Last weekend, the boyfriend and I decided to check out some Thai grocery stores that we’d heard about across town. We drove from one store to the next, excitedly finding all kinds of things that we can’t normally find closer to home, such as Thai holy basil (bai krapow/ใบกะเพรา). Upon spotting this revered herb, I knew I would be spending the rest of the weekend perfecting recipes for drunken noodles (pad kee mao/ผัดขี้เมา) and stir fried chicken with holy basil (gai pad krapow/ผัดกระเพรา), two dishes whose star ingredient is holy basil.
Holy basil is quite different from the regular Thai basil that has sweet leaves and purple stems. Holy basil has green, fuzzy stems with soft, jagged-edged leaves. It’s quite fragile and will wilt quicker than Thai basil if its stems aren’t in water. The taste of holy basil is also very unique – somewhere between basil and mint with a really strong pepper flavor.
It’s this peppery flavor that makes holy basil work so well in drunken noodles. These noodles are somewhat similar to pad see ew except that they’re much much spicier – so spicy, in fact, some say, it’s the perfect dish to eat when you’re drunk (this is just one of multiple theories on the origin of this dish’s name – who knows which one is correct). The spice of drunken noodles comes from Thai chili peppers, red jalapeno peppers, and young green peppercorns. The peppery flavor of the holy basil works well to mirror and enhance these flavors.
The first time I made drunken noodles, I used three Thai chili peppers and I would definitely classify that dish as “Thai hot”. I managed to finish my plate, but it wasn’t without a few drops of sweat. How did the boyfriend fare, you ask? Well, I’d rather not embarrass him on this blog… (just kidding, he’s Thai, after all, of course he did fine!)
My second attempt with two chili peppers was much more tolerable and what I’d recommend starting with if you’re unsure of your spice tolerance. And after figuring out your prefered level of spiciness, it’s really quite simple to cook. If you can make pad see ew, you’ll be a pro at making these drunken noodles!