Basil Basics

If you were to ask him, Cory would gladly regale you with the story of his first pad ga prao (stir-fried Holy basil) experience. We were at Victory Monument in Bangkok awaiting a van to Kanchanaburi, my home during my stay in Thailand. We had a few minutes to kill and Cory was starving so we sat ourselves down at a tiny metal table outside a ran ahaan (restaurant) on the corner. They had a large pan (similar to those you use in catering) filled with piping hot pad ga prao moo (stir-fried pork and Holy basil). Cory ordered a plate along with a fried egg and began to chow down. He wasn’t more than a few bites in when he looked at me – an expression of delight and pain mixed into one.

The dish was spicy … really really spicy. He made his way through the dish and finished every bite, but it took quite a bit of effort, sweat, and perhaps even a few tears. But, to this day Cory still says it’s one of the best plates of Thai food he’s ever had.

In the years since then and the multitude of Thai restaurants we’ve tried we have never once come across a plate of pad ga prao that delicious, and not for lack of trying. This particular dish is one of our favorites and I’m not exaggerating when I say we’ve ordered it at probably 90% of the Thai restaurants we’ve visited. I will say there are some good dishes out there, but none come even close to that one single plate of food … and I know exactly why.

The basil.

You see, in Thai cooking they use multiple different kinds of basil depending on the particular taste they are trying to achieve. They are all delicious in their own right but each provides a unique taste that makes certain dishes distinctly individual. Pad ga prao is one of those dishes. Traditionally, as stated in the name, this dish is made with bai ga prao, or Thai Holy basil, as opposed to bai horapha (Thai sweet basil) or bai maeng-lak (lemon basil). When you trade out one basil for another, you change (often drastically) the taste of a particular dish and that is exactly what we constantly experience in Thai restaurants locally.

Thai Holy basil, the traditional star ingredient in pad ga prao is incredibly difficult to find in the states. It requires a specific growing environment and is a very fragile plant that doesn’t travel well. So, the majority of Thai restaurants choose to substitute the Holy basil with the more widely available Thai sweet basil.  Why they still call it pad ga prao I will never know, but I digress.

The point is that the type of basil you use in Thai cooking is important! You technically can use whatever you’d like, but don’t expect to get that same awesome authentic taste you’ll find in a traditional and properly made Thai dish.

To help you out a bit, here is a brief description of each of the three main types of basil used in Thailand along with a tidbit on the traditional basil used in Italian cooking. If you can take the time to find the appropriate basil called for in your recipe, you’ll be a much happier camper.

Thai basil – bai horapha โหระพา

Thai Holy basil is used in many types of dishes including curries, soups, stir-fries, and salads.
Thai Holy basil is used in many types of dishes including curries, soups, stir-fries, and salads. So delicious!

Thai ‘sweet’ basil grows from a purplish stem and sprouts spear-like leaves with a slightly jagged edge. This basil has a distinct scent similar to that of anise or licorice and is sometimes referred to as anise basil for that reason. This basil is the most widely used in Thai cooking and can be found in curries, soups, stir-fries, and salads. This basil is also sweet enough that it can be eaten raw as well as cooked within dishes.

You can find this basil at nearly all Asian markets as well as some grocery stores with a decent ethnic food section and it usually isn’t too expensive either. Locally, my favorite places to buy this basil is JD’s Market in Lynnwood (super inexpensive) and Uwajimaya in Bellevue (great quality, very fresh!). I’ve also found that it keeps the longest of all the basil types that I’ve tried.

Thai Holy basil – bai gka-prowกะเพรา

Holy basil is used mostly in stir-fried dishes and has a very peppery taste.
Holy basil is used mostly in stir-fried dishes and has a very spicy or peppery taste. Very difficult to find in the Pacific Northwest!

Thai Holy basil is very different from the sweet basil both in look and in taste. Holy basil, also called hot basil has a reddish purple tone around the stem and base of the leaves. The leaves are also jagged but are smaller and more fragile and slightly fuzzy to the touch. This basil gives off a scent similar to cloves and has a very peppery taste. It adds a spiciness to dishes (hence being called hot basil) and is best if eaten cooked rather than raw. This basil is mostly used in stir-fried dishes.

Holy basil is very difficult to find locally. You can easily find seeds to grow your own but quality seeds are also hard to come by and the weather/temperatures in the Pacific Northwest make it difficult. You can order Holy basil plants from a few websites but they only ship during ‘on’ seasons which are approximately April to July and again October through December.

