BANGKOK (THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Often when people are unsure what to order for lunch, an easy pick is kao pad gapao – stir-fried pork or chicken with holy basil leaves, served over rice.
The choice is so easy, in fact, that it is called a “silly dish”. But the kao pad gapao offered at many street-food stalls is not very appetising. You get chopped long beans, onion, baby corn, carrot, a lot of oyster sauce, and maybe a basil leaf or two. This variety is not even true to the dish’s name.
Mr Teerapol Rojthinnakorn and Ms Pongkwan Tohsanguanpun were disappointed by the street-food versions. They both adore kao pad gapao and wanted it made the way they prefer - the original way. So they opened their own kao pad gapao restaurant. Moom Gapao has nothing but kao pad gapao on the menu.
“I believe most people want stir-fried meat, basil leaves and rice and nothing else – you don’t need all the vegetables added on,” says Mr Teerapol. “But street vendors always dump in a lot of vegetables to reduce their costs. It looks like stir-fried mixed vegetables topped with a thick gravy of oyster sauce.”
Opened last February on the second and third floors of the Photo Mania Building on Bangkok’s Soi Asoke, Moom Gapao offers stir-fried minced pork and stir-fried chopped chicken with holy basil on rice. It costs 55 baht (S$2.20).
There are add-ons available. Diners can add a fried egg or a Thai-style omelette (9 baht if chicken eggs are used and 13 baht for duck eggs). Instead of chicken or pork, one can have Australian minced beef, salmon, duck, shrimp, squid, German sausage, Thai sausage or the pork charcoal-grilled, or, for a vegetarian course, tofu or eringii mushrooms.
“The other meat choices require a day’s advance notice and a minimum order of five dishes or take-away boxes,” says Ms Pongkwan. “We also deliver.” The only other options are whether one wants a meal that is spicy or not so spicy.
Moom Gapao seats 50 people in a clean, minimalist setting. It is always packed with office workers at lunchtime. You order and pay at a counter and your dish is brought to your table.
“We call it ‘fast casual’ service – a combination of fast food and proper dining, meaning quick service yet high-quality ingredients, without processed food or MSG,” says Pongkwan. “At rush hour, people need something quick, but it should be high in quality and affordable. Our place meets those needs.”
The ingredients include jasmine rice from Ubon Ratchathani, preferred for its softer texture, and aromatic, chemical-free Thai basil leaves from Ratchaburi, which have a strong flavour.
“We did research and found that the rice from Ubon Ratchathani and basil from Ratchaburi are among the best in Thailand,” says Mr Teerapol. “The pork and chicken we use have less fat than normal. Every dish is made fresh to order, but we control the standards and taste with our special secret-recipe sauce.”
His family runs a food-packaging company, Rianthong Plastic, so he already had a connection with food suppliers. “For the meat and eggs, we have our trusted farms and we plan to grow our own chemical-free basil in Samut Prakan,” he says.
I went for the chicken crowned with a duck egg and the basic level of spiciness. The chicken is indeed lean. It is stir-fried and has a nice balance of flavours, with the flavour of oyster sauce noticeably missing. The egg is fried crispy on the outside with the yolk slightly runny, but you can tell the staff how you want it done.
The option I chose had 85 grams of steamed rice and 80 grams of meat. The “jumbo” serving, with an additional half portion of rice and meat, costs an extra 10 baht.
If time is against you, ask for a “to-go cup” with the rice and meat in layers and a fried egg white and fried yolk on top. You can eat it while in transit and even pop it into your car’s cup holder.
Moom Gapao now has branches at Thaniya Plaza on Silom Road and the Midway Point mall on Kanchanapisek Road. Mr Teerapol plans to have six outlets by the end of this year and 30 within the next three years.
Moom Gapao is on the second and third floors of the Photo Mania Building (next to the GMM Building) on Bangkok’s Soi Asoke. It’s open daily from 11am to 8pm. To place orders or arrange a delivery, call (081) 549 9919 or visit the “moomgapao” page on Facebook.