Pad Bai Horapha (ผัดใบโหระพา)

not pad ka prao

Slivers of red long or bell peppers in this would be nice; I didn’t have any at that time.

After the post on Pad Ka-prao went up, my inbox has seen quite a few emails asking why I ‘frown upon’ people making “Pad Ka-Prao” with different kinds of basil other than holy basil. After all, “it tastes just as great,” you say.
I agree. I also disagree. Let me explain.

First of all, I don’t think anyone is opposed to the idea of making Thai spicy basil stir-fry with any kind of basil you can find — holy or, you know, unholy. Thai sweet or purple basil (bai horapa or, formally, bai horapha) is just as much a part of Thai cuisine as holy basil (bai ka-prao or bai ka-phrao), and, therefore, the use of it will not change what some would consider the traditional or “authentic” flavor profile of Thai food in any way. So, yes, I agree; a spicy stir-fry with sweet basil is delicious.

However, I strongly disagree with the assertion that a good Pad Ka-Prao can be made without holy basil, its namesake and sine qua non ingredient. This is because Pad Ka-Prao, by definition, needs to have the flavor and fragrance of holy basil. How can a “holy basil stir-fry” that does not taste or smell of holy basil be a good holy basil stir-fry?

But it can be a great dish.

For example, what you see here is a Thai spicy stir-fry of Chinese-style crispy pork belly (หมูกรอบ, Mu Grob or Mu Krop) which I made exactly the same way I do Pad Ka-Prao (see Pad Ka-Prao recipe), except with less fish sauce and soy sauce due to the saltiness of the store-bought pork belly (or you can make it at home). I added Thai sweet basil to it, because I didn’t have any holy basil on hand at that time.

Was it delicious? Oh, heavens, yes. Was it Pad Ka-Prao? Uh, heck, no.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed it, but most of the time this is what you get at many Thai restaurants overseas — ka-prao-less Pad Ka-Prao. They know they can’t honestly call the dish Pad Ka-Prao in the absence of ka-prao, but calling it by any other name — they perhaps think — would confuse the non-Thai customers.

The solution to this is easier than searching frantically for Thai holy basil where it just isn’t available: one just needs to recognize that there is such a dish as Pad (Bai) Horapa (ผัดใบโหระพา, literally “sweet basil stir-fry”) and quit calling it “Pad Ka-Prao.” That’s all one needs to do. It’s a simple solution that would at once absolve people from the guilt of being untruthful and allow them to make a dish that tastes like what it’s supposed to.

Non-Thai diners aren’t as uninformed as previously assumed any more. Many of them know Thai cuisine better than they’re given credit for. Actually, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that many of them know more about Thai cuisine than some Thai restaurateurs do.

In this case, as I’ve said earlier, the solution is simple. But until the problem is acknowledged, the need for solution will not be felt.

14 Responses to Pad Bai Horapha (ผัดใบโหระพา)

  1. Nat August 3, 2011 at 11:48 am #

    Does Italian sweet basil have a Thai name? Bai Horapha Eetahyen?
    And can Indian Holy Basil/Tulsi be substituted without issue for krapao?

  2. Admin August 4, 2011 at 7:58 pm #

    Nat – I have no idea! I suppose so, I guess. I’ve never heard it called that, though. Then again, I’ve never seen Italian basil in Thailand in either. Does anyone know?

    Yup, Indian tulsi is perfect for Pad Kaprao.

  3. Jim Schreiber August 17, 2011 at 11:45 pm #

    I just used some Italian sweet basil and your recipe… just a tiny bit of soy, but added a lot more fish sauce. It was perfectly fine with some old ground beef I had around. Not authentic, but very edible.

    (I have an obnoxious amount of basil and only so many tomatoes and I can tolerate only so much pesto)

  4. Colin September 5, 2012 at 9:24 pm #

    Where did the recipe go? Dying to make this…

    • Leela September 9, 2012 at 11:10 pm #

      Ah, the broken link is fixed. Thank you and sorry.

  5. Alex Kahn October 9, 2012 at 9:06 pm #

    I know the picture is just illustrating your point, but it looks amazing. Would you ever publish a recipe for it?

    • Leela October 9, 2012 at 9:32 pm #

      Alex, all you have to do is follow my recipe for pad kaprao, replacing the ground meat with the same amount of prepared Chinese-style roasted pork belly. You may have to adjust the amount of fish sauce and oyster sauce a bit as roasted pork belly has already been seasoned.

      The best place to get this pork belly is Chinatown. I’m hoping you live near one. Any place that sells char siu or Chinese-style barbecued pork is likely to also sell roasted pork belly. Otherwise, you can make it at home, although the process is quite complicated and messy. Here’s a recipe, just in case.

  6. Michael LaPalme December 16, 2012 at 6:02 pm #

    Wow Leela, That dish looks beautiful. Totally agree that Pad Krapao is not the same without the holy basil. Unfortunately, all but one or two of the Thai eateries I’ve eaten outside of the Kingdom would not be considered authentic Thai food by a Thai.

  7. Ann April 4, 2013 at 12:48 pm #

    Could you post pictures of the different types of Thai basil? It’s hard for me to find a definitive answer or images on brief web searching. I have grown a narrow leaf type of Thai basil, but my mom tells me she prefers the larger leaf one. I’d love to grow both so I wanted to figure out what seeds/seedlings to look for. I haven’t commonly found any other thai basil except the narrow leaf one. I’m in San Francisco bay area of California.

    • happydemic August 12, 2013 at 12:42 pm #

      Try this picture:

      The post is in Dutch – but the basil leaves are (from l-r)
      1. Thai sweet (purple) basil (bai horapha)
      2. Holy basil/ tulsi (bai ka-prao)
      3. Italian basil
      4. Thai lemon basil (bai maeng-lak)

  8. Jess June 18, 2013 at 9:07 pm #

    Can’t find the recipe but dying to make this! Has it slipped off the page?

    • Leela June 18, 2013 at 9:42 pm #

      Jess – As stated in the post, this is made the same way as pad ka-prao (recipe linked to from the post) except with store-bought crispy pork and less fish sauce (due to the saltiness of the pork).

  9. Jeannie February 22, 2015 at 7:36 pm #

    Italian basil does NOT substitute well for ka-prao. I mean, it works, but with all the logic that this article imparted.


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    […] I could find (top right, above) which wasn’t holy basil. So, in the end, I had to call it pad bai horapa (RTGS: phat bai hora-pha […]