Lemon Basil – bai maeng-lakแมงลัก

Lemon basil is used in some very specific Thai dishes including khanom chin nam ya.
Lemon basil is used in some very specific Thai dishes including khanom chin nam ya.

Unlike Thai sweet basil and Holy basil which can be interchanged without completely ruining a dish, lemon basil has a very distinct lemon/lime taste and there isn’t much alternative.  This basil has pale green leaves that are a bit less jagged than the previous two with a hairy/fuzzy feel. This basil is used in many dishes as well as being served as a garnish in some very specific Thai dishes including khanom chin nam ya.

Lemon basil is also very hard to find locally but is much easier to grow and keep alive than Holy basil. It’s worth a shot to try this one in your herb garden or greenhouse! You can buy seeds at some local Asian markets like Uwajimaya (they have a stand near one of the doors). You can also order them off line at Amazon or some online gardening sites.

Sweet Basil

Sweet basil is used mainly in Italian cooking and should not be subbed into Thai cuisine if you want an authentic taste.
Sweet basil is used mainly in Italian cooking and should not be subbed into Thai cuisine if you want an authentic taste.

Not to be confused with Thai Sweet basil, this basil is the one commonly used in Italian cooking. These leaves are oval shaped and the stemmed look square. The leaves also often have a shiny quality to them. This basil tastes sweet and slightly peppery and are often combined with tomatoes or other vegetables to enhance flavor. The leaves are often eaten raw or mixed in at the very end of dishes so they are served slightly wilted.

Sweet basil can be found in nearly every grocery store … anywhere.

*Note* Due to the fact that I cannot find some of these basils I had to search for some quality photos to use. Please click on the photo to be directed to the original source which may also provide some interesting information about these basils that I didn’t include in my entry.

Finished product!

Let’s Cook: Som Tum Thai (Green Papaya Salad)

Sorry for the delay everyone! I’ve been super busy with a new job, a new apartment, and a new little niece! I haven’t had much time to update the blog, but I’m getting back to it … and starting with one of my favorite dishes ever … som tum!! Enjoy!

Som Tum (Green Papaya Salad)

I must say, my absolute favorite Thai dish is som tum. A salad made with fresh green papaya, som tum is spicy, sweet and refreshing all at the same time. I do love me some curry and dozens of other awesome dishes, but if I had to choose one single Thai dish to eat for the rest of my life, this would be it.

I apologize for not getting this recipe up sooner! I should have done it in Thailand but didn’t get around to it. Then, after returning to Seattle, I have struggled to find fresh green papaya! It’s definitely a rarity in this area. Most papaya you find is the fruit in its traditional form. Finding a market that carries this type of papaya has taken nearly a year, but I finally found one! So, here you are with a simple but awesome recipe for som tum.

This particular recipe is for som tum Thai, which includes peanuts. You can always keep those out if you want, but personally, I think it makes the dish!

Note: If you are going to use a mortar and pestle, make sure that it is clay or wood. A stone mortar and pestle will bruise the ingredients too much. You want a surface that will give. If you do not have a mortar and pestle, you can just use a large bowl and crush with a spoon.

Som Tum Thai - Green Papaya Salad

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: intermediate


  • 2 cups green papaya shredded
  • 3 Roma tomatoes, quartered
  • 8 or so string beans, cut into 1inch pieces
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 4-6 Thai chilies, sliced in half
  • 2 TBSP fish sauce
  • 2 TBSP palm sugar (can substitute white or brown sugar)
  • 2 TBSP fresh lime juice
  • ¼ cup peanuts
  1. Mix fish sauce and lime juice together in the bottom of the bowl.
  2. Add sugar and mix until partially dissolved.
  3. Add chilies, garlic, string beans, and tomatoes and bruise with pestle (or spoon). To bruise is to crush slightly so they keep their form but are slightly falling apart.
  4. Add shredded papaya and bruise while mixing with spoon. Make sure sauce is coating the papaya.
  5. Add peanuts and mix.
  6. Serve and enjoy!


  1. Taste your sauce before you add the vegetables. If you want the sauce sweeter, add more palm sugar. If you want more salt, add fish sauce. If you want spicier, add more chilies. It is easier to do this prior to the vegetables being added than after!

Review: Thai Street Food Challenge

I love Thai food.

I recognize this is a painfully obvious statement coming from someone with a Thai cooking blog who spent nine months in Thailand, and an inumerable number of hours in front of a wok trying to perfect recipes. I have to love something a great deal to put in that much effort, right?

