Thai basil_kra phrao dish

Thai basil: the plant, simple recipes to try and the alternative

In our previous article, we talked about common Thai herbs and how they are full of health benefits (on top of making your food extra delicious). Now we want to dive right into one of our favorites, Thai basil. And we will talk more about the plant, simple staple dishes you can make with this herb, and the potential alternatives if you can not procure Thai basil.

Table of Contents

Thai basil_featured

Thai basil plant and variety

As a disclaimer, we are no gardening experts – but we do have Thai basil growing at home, and we do enjoy cooking with them. 

After doing some reading on basil (thanks to the Culinary Compass), we mostly find Thai basil and holy basil (aka Tulsi) in Thailand. The two variations look slightly different, but in general, Thai basil plant is a perennial plant that grows to a maximum about your knee height. The plant can last for several years, and if you keep them in the garden, they could multiply or grow into a small bush. You can continuously harvest basil leaves all year round. The tree will grow new branches and then leaves after each harvest. If you have multiple pots of Thai basil plants, you can rotate your harvest and enjoy fresh herbs almost on a weekly basis.

Thai basil_basil plant

We regularly harvest basil from our backyard for cooking.

Simple recipes you should try at home

The two menus we want to touch on today are both our favourites. We have them often either at home or ordering them outside. 

The two menus are 1) Thai basil pork and 2) Thai drunken noodle. You will find them in any Thai restaurant, and if you are visiting Thailand, you will find them everywhere. In Thailand, these are not only available in restaurants, but they are also even available at street food stalls.

There are different variations and recipes of these 2 menus, you will be able to find them on the internet. However, given we are both amateurs, we made a simplified version of the recipe.

Thai basil pork or “kra phrao” in Thai

  • Herbs: Thai basil leaves, garlic, fresh chili
  • Ingredients: rice, minced pork, oil, fish sauce, and oyster sauce


  1. Clean your herbs then chop up your garlic and chili
  2. Heat up the pan with oil. Once heated, add chopped garlic and chill
  3. Add in minced pork. Once the pork is half cooked, add a little bit of oyster sauce and fish sauce (be careful not to add too much, both of these are very salty)
  4. Once the pork is cooked, add fresh basil leaves. Stir your dish well and your Thai basil pork is ready!

Pro Tip #1: this dish is best to serve with white rice and fried egg, a magical combination

Pro Tip #2: you can replace minced pork in this menu with many other meat types. Thai people commonly replace minced pork with beef, chicken, crispy pork, prawn, squid … the list goes on and it gets crazier by the year (now we also see bacon, pork knuckle, duck, etc.)

Thai basil_kra phrao

Home made sliced pork kra phrao with fried egg.

Thai drunken noodle or “pad ki mao” in Thai

  • Herbs: Thai basil leaves, garlic, fresh chili (with options to add fresh peppercorn and kaffir lime leaves – but we usually keep it very simple)
  • Ingredients: your choice of noodle (instant noodle also works!), chicken, your choice of vegetables, oil, fish sauce, oyster sauce, sugar
    • For vegetables, you can consider baby corn, carrot, and Chinese kale (or you can make the dish without any vegetable as well)


  1. Heat up the pan with oil. Once heated, add chopped garlic, and chili
  2. Add in chicken. Once the chicken is half cooked, add a little bit of oyster sauce and fish sauce. Further season the dish with sugar. About half a tablespoon each is usually fine
  3. Add in your vegetables (if you choose to also add fresh peppercorn and kaffir lime leaves, then add them too)
  4. Once your chicken and vegetables are cooked, add in basil leaves, stir the dish well, then your drunken noodle is ready!

Pro Tip: similar to the previous dish, you can change the chicken here for other substitutes such as sliced pork or seafood

At this point, some of you might be thinking – these 2 menus are almost identical? For simple cooking (and for amateurs like ourselves), they are almost identical because we have made the recipes simpler. Nonetheless, these simple dishes are easy to make and they taste great!

Thai basil_drunken noodle 2

Home made seafood pad ki mao.

Alternative for this key herb

If you are not living in Thailand and cannot find either Thai basil or holy basil – you can still make Thai dishes using their alternatives. For example, in Singapore, we often find sweet basil instead of Thai basil in supermarkets. Sweet basil is different from Thai basil as it is less intense.

While the smell could be slightly different, basil alternatives still offer the fragrance needed for a great Thai dish! You can compensate for the difference by tweaking your recipe. For example, sweet basil is less intense than Thai basil so you need to use 1.5x of the basil amount when using sweet basil. 

So, how can you incorporate Thai basil in your cooking?

As mentioned before, Thai basil (and basil in general) are full of health benefits. Moreover, they are also easy to grow in your backyard, and you can harvest them all year round. With such accessibility to basils, you can easily incorporate them into your cooking and make them more fragrant, more delicious, and healthier!

There are many recipes where you can incorporate this herb and we have shared two simple ones that we often use at home. Although the recipes might be simple, by incorporating basils and other herbs you can make such a simple dish taste delicious. Go ahead and give it a try! Customize your own versions of the recipes as well and share them with us! 

Explore more about Thailand through our other posts: