled Thai cuisine in Asia. Thank you for sharing your discovery. I can’t wait to check out Thai Basil.

    1. Hi Karen,
      I went back there again yesterday with a couple of friends. We all have Pad KeeMao beef. I asked for spicy, but my friends went for mild. Mine was awesome. But the milder ones were a bit too sweet. If you like spicy food, you’ll like Thai basil:) I saw another customer ordered Thai fried rice yesterday, it looks quite authentic. I will order it next time. It’s time to try something new on their menu. So far I repeatedly order Pad Garpow and Pad KeeMao.

      I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
      Cheers,
      Tana

  7. Wow, if Tana approves of this place it must be good ! Good to have them in my back pocket next time I’m around Thurlow.

    Just curious, are the owners Thai then ?

    1. Hey LotusRapper,
      Thanks for visiting. Yes, Mr. Goh, the cook/chef and one of the owners, is Thai. I’m not sure about his wife. I went back there many times, but I always order either Pad Grapow or Pad Kee Mao. I’m not sure if other dishes are as good. I’ll have to try other dishes there soon.

  8. OMG, thank you thank you for blogging about this cuz I am going tomorrow, I have not had Thai Holy Basil since I left SE Asia 18 years ago…in 15 hours I will be pigging out here!

    1. You’re welcome imkoonta. I’m glad you finally found Thai holy basil after a long 18 years. Gosh that’s quite long time. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did the first time. Let me know how it goes:)
      Cheers,
      Tana

  9. Yah its been a while cuz all the other Thai restaurants in BC I patronize use regular sweet basil and to me its inferior. And it was an awesome experience at this place, my colleague and I shared the Pad Kaprow with pork, Tom Ka Gai and Pad Kee Mao and I savoured every moment and have to say thanks to you, Thai Basil is now my fav Thai restaurant and I am going again Monday and as often as I possibly can. Going for Pad Woon Sen next time, another fav of mine and many places don’t do it right.

    1. Imkoonta. I’m so glad you really enjoy your meal at Thai Basil. It is my favorite Thai restaurant in Vancouver too. But I have to admit that I haven’t really ventured too far out of downtown area. So, I may miss other good Thai restaurants in Vancouver. I haven’t tried Pad Woon Sen at Thai Basil yet. Please let me know how it goes. Enjoy!

    1. Sorry to hear you still can’t find krapow where you are. I can’t actually find them in the market, but at least I can go to Thai Basil for Pad Krapow. They rock! I was so happy the first time I ate it.

    1. Hey Iris, thanks for visiting:) It is my favourite Thai restaurant too:) Perhaps, you’ll see me there one day. lol. I love the Pad Krapow. Oh my I’ll have to go there again soon:)

  10. My first visit to this place was good, even though they were out of holy basil. We got the Thai-style Pad Thai and the Eggplant and Beef stir fry. Both great dishes, well executed. Loved the Pad Thai the most. Love the tamarind and little dried shrimp in it.

    Second visit, however, was TERRIBLE! Mis-communication between me and the staff, and general feeling that they don’t give a crap if a customer specifically asks for something authentic. We ordered the Thai-style Pad Thai again but received the Canadianized version 😦 They said they couldn’t make the Thai version because it was a weekly special which was over, and that they didn’t have tamarind juice to make it anyways. So I don’t know if they can make it anymore or not, or if it’s off the menu now…I dunno. It was very hard to get a straight answer out of the staff. It would’ve been nice if the young girl there TOLD me that they couldn’t make the Thai-style Pad Thai in the first place. Hard to get good help these days? Would it kill you to smile and speak up? I can get Canadianized Pad Thai ANYWHERE. I made a special trip to your restaurant for this dish! That’s why we’re f**dies. We want the best and most unique, not the usual.