So I get that you already know I love Thai food, but before you read this review, I need you to fully understand the extent of my love for Thai cooking and Thai food. I need you to truly comprehend how deeply that love runs within my veins. It’s not just a love; it’s a passion. One could say it’s almost an obsession.

For me, it isn’t just a plate of food. It’s an experience. I have come to appreciate the ingredients, the spices, the different methods of cooking, the smells, the subtle and not so subtle tastes, the culture, the history, and the emotion of the food.

Through the definition of that love, I have come to love one thing above all else … Thai street food. It isn’t just that Thai street food tastes amazing, but the vendors themselves put me in a constant state of awe. Their resources are sparce, their set up a bit archaic. But the food that comes out of their well seasoned woks is delicious each and every time.

I can honestly tell you that one of my favorite things in the world is eating at a Thai street food cart. There is always a new cart to try, always a new dish to consume. It’s one of the things I miss the most about Thailand.

And, that is why I absolutely love the blog The blogger’s name is Richard Barrow and he is a full time independent food blogger based out of Thailand (my dream job, by the way). I enjoy his blog for an insane number of reasons, but the main one is his Thai Street Food Challenge.

Completed back in 2010, this challenge was to do the following:

Eat Thai street food … and only street food.

His goal was to eat street food three times a day, every day, for an entire month (31 days). Every meal had to be different. He could not visit the same cart within the same week. The cart had to be a true street vendor – cart, stall, or shop. It could not be a restaurant.

That’s it. That’s the goal.

And he did it.

On his blog, he posts a picture of every single meal. He includes the name of the meal (in both English and Thai) and provides a brief description. He also lists how much the dish costs and posts a running total for the day. Let’s just say, I miss how inexpensive Thai food is in Thailand!

The first time I ran through the pages of this challenge and oggled over the scrumptious pictures, I think I actually drooled a few times. On my second run through, I jotted down a few of the dishes that I wanted to try at home. The third time? I decided to do my own mini version of this challenge when I return to Thailand for a visit in December.

If you are a lover of Thai food, or any good food for that matter, definitely check out While the challenge takes the cake for me, the rest of the blog is pretty fantastic as well. He also started a second round of the challenge last month and there are some new and equally as appetizing pictures posted.

If I had to rate this blog, I’d definitely give it a full five stars. Love it.

Restaurant Review: Iyara Thai

Looking for an awesome Thai restaurant to try? Live in the Seattle/Eastside area? If so, then Iyara Thai is the place to go. Read on to get my full review.


After living in Thailand for nine months and experiencing authentic Thai cuisine on a daily basis, I never thought that I would find a restaurant in Seattle that could satisfy my Thai food needs (yes, they are needs … some things you just can’t do without!). I’ve eaten at numerous Thai restaurants in my area and while a few have come close to meeting my expectations, the majority have fallen short … until now!

Iyara Thai absolutely hits the mark when it comes to authentic and tasty Thai cuisine. The restaurant markets itself as the place to go for Thai street food and one look at their menu clearly shows you why. Iyara Thai serves common dishes like Pad Thai and a wonderful variety of curries, but they also serve unique street foods like moo ping (sweet pork skewers), som tum (green papaya salad), and khao soi (curry noodle soup from Northern Thailand). These are delicious plates commonly found on every street corner in Thailand, yet are rarely found on Thai menus here in the states. I was thrilled to find a restaurant that served some of these less common favorites!

Here is a rundown of my ratings:

Decor ♥
Cleanliness ♥
Staff ♥
Price ♥
Taste ♥
Timeliness ♥

The restaurant is clean and nicely decorated, the staff is friendly and helpful, and the prices are very reasonable. Most importantly, the food is delicious and comes in traditional Thai portions (enough to take home for later!). As someone with very high standards for a good Thai restaurant, Iyara Thai receives a near perfect score in my book.

This restaurant only receives one and that comes in the form of timeliness. When we arrived at the restaurant at noon, the posted opening time for the restaurant, the doors were not yet unlocked. In true Thai fashion, we waited another ten minutes or so before they were ready to open the doors and seat us at a table. For a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer who is used to the laid back attitude of Thai culture (which often leads to lateness) this isn’t necessarily something that bothers me; however, for people on an hour lunch break wanting to grab a quick bite, I can see this being pretty frustrating. In my opinion though, it’s well worth the wait.

