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Thai Basils - where to find all three?

Where is the best place to find all three thai basils in one place?

the Sweet, Holy and Purple?

I've gotten the Purple downstairs at the SLM but they don't normally have the sweet and the holy.

Any ideas? much thanks,

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  1. I have seen the sweet kind of Thai basil in the grocery stores in Chinatown (on Spadina just north of Dundas).

    I've never managed to find holy basil anywhere in Toronto. The few times I've ordered basil chicken or like dishes in Thai restaurants around here the monstrosity I've been presented with doesn't even approach what basil chicken is supposed to be (picture a bunch of veggies with a few soggy leaves of regular Thai basil intermittently dispersed throughout instead of the heaps of intense spicy basil and hot peppers that you'd expect from a proper basil chicken).

    I've seen "holy basil" mentioned on the menus in a couple of restaurants in TO and have always asked excitedly after their source for the basil. Each time the waiter has said "Oh, we only use holy basil if we can find it" and returned to the kitchen to inquire after the source, only to return and report that they are only serving said dish with regular Thai basil after all.

    As an aside, when I started cooking Thai food I lived in Copenhagen, which has an excellent Thai market that consistently stocked holy basil (in addition to many other ingredients that I have never seen outside of Thailand). If only I had known how lucky I was then!

    If anyone knows where to find holy basil in Toronto, please do report. Even a source for the seeds would be fine -I would happily grow it myself, such is my craving for basil chicken! I'm thinking of buying some seeds online. If I do I will report on how it goes.

    1. Try Johnny's Selected Seeds in Maine. A great mail order company specializing in seeds for northern climates. They show more than one variety of Thai basil and two different holy basils. I have grown holy basil and didn't realize it was edible. Some people don't like the scent. Very perfumey not like Italian basil at all. Check the pictures shown on the website to see if any of these are the basils you are seeking. We enjoy Thai restaurants but have never seen holy basil on the menu. Do you have a recipe?

      1. Holy Basil is known as "Tulsi".
        It has 2 main cultivars- one being green and one being red with a greenish tendancy on the surface. Taste is very sharp and somewhat harsh compared to the licorice of a Thai Basil.If that is what you are after-
        Tulsi basil is available on Gerrard St E.
        Best seed source is Johnny's.

        1. Thank you so much for the replies! Now I have one more reason to be happy I stumbled across this board (in addition to learning about the sandwiches at Black Camel, trying the tamales instead of the tacos at El Asador, etc.). Yay!

          Yes, it does have a very particular taste and scent. At first I thought it was a little strange, but it really grew on me. The basil chicken dish is simple but so tasty! It is a very popular dish in Thailand and when I travelled there I really developed a taste for it. Each one I tried tasted a little bit different, depending on who made it.

          Here is one recipe that I made at a cooking class I attended in Thailand. I follow it, but I tend to throw in the amount of ingredients that "feel right" as opposed to following it exactly. It's been a long time since I made it since I haven't had the basil, so the following notes are my best recollection.

          Stir-fried chicken with hot basil leaves and chillies (Pad Krapao Gai)

          400g chicken chopped in very small bite-sized pieces
          10g holy basil leaves (I think this translates to about one cup, or a big pile)
          3 (or more!) hot chillies, smashed*
          200g string beans, chopped in tiny pieces
          1 Tbsp chopped garlic*
          2 Tbsp fish sauce*
          1 tsp black sweet soy sauce*
          2 Tbsp vegetable oil
          1/2 cup water

          Heat wok with oil. Add garlic, chillies, fish sauce and water and stir-fry "until the good smells come" (as my instructor would say). Add chicken and stir-fry for a couple of minutes. Add string beans and soy sauce and stir-fry for another minute or so. Add basil leaves. Stir-fry them into the mix very quickly and transfer to plate.

          Serve with steamed rice.

          *As with all Thai dishes, the suggested proportions for the flavourings can be adjusted to taste, depending on your fondness for certain flavours (e.g. spicy, salty).

          The Thais eat this dish with LOTS of chillies, and if you like very spicy food it really is best this way. In that case, use many more chillies than the recipe states. I am hesitant to give a number because the spiciness of chillies can vary so much as can people's tolerance to spice, so I would suggest following your own tastes to find the right amount for you. In Thailand I would order the dish "Thai spicy" and would leave crying but happy!

          Also, this dish is equally delicious if you substitute the chicken for another meat or for tofu.

          1. Basileater, thanks for posting the recipe. I'll probably reduce the amount of chilis for our New England taste buds but I think I have the sweet soy sauce on hand. Need to buy some more fish sauce and also make sure I get some holy basil seeds this year. I like to grow a variety of basils but don't cook often enough with them. I also keep planning to make my own fresh spring rolls with fresh Thai basil.

            1. I live right by Chinatown E and I've very rarely found holy basil there, in the large grocery store further to the east (closer to De Grassi than Broadview). When I see it, I snatch it up.

              You can get the regular Thai basil virtually everywhere in Asian grocers.

              1. In basileater's recipe "black sweet soy sauce" is indicated as an ingredient. Does anyone know if this is a special kind of soy sauce for thai