Basil plays a very important role in Thai cuisine. This is not the sweet basil you would typically find at your local market; there are so many varieties. The basil Thai’s most love to cook with is, holy basil, or “bai krapao.” Holy basil gives off a spicy flavor. It is a major player in dishes like Pad Krapow Gai (chicken basil stir-fry) or Pad Ki Mow (drunken noodles).
Holy basil is very hard to grow as it needs intense sun and heat, and is almost nearly impossible to grow in Maine’s growing zone. We’ve managed to grow a few sprigs — barely enough for 3 dishes. The availability of of holy basil in the States is still quite small even in large cities, so most Thai restaurant opt to use holy basil’s fairly close cousin, “bai horapa” or Thai sweet basil. Though it is called Thai “sweet” basil it still has a spicier kick than the common basil.
Basil is also essential in curries like the red curry and green curry. You would never put basil in the panang curry, yellow curry or masaman curry as these curries’ main flavor profile is on the sweet side.