All in all, Iyara Thai has climbed to the very top of my list as the best Thai food restaurant in the area.

The Food

Here is a little preview of some of the dishes served at Iyara Thai. I will add to this list after future trips to the restaurant, which will absolutely happen sometime soon!

Grilled Beef

Served as an appetizer, this dish is a marinaded beef cooked on the grilled and served thinly sliced. The beef is accompanied by a garlic ginger dipping sauce. The beef was very tender and had a great flavor. The dipping sauce was high on flavor and definitely enhanced the taste of the beef. I really enjoyed this dish; however, the dipping sauce was obviously refrigerated so it was in stark contrast to the temperature of the meat. I would have liked a dipping sauce that was less chilled, but that’s just personal opinion!

Grilled Beef

Som Tum (green papaya salad) This salad is made to order in a traditional mortar and pestle. Shredded green papaya is the base of this salad that also includes sliced tomatoes, long beans, peanuts, and a garlic-lime dressing made with palm sugar and fish oil. I highly recommend this dish. I ordered this dish with two stars and it was just right on the spice level (I love spice but like this salad with slightly less so I can focus on refreshing taste of the other ingredients). The sauce is a mix between salty and sweet and the veggies were fresh and crispy. This is the best som tum I have had since arriving back in the states. My only change would be to add more peanuts.

Som Tum

Pad See Ew (beef, vegetables, and flat noodles)  I didn’t actually try this dish so this review comes from the friend who accompanied me. According to her, this was the most authentic version of pad see ew she has had since returning to the states. The vegetables were sliced thinly in the traditional style and the noodles were well cooked. She ordered three stars and it didn’t meat her desired spice level; however, the waitress was extremely attentive and quickly brought her the accompanying mix of table ingredients. This made the experience far more “Thai” and gave my friend the perfect amount of spice. She’s not usually one to take leftovers home, but she was eager to package this one up!

Pad See Ew

Ka Praao Gai Kai Daao (chicken with holy basil and a fried egg)

This dish was at a disadvantage from the start seeing as though it was one of my favorite dishes in Thailand and is one that I have attempted to cook many many times at home. Luckily, this version was probably the best version of ka praao gai kai daao that I have had (both in a restaurant and at home) since arriving back in Seattle. In authentic style, the chicken was ground rather than sliced and the Thai chilies were red rather than green. There was a different variety of veggies than in Thailand, but it was pretty close to traditional – only onions and green beans. The best part of this dish was the kao daao (fried egg). Fried in a wok full of hot oil, this egg was crispy with a gooey yolk center – absolutely perfect! All in all, this was a great version of this dish and I will definitely be eating it again.

Ka Praao Gai Kai Daao

Khao Soi (Northern Thai Curry Noodles) ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

This dish was one I brought home to my boyfriend. This is a dish he had a couple of times in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and absolutely loved. This is the first time he had this dish since his visit to Thailand and he loved it. He said that he liked the flavors in the curry better than in Thailand, but that the noodles were not as good. The noodles in Thailand were baa-meenoodles, a much thicker variety than the egg noodles used here. However, he said that the chicken was juicy, the flavors were complex and savory, and the overall taste of the dish was fantastic. He would absolutely eat it again.

Khao Soi

Updates for my Followers

To all my loyal followers,

I know it has been awhile since my last post … and by “awhile” I mean about six months, which is absolutely ridiculous and uncalled for. My apologies. My life has gone through a lot of changes in the last six months that has kept me from continuing this blog. However, things are settling down and I’m ready to give you a few updates on where I went, what I’ve been doing, and what’s going to happen withKy Cooks Thai. Are you ready? Here we go.

This blog started when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Thailand. I was living in a small village, becoming a part of the Thai culture, and learning how to cook while I was at it. It was a perfect opportunity to start a blog about Thai cooking. I mean, I had access to an actual Thai market, real Thai ingredients and equipment, and actual Thai community members who could show me the ropes. It was awesome!

Unfortunately, back in September I decided to end my term as a Peace Corps Volunteer and return to the states. The reasons for that don’t really matter. What does matter though, is that it obviously became impossible for me to continue Ky Cooks Thai with the goals and objectives it started with – an American girl in a Thai kitchen. I spent the first month or so that I was home just settling back in and didn’t think twice about the blog. Then, as things began to fall into place back home, I did start thinking about the blog and was completely overwhelmed. What was I going to do with it? How could I continue the whole Thai cooking thing from a normal American kitchen? How could I find a new hook that would keep people interested? I thought and I thought and I thought … and I came up with nothing.

