Pad Krapao

This is a classic lunch in Thailand and will be prepared specially for you at street stalls, cafes and restaurants. A mound of fragrant rice, a red hot meat or seafood topping and a crispy fried egg to crown it.

Krapao is Holy Basil which is not generally available in the UK, but I’ve found a good substitute is a combination of garden mint and basil in equal measures. I mostly use minced beef, pork or turkey (thighs and breast) in this recipe, but you could also use chicken livers, chicken, prawns or squid. It is really supposed to be a hot dish, so chillies are essential but you can use them more sparingly if you have a sensitive palate. More chillies can be sprinkled on top too.

Pad krapao 001This is what you’ll need to feed 2 people :-

1 cup jasmine rice ( or basmati), cooked

2 eggs

2 tablespoons rapeseed or corn oil

200 – 250g minced raw meat, diced chicken or seafood

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

5 spring onions (scallions), sliced

2 or more bird eye chillies, sliced (or halved lengthways for more impact)

a good shake of fish sauce

1 tablespoon oyster sauce

½ teaspoon sugar

a good handful each of basil and mint leaves

Heat half the oil in a frying pan and fry the eggs on a low heat.

Pad krapao 002Meanwhile, heat the rest of the oil in a wok until smoking and fry the meat, garlic and onions. Add chillies to the wok along with fish sauce and oyster sauce. You might need a splash of water here too. Keep frying and stirring for a minute.

Throw in the mint and basil and sugar and stir until the green stuff is wilted.

Arrange the rice on two plates. Put half the meat etc on top and finish with a fried egg. If you like it spicy, chopped chillies in fish sauce can be sprinkled on the egg.

Enjoy your Pad krapao lat khao kai dao (Fried holy basil on rice with fried egg)


Thai Rice Soup

Known as “jork” in Thailand, rice soup or rice porridge is comfort food at its healthy best. When I was pregnant with my first child, this was the only thing I could face after that queasy feeling used to come upon me at about 5pm. I know most people suffer from morning sickness during pregnancy, but I like to think that as an Englishwoman in Thailand, my body was running on Greenwich Mean Time and I definitely had evening sickness. So for several weeks this is what I used to eat for my tea, usually with a raw egg cracked into it (the heat of the soup in the bowl cooked the egg enough to thicken it) and copious amounts of vinegar and chilli.

It’s a great way to use up leftover rice, meat and fish, is easy to cook and is extremely satisfying and delicious. This is what you will need for one serving –

1 fish or chicken stock cube

1 serving of cooked rice or 2 tablespoons uncooked rice

any raw or cooked seafood such as fish, prawns, mussels, squid or scallops (here I used coley, a cheap white fish)

minced pork or turkey made into little bite-sized balls OR cooked and shredded chicken/pork/turkey

2 cloves of garlic

1 or 2 green chillies (or more if you are my daughter)

oil for frying

½ teaspoon sugar

2-3 teaspoons fish sauce

2-3 teaspoons vinegar (rice wine/malt/distilled/wine)

Put the stock cube in a pan and add about 1 pint/20 fl. oz./550ml boiling water.

Add the rice and gently boil until the rice is broken and like thin porridge. You will have to watch it and add more water if necessary so it doesn’t catch on the bottom. This will take about 15 minutes if the rice was ready cooked, more if you are starting from scratch.

Rice Soup 003Add any raw fish and meat and allow to simmer for a few minutes.

Rice Soup 004Meanwhile chop the garlic and fry in hot oil until golden brown. It will taste bitter if you burn it.

Add any cooked meat/fish to the soup and give it another minute to heat through, then remove from the heat.

Rice Soup 005Put sugar, fish sauce and vinegar in your soup bowl.

Pour the rice soup on top.

Rice Soup 006Garnish with fried garlic and finely sliced chillies.

Stir well adding more fish sauce & vinegar if needed.


Son-in-law Eggs

I’ve made these to take to a party tonight; they are delicious. I thought I’d share the recipe. You need :

6 eggs

2 dried red chillies – the length of your hand

2 – 3 shallots

2 tablespoons tamarind paste

2 tablespoons fish sauce

2 tablespoons raw sugar

oil for deep frying

005Hard boil the eggs then remove the shells and dab dry. Snip the dried chillies into thin hoops. Discard the seeds. Slice the shallots very thinly. Heat the oil and quickly fry the chillies, just a few seconds will do it, then remove with a draining spoon. Leave on absorbent paper. Now do the same with the shallot slices – they will need a few more seconds to go brown. Leave on paper with the chillies to crispen up. Gently lower the eggs into the oil one at a time and fry until evenly golden all around; this will take about 10 minutes. Meanwhile in a small pan mix the tamarind paste, sugar and fish sauce and heat until the sugar is melted and you have a smooth, glossy sauce.