    We also made a point of getting Pad Grapow with Beef, so I called ahead to make sure they had holy basil and they said they did, but when we got there they were out of minced beef!?!? ARGG!! I saw beef in other dishes that people were eating, but I guess they didn’t want to go to the trouble of mincing some of it for us?? So anyways, we got the Pad Grapow with ground pork instead. It tasted fine but a bit too salty and I didn’t need to use the side of fish sauce at all. In all honesty, I could cook the same thing at home if I could find holy basil. In fact, I could probably substitute a kick-ass Vietnamese herb and make a better dish! As it stands, I don’t see myself coming out to this place again just to taste holy basil. To me it’s like a very mild sage. There’s probably at least a couple Vietnamese herbs that could be used in the same way to create really tasty dishes, if not quite authentic.

    I was so keen on getting something special that I considered ordering the Pad Kee Mao but I asked the girl if it contains holy basil and she said no!!! I pointed to the Cheap Appetite review posted on their frickin’ window and said this guy who reviewed your restaurant said it uses holy basil! She thought I was nuts!

    So we finished the Pad Grapow in near silence, feeling the shittiest I’ve ever felt in a restaurant in a long time. I got my money back for the Pad Thai fiasco and heard a half-grumbled “sorry” from the older girl.

    Tana, I think you’ve been away from Thailand too long. This place isn’t all that.

    1. Hey Flowbee,
      I’m really sorry to hear about your bad experiences at Thai Basil. If I have time next week, I’ll visit their restaurant and relay your frustration to the owner/chef. I was a bit concerned when I wrote these posts about the Pad Krapow and authentic Pad Thai because they are not on the menu. But Chef Koh at the time said that they can make them to order regularly.

      I went there once when they ran out of the Holy Basil because the vendor didn’t have any. So, I guess I can’t blame them on that. But I love that you called them first to make sure. I’ll do the same next time 🙂

      Pad Krapow can be made with beef, pork, chicken, shrimp, squid and even fish (fried first). Depending on where you get it, the dish may be made with sliced meat instead of minced ones. But I think Chef Koh preferred to make his with minced beef than sliced beef. I personally like them both. You may try chicken too if they have some available.

      Well… it’s exactly like you said, I can cook Pad Krapow myself too if I can find the holy basil. But I just can’t find them. And to me, since I grew up with that unique flavor, nothing else can substitute it.

      Some of their staffs are not Thai. So they may not have knowledge on what is authentic and what is not. Authentic Pad Kee Mao is made with Holy Basil. You can pretty much see on the picture. I don’t know why she didn’t know.

      Again, I’m sorry to hear about your bad experience, and I will make sure the owner/chef hear your frustration. Then it will be up to them to improve their services.

      If you want to give this place a try, you can email or leave me a message here. Perhaps we can go together. I’ll make sure you get what you order. After all I speak Thai. And I can pretty much speak directly to the chef. 🙂

      Cheers,
      Tana

  11. Tana, that was a very courteous and understanding reply. I have much respect for you. I’ll have to think about whether we want to try this place again, but thanks for the offer. I may be in touch in the future 🙂

    1. No problem flowbee 🙂 Just give me a bit of advance notice, I should be able to make it. I know how frustrated it can be when you didn’t get what you ordered. Enjoy summer!

  12. I can’t tell you how excited I am about trying this place! I’m even thinking of changing my lunch plans today to do so! I’m also half Thai, and have a hard time finding what I’m always desperately looking for – authentic Thai cuisine!

    Let me know if you ever want to chat in more detail about it. 😉

    1. Hey Victoria,
      Glad to hear from you. I hope you have as good experience as I do at Thai Basil. I normally go for Pad Grapow, my favorite. You should call prior to your visit just to make sure they’ll have the ingredients first. I’d love to hear what you think about it. I haven’t tried that many Thai restaurants in Vancouver. Since I found Thai Basil, they are my to-go Thai place. But a few readers mentioned another Thai restaurant. I’ll check it out. Feel free to message or email me if you want to chat 🙂 Happy holidays.

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