So, the blog has been here … just sitting … waiting for me to figure out how to jump back in.

Well, today marks a very important day as I think I have found a way to get Ky Cooks Thai back up and running. It obviously won’t be the same as when I was in Thailand, but I have some fun new ideas that hopefully will draw in a new crowd of readers.

The fact is that I have a background now in Thai cooking. I know the basics. I know the best ingredients. I know a few interesting techniques. I may be back in the states, but those things are not going anywhere … so, this blog will now have a “Ky Cooks Thai in the States” feel. There are a number of components that I want to include:

1. My cooking experiences in an American kitchen – why stop putting up recipes, tips, and tricks? I’m still cooking, therefore, I can still post about it!

2. Recipes!

3. Ingredient Help – Asian markets in Seattle and around the country are often difficult to find and to maneuver. Certain stores carry certain things. Some stores have a great variety while others don’t. I will dedicate part of this blog to helping those in the Pacific Northwest find the ingredients they need for proper Thai cooking … and hopefully I’ll be able to expand this outside of Seattle at some point 🙂

4. Restaurant reviews – I am constantly looking for great Thai food restaurants whether it be in Seattle or in other places I travel around the states. As someone who has had my fair share of authentic Thai food, I feel the need to share with others what makes the cut and what doesn’t.

5. Anything else I can come up with down the road! I want this blog to be successful so I am open to any suggestions on other Thai cooking related ideas. I want to bring you what you want to read!

So, sit back and enjoy the new and improved Ky Cooks Thai. I’m hopefully that this new direction will be successful and will satisfy my need to share Thai cooking with the world.

Happy Eating!


The American Thai Cook

A Tour: My Kitchen

So, for the last few weeks I have been posting entries with recipes, cooking tips, and stories of my cooking successes and follies. I thought it was about time to give you a tour of The Kitchen where all of the cooking magic happens.

I’ll warn you …

It’s nothing spectacular.

In fact, it’s just two tables and a stove.

However, I thought that it might be interesting for you all to see how much can be accomplished in such a small space with very few pieces of equipment.

So, here we go! Welcome to my kitchen.

The Original Kitchen

This was my original kitchen, prior to the cooking challenge. This was the only table I had to store all my food and prepare all my food. My rack of non-perishables and spices is off to the right, and my covered plate of veggies and other foods is on the left. For someone who loves to cook and bake, it took some getting used to having only this small tabletop area to make the magic happen.

The Original Kitchen

The New Kitchen

Table #1:

This is the original table, but in it’s new form. I added a second table (description and picture below), which opened up some new space on this first table. I now have room for my rice cooker (in the middle) and my water heater (in the back). There is still a little bit of room for actual prep and cook but the majority of that is done on the new table.

New Kitchen: Table One

Table #2:

This table was added two weeks ago when I decided to start this cooking challenge. It was originally my desk in my front room, but obviously this is a far more appropriate and important place for it! I was able to find space for my dishes, as well as all of my spices. This is actually where I do most of my prep work now as the table space is a bit bigger … plus I can open the curtains and look out the window. 🙂

New Kitchen: Table Two


This is my one shelf in the kitchen. Mainly I store my pots and pans here (some are currently waiting to be cleaned from today’s cooking adventure!). I also store my cleaning supplies near the bottom. I’m thinking of getting another. Things here can get a bit cluttered!

The Shelf

The Stove:

And this would be my stove. Yes, this is it. This tiny little gas powered stove is where all of my cooking adventures take place. I’m not all that happy with it. When I was just making soup or Mac ‘n Cheese it definitely did the trick, but now it’s proving a bit more difficult. Trying to balance a wok or pot, trying to get the right heat. It’s all rather difficult. But, it’s what I have and sometimes you just have to make the best of it!

The Magical Stove

Clean Up!

… my bathroom. I have no sink. I have no dishwasher. All I have is my bathroom floor. This is where all my cleaning happens. I promise, it’s sanitary. I don’t actually set anything on the floor once washed — it moves directly to the tables in the kitchen for drying. As you can see, my next project is to clean up from today’s cooking adventure!

The Bathroom

And finally …

The Cookbook!

This is the cookbook that started this entire cooking challenge. I received this cookbook during the cooking class up in Chiang Mai and it has provided the majority of my recipes so far. This was the inspiration for this entire blog and cooking adventure and will continue to provide new recipes, ideas, and motivation. I love it! Thank you Smart Cook Chiang Mai!