When the eggs are done, drain them, cut in half lengthways and arrange on a plate. Drizzle the tamarind sauce over the top then pile chillies and shallots on top of each egg. You can serve them warm or cold. The combination of creamy egg yolk, hot chilli, crispy shallots and sweet/sour tamarind is sublime. In Thailand, these are known as Son-in-law’s Testicles (or some more colloquial term). Perhaps a warning of what will happen if the SIL mistreats a daughter.

Thai Dogs and Englishmen

The other day my daughter got out the shoebox; our library of analogue photographs. It turned out to be another late night, but some memories were brought into focus which is always welcome.

From 1992 until 1998 I lived on the beach in Thailand; first here on Koh Samet

photo: Wikipedia

then here on Koh Chang.


When we arrived on Koh Chang it was a very quiet place with no paved roads, no mains electricity and no girly bars. We arrived from Koh Samet by boat with our sea kayaks, surfboards and sails (wind was our thing) and our dog, Felix. I know what you’re going to say… “Felix? A dog?” and I would have to agree.  Felix is, and has always been, a cat, but our Felix had been named by a German tourist, and there is a slight possibility that Germans are oblivious to this fact. Anyway, I digress…

We had come to occupy our newly purchased piece of beach at White Sands complete with two bamboo huts, kitchen/restaurant and, we were soon to discover, resident dog. She was a small red bitch very similar to a fox and I named her Cringe. Despite a couple of warnings from Felix, Cringe  decided to stay and within a few weeks presented us with a brand new litter of puppies. We were less than delighted at the prospect of many new mouths to feed as we were barely making ends meet at this stage. But, hey ho, rice and eggs were cheap at that time and we were serving a few meals to travellers which meant leftovers for dogs. The puppies were adorable of course and very popular with our guests, but over time we were left with just one, a strawberry blonde female which I named Hen. It’s a hard life for a beach dog in Thailand; at that time there was no vet and no sterilization programme on the island and the Thai people are not generally known for their fondness of pets.

So let’s fast forward a little – there we were, on the beach with Felix, Cringe and Hen having a lovely time in the sun, giving food and shelter to travellers in return for the means to pay our mortgage, and expecting our first baby. There being no health provision to speak of on the island back in 1994 I had to go to the mainland to give birth.

polaroid028A couple of weeks later our new family of three returned home to find that Cringe was once again pregnant but also looking very poorly. She had picked up a virus or possibly some poison and was very out of sorts. On our second night home she delivered two boy puppies outside our bedroom door then skulked off into the jungle and was never seen again. So there I was with not only a new baby who woke me up through the night for food, but also two puppies who cried all night for food. I was exhausted and not really sure if the watered down cow’s milk I was feeding the puppies with a syringe was doing them any good. At this time, Hen, their half sister, was about 9 months old and had not had her first season. She wasn’t even slightly interested in the puppies, but in my desperation I made her lie in a cardboard box and put them in with her. Their natural instinct was to suckle, and that’s what they did, and miraculously Hen’s teats swelled and she began to produce milk. I had never heard of this before, but apparently it sometimes happens and boy, was I thankful! Hen did a brilliant job and surprised us all and probably herself too. 

The miracle puppies were named Butch and Sundance. Poor old Felix had lived a long life, unusual for a beach dog, but gave up the ghost soon after our daughter was born, and little Butch succumbed to some other forgotten fate before he was fully grown.

Sundance with an Aussie visitor who’s name now escapes me. If you know him, say Hi!

Hen was our snake killer and caretaker should we ever be away from home; Sundance was the nursemaid. He took on the job of childminder and was our daughter’s (and later our son’s) constant companion. Wherever she was, Sundance would be close by, watching and listening. Should any stranger approach the baby, Sundance would take a step or two nearer just to make his presence felt.

