When I moved into a new apartment last week, my real estate agent Jan told me about an eatery that, "makes the best pad gra pow moo. Go before 12, then too busy. Very, very good."
Jan pointed to a street stall was already closed by 3 in the afternoon. The tables had been abandoned; the portable kitchen cleaned and packed up, motorcycle taxi dudes had taken the place of customers and were lounging on plastic chairs. It didn't look particularly impressive, but her reverential tone, the tone usually reserved for the royal family, made me realize I had to try their holy basil fried pork.
For those unfamiliar, ‘pad gra pow moo' is a staple of the Thai diet. A version of the recipe can be found at http://www.realthairecipes.com/recipes/stir-fried-pork-with-holy-basil/.
It is a relatively simple combination of ingredients, fried (often minced) pork with holy basil leaves, fiery chili peppers, and appropriate sauces. It is served over rice and many people order it with a fried egg (pad gra pow moo kai dow). In Thailand, virtually all eateries serving this dish have bowls of ‘prik nam blaa' (aka chilies floating in fish sauce). Scoop a few spoonfuls of this sauce onto your plate to really bring out the dish's salty and spicy nature.
The question is: what makes ‘the best pad gra pow moo?'
It turns out that the answer, especially in Thailand, it is totally subjective.
A mangy street dog chasing a family of canal rats served as my pre-meal entertainment. So, you could say my appetite wasn't exactly whetted. My Thai friend sat across the table from me and therefore didn't get to enjoy the circus perform, and she thought it was quite good. Ultimately I'd say this gra-pow vendor served good holy basil fried pork, but far from the best we'd had.
Most street vendors are as hygienic as restaurants with indoor seating - which is to say pretty high standards of hygiene - so don't get too scared. But when you are selecting your local street stall, definitely consider the factors below.
1) If you already like a street vendor or restaurant, find out if they serve ‘pad gra pow moo.' Good chance they do.
2) Check out the ingredients. What you see is what you get. If the basil leaves don't look fresh or the leaves have dark wet looking edges, move on. If the chili peppers look soft or lousy in some way, keep moving. If the rice is uncovered and it looks like something is crawling inside the pot, it goes without saying.
3) Check out the clientele. Anybody else eating?
4) Check out the vendor. I've seen nose-picking hawkers in touristy areas. Consider yourself warned.
5) Ask for recommendations. Especially dealing with food in Asia, a good tip can go a long way.
Feel free to send me info on your favorite restaurants and street vendors. My life is a quest for the very best in Asian cuisine! Check out http://www.globaltastetours.com/index.html