So, there you have it … the brief tour of my very small kitchen.

I hope you enjoyed!

And, when you are reading through the recipes and pictures and wondering whether you would be able to pull this recipe off, just remember what I’m working with! If I can do it, you most definitely can too!

Guest Recipe: Pumpkin Coconut Soup

This recipe was submitted by Megan, a fellow volunteer here in Thailand. She is a vegetarian and has a very different outlook on food here in Thailand. While Thai food transfers easily into the vegetarian world (lots of veggies, tofu, etc), there are some dishes she cannot eat and others she loves that some of us have never actually tried. Let’s face it, when you’re a meat eater, there are so many Thai dishes you can try … you often don’t get to the vegetable ones!

Anyway, she has been talking for weeks about this amazing dish her Thai family makes. She says it is by far the best dish she has had in Thailand. She hasn’t been able to get an official recipe from her family because, well, that requires extensive Thai and she (and most volunteers) just don’t have it. She has also attempted to watch the cooking process, but I guess her family is very secretive. It just sort of ends up on the table!

So, she had done a little research and found a recipe that she believes is similar to what her family makes. She says that the one her family makes has much more pumpkin and much less “soup” and it is served with rice rather than in a bowl. However, she says the ingredients looks the same and the process seems accurate. So, I present this to you as a guest submission and will hopefully be able to attempt this recipe in the future!

The recipe was found at Thai Food and Travel … check the site out for pictures as well as more interesting recipes and articles!

Pumpkin Coconut Soup

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: intermediate


  • About 1 1/2 lb. well-ripened kabocha squash, or pumpkin
  • Juice of one lime
  • 1/3 lb. fresh shrimp (can be omitted)
  • 2-4 fresh red jalapeno of fresno peppers, chopped
  • 2-3 shallots, chopped
  • 1 Tbs. gkabpi shrimp paste (no idea what gkabpi is, just go for normal shrimp paste)
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 4 cups, or 2 cans, coconut milk
  • 1-2 Tbs. fish sauce, or to taste (soy sauce as substitute)
  • 1 Tbs. or more palm sugar (or brown or white!)
  • 1 cup fresh lemon basil or lemon mint (substitute with fresh Thai sweet basil in whole leaves)
  • Garnish: short sprigs of lemon basil, lemon mint or Thai basil


  1. Cut the kabocha squash or pumpkin in half, scoop out the seeds and strings, peel and discard the tough outer skin. Cut into 1 to 1 1/2-inch cubes (should yield about 5 to 6 cups). Sprinkle and coat the pieces with lime juice and set aside.
  2. Shell the shrimp and place in a blender or food processor with the chopped peppers, shallots, shrimp paste and 1/2 cup of water. Puree into a smooth, well-blended mixture.
  3. Reserve two cups of the thickest cream from the top of the 2 cans of coconut milk. Set aside. Pour the remaining lighter milk, along with the remaining 1 cup of water into a medium-size soup pot. Stir in the pureed shrimp mixture and mix well to dissolve the paste in the liquid, smoothing out any lumps.
  4. Bring the soup mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring to a smooth consistency.
  5. Add the kabocha squash or pumpkin chunks. Return to a boil and simmer over low to medium heat until the squash is soft and tender (20 to 30 minutes, depending on the squash). Note: Do not be concerned at this point with the appearance of the soup as it will change considerably with the addition of the coconut cream.
  6. Add the reserved coconut cream and bring to a boil over medium heat.
  7. Season with fish sauce to the desired saltiness. Note: The squash should impart a lovely golden color to the soup. If it is not sufficiently ripe to sweeten the soup, add palm sugar to sweeten to your liking.
  8. Simmer a couple of minutes to allow the flavors to blend. Stir in the lemon basil or lemon mint (or Thai basil) and when they have wilted, turn off heat.
  9. Serve warm, garnishing the top of each bowl with a sprig of lemon basil, lemon mint or Thai basil.

Final Thoughts

  • Adding the coconut cream near the end of cooking ensures a smoother, creamier soup and minimizes the likelihood of the cream curdling. Coconut cream, particularly from canned coconut milk, will tend to curdle if boiled with water for too long or over too high a heat.

An American Favorite: Pad Thai Jay

It seems to me that back in the states, Pad Thai is by far the most popular dish in Thai cuisine. Every time I ask my friends what they like the most, the answer is almost always Pad Thai. I’m not saying it isn’t popular in Thailand as well, but for whatever reason it seems to have skyrocketed to the top as Americans’ “favorite Thai dish”.