His greatest feat of heroism took place one hot afternoon when I was feeding baby Nee in the shade of our great tree on the beach. Sitting cross-legged on a mat, quietly sharing that special bond that breast-feeding creates, I saw Sundance suddenly spring to his feet before us and start barking. This was very out of character but he was not to be shushed. His gaze was fixed just beyond my right elbow which was cradling Nee’s head. I looked round to be faced with a snake rearing in defence, it’s head only two feet away from my baby’s. My heart was in my mouth. Something in my subconscious told me not to make any sudden movement, so I turned, rose and sidled out of range as slowly and smoothly as I could, while  Sundance created the diversion. He could then finally move in on the snake, knowing that we were safely out of the way. He really earned his dinner that day!

Our home Yakah Bungalow in January 1997

Krua Thai

Krua is the Thai word for kitchen.

I lived in Thailand (Eastern Seaboard) for more than 6 years in the nineties, married, had children, ran a guest house with restaurant, and formed the following opinion…

Thai cuisine is the best in the world

Food is everywhere in Thailand. It’s an obsession. When you bump into an acquaintance in Thailand you may talk about the weather, but you absolutely will talk about food. “Have you eaten (rice) yet?” is the stock question, the answer to which would be “Not yet” or “Eaten already”. Question number two where I lived would be “Have you showered yet?”, which for a long time struck me as rather intrusive, but I learned to accept it as friendly neighbourly concern.

The food culture in Thailand is quite different from the European model I grew up with. Here, we have learnt to produce while the weather is favourable, and preserve for the scarce months ahead. When I was a small child, that meant packing runner beans in huge jars of salt, bottling all kinds of fruits and vegetables and making jam and chutney. Soon every home had a deep freeze, and BAM!, virtually all our foods were available all year round with just a small amount of forethought and housewifely labour.

In Thailand, the weather is always warm, and several crops of rice can be sown and harvested through the year with a simple system of irrigation in place. There are always fish in the sea, coconuts and papayas on the trees, herbs in the garden; all you have to do is reach out and grab them. Food is bountiful in both its raw and prepared forms. Even my meagre patch of earth which was subjected to the daily onslaught of sea-salty spray, still proffered chillies, holy basil, papayas and wild bananas enough to keep us going.

Every street from the busy metropolis of Krung Thep (Bangkok) to the tiniest rural hamlet offers some delicious culinary delight that can be eaten there and then or taken home to eat with your own rice. On the market you can not only sit and enjoy a fabulous lunch of rice and something on top, but you can also take a little filled poly bag (or five) home with you, sealed with a rubber band wound round and round. All you have to do is cook a pan of rice, and, hey presto!, a family meal of (someone’s) home-cooked food with plenty of variety. And invariably delicious too!

My favourite road-side food stand has to be the Som Tam (green papaya salad) with chicken BBQ . It’s the perfect picnic lunch, being delicious as well as easy to eat with only the fingers. Sticky rice (for no meal is complete without rice) is used to scoop up the shredded salad, counter the effects of the chillies and soak up the greasy juices of the chicken. Manna from heaven!

Living by the sea, a lot of the food available came from within it. As well as all the fabulous fresh fish and shellfish being offered for sale, some local women would make a great dish called Ho Mok Plaa, a kind of fish and coconut “custard” cooked in a banana leaf case. This is how you can make this lovely dish at home…..

These are the ingredients you will need:

2 tablespoons of Red or Panaeng Curry Paste

I egg

2 tablespoons Fish Sauce

1 can coconut milk

a handful of Sweet Basil

a few boiled cabbage or Chinese Leaves (squeezed dry)

400g White Fish fillet

1 tablespoon cornflour

1 or 2 mild red chillies

2 or 3 kaffir lime leaves

a small handful of coriander leaves

You’ll need 4-6 (depending on size) ramekin dishes or small metal bowls (the type you would make an individual chocolate pudding in) and a steamer with lid.


Line each small dish with the cabbage leaves.

Mix the cornflour with 7 tablespoons of coconut milk and set aside.

In a large bowl mix together the egg, fish sauce, coconut milk and curry paste.

Stir in the fish, cut into bitesize pieces.

Spoon the fish mixture between the  dishes, filling them to 1cm from the top.

Drizzle the cornflour/coconut mixture over the top.

Steam for approx 20 mins or until set

Sprinkle with finely shredded chillies and kaffir lime leaves.

Garnish with coriander leaves.

Eat with rice.