Who wouldn’t love such a concoction? Noodles, eggs, meat/tofu, peanuts, bean sprouts, lime? It’s awesome! I will say though that the Pad Thai available in the states is not nearly as good as the Pad Thai available in Thailand … at least in many restaurants … why? Because of the sauce. So many restaurants in the states cover the Pad Thai in a thick peanuty sauce that takes over the taste of the entire dish. My best friend Cory can attest to this … Pad Thai in Thailand = much better!

So, here I offer you a traditional recipe for Pad Thai. This recipe is a perfect blend of flavors, none too overwhelming, that will satisfy everyone’s Pad Thai craving. I’m not promising this is better than all Pad Thai you’ve had in the states, but let me tell you, it’s still pretty fantastic. Enjoy!

Phad Thai Jay - Vegetarian Phad Thai

  • Servings: 2-3
  • Difficulty: hard


Pad Thai: A Traditional Favorite
Pad Thai Gai (made with chicken)

  • 1/3 cup plain vegetable oil
  • 4 oz 2-3 millimeter wide dried rice noodles, prepared
  • 2/3 cup Phad Thai sauce
  • 1 TBSP shrimp paste in oil, optional
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 medium shallot, peeled and finely chopped
  • ¾ cup firm tofu, optional
  • 2 large eggs, cracked into a bowl
  • 6-7 stalks Chinese chives
  • 2 cups bean sprouts


  • Sugar, dried red pepper flakes, fish sauce, lime, chopped peanuts, Chinese chives


  1. Cut the chive blades into 1-inch pieces; reserve bottom parts for garnish. Mix 1-inch pieces with bean sprouts and set aside.
  2. Set a flat pan or wok over medium-high heat, add half of vegetable oil.
  3. Once oil is hot, add noodles followed by sauce (and shrimp oil is using); stir constantly keeping the noodles moving at all times.
  4. After 30-40 seconds or once noodles are slightly softened, push them to one side of the pan and add the remaining vegetable oil.
  5. Add garlic, shallots, and tofu (if using). Stir on one side of the pan but still move noodles around on other side so they don’t burn.
  6. Once garlic and shallots have browned slightly mix in with the noodles and push mixture back to one side of the pan.
  7. Pour broken eggs onto empty side of the dish; scramble with spatula and then let cook undisturbed on one side of the pan before flipping and breaking them into smaller pieces.
  8. Once eggs are done your noodles should be soft and chewy, sauce has been absorbed into noodles, and little bits of shallots and garlic are crispy.
  9. Take off the heat and mix all together. Add two handfuls of chive-bean sprout mixture and give a gentle stir.
  10. Serve topped with 2-3 TBSP chopped peanuts, a wedge of lime, and chive stalks. Season individually to taste with fish sauce, sugar, and dried red pepper flakes.


  • This dish cooks very fast! Make sure that you watch the heat, add things immediate, and don’t overcook. This is one of the more stressful dishes to make (at least for me!) and definitely takes practice!
  • Cooking the egg is the hardest part! You want to make sure the excess water is out or it will end up a goopy mess. Let the egg fry up. You can break it apart and sort of scramble it in the pan as well. Any method works.

The Thai “Restaurant” Experience

Back in the states, most people get their Thai food from a Thai restaurant. Acquiring the right ingredients, locating the proper equipment, and finding the time to give new recipes a shot is a bit of a hassle for the every day person. They’d rather swing through the local Thai hot spot, pick up a plate of Pad Thai or some form of curry, and call it good.

If they’re lucky, their local Thai restaurant has a bit of flare and provides a nice eating environment. My favorite Thai restaurant back in the Seattle area is Kwanjai in the Fremont area. It’s a little one story house turned restaurant with less than a dozen tables and a kitchen right there in the corner. You can watch the food being made and chat up the chefs while you’re at it … a great atmosphere. The rest of the Thai restaurants I’ve been to are like any other restaurant – upscale, could be any type of cuisine, nothing too special.

This is why I was super thrilled to actually come to Thailand and experience Thai dining “Thai-style”. Whether walking the streets of Bangkok or the stalls of my local village market, sitting down for a meal truly is an experience.

My favorite “restaurant” in my village is a tiny little hole in the wall right on the main street corner. A small glass case displays all the meat options and behind it is a 40-something year old woman taking orders and chatting away with the customers. Other members of the family – usually a son and whom I would presume to be his wife – are working the woks off to one side. Two tables in the back are usually filled with grandparents, yaais (older women in the area), or a group of men talking and laughing over a bottle of Hong Thong. A young toddlers meanders through the tables and chairs giving all the customers a good smile. It’s the perfect eating experience.

I never thought I would say that.

Back in the states my typical restaurant experience was Red Robin or if I felt like dishing out a few extra bucks, Olive Garden. While I love the atmosphere at Kwanjai, I never got their very often, and I never took it upon myself to go restaurant hopping to try and find other hole in the wall restaurants with  great food and a great ambiance to go with it. You better believe this will be a common practice when I get home.

Back to Thailand.

I also love, love, love the concept of street vendors. Back in Seattle we have very few, mainly the two in the morning drunk dogs – a hot dog with cream cheese, tomatoes, and a pickle (a very tasty treat when exiting the bars). We aren’t lucky enough to have the daytime pretzel or hotdog vendors of New York or Philly … and we definitely don’t have the vendors of Thailand.

You can get anything on the street in Thailand. My favorite are the fruit vendors follow by the meat-on-a-stick guys coming in a close second. My favorite meal here is a few sticks of meat, a small pack of sticky rice, a bag of fresh pineapple, and a bottle of fresh squeezed orange juice (I love even more than I can get that for around $1 USD!). I love roaming the carts, chatting up the vendors, making an event out of it. It’s like an adventure in a meal.

Put the street vendors and the small market stall restaurants together and you have an incredible atmosphere for eating. No matter what restaurant, market stall, or street cart I walk up to, the food is always great and the conversation is always entertaining. I’ve never had a dull meal in Thailand and I don’t see it happening any time soon.

Looking forward to tomorrow when I can chat up the local village woman over a delicious plate of Pat Ga Praao Gai … or maybe I’ll go for the Pat Pak Bung. Whatever I choose, I’m sure it’ll be an memorable experience.

The Thai Market

I love Thai markets.

There is nothing that compares to the feeling I get when I walk through the organized chaos of absolutely any market in Thailand. Whether it’s my local village’s Saturday morning set up or the monstrosity that is JJ market in Bangkok, a feeling of overwhelming giddiness overcomes me each and every time I go.

I could go on for days about the different vendors, products, and people, but for your sake I’ll narrow down the spectrum a little bit and focus on one particular type of market … the food market.

My town’s food market opens up in an alleyway early every Saturday morning. One narrow street is packed on both sides by vendors selling anything from dried herbs to fresh seafood. And when I say fresh seafood I mean fresh. It’s not unlikely for me to see shrimp swimming around in a tank or frogs jumping up and down in a bin. As I work my way down the aisle I can stop in one for a handful of garlic cloves and a few grams of cumin seeds and then proceed next door to get a fresh cut of meat from the local butcher. I can dig my way through piles of fresh vegetables or indulge myself in the fresh kanomes (snacks and pastries). I love it.

Now, I talk about this market as though I go all the time. In fact, I’ve only ever been twice. Both of these trips I was accompanied by my host mother and she purchased items for our evening’s meal. I haven’t gone on my own because there hasn’t really been a need to. I have never cooked a meal on my own, in my own house, with no supervision. All my cooking has been doing with my host mother who has already purchased and prepped the ingredients.

So, while I love the market, I’m still an amateur. I don’t know the lay of the land. I don’t know exactly where to find all the ingredients I need. I don’t have a plan of attack, which is very necessarily when entering the hustle and bustle of any market like this. You can easily be consumed by the frenzy never to be seen again. Obviously that’s an overstatement, but perhaps not by much. You should see the shop keepers. They run a mean operation.

Needless to say, I’m very excited (and nervous) for Saturday morning. I will be braving the market on my own, putting my language skills to the test, and attempting to purchase the ingredients I need for my first recipe, which is still undecided. I considered asking for a chaperone but decided against it. The only way this will work is if I jump in with two feet!

Oh, and one more thing I love about Thailand is the prices. Everything in Thailand is so cheap! I went to the store last night to buy all of my basics – fish oil, oyster sauce, shrimp paste, palm oil, salt, pepper – and my total didn’t even reach $10 USD. I can buy an entire pineapple for two bucks, a large bag of fresh shrimp for the same. One good thing about cooking in Thailand is that it definitely won’t break my bank … a good thing since I plan on doing a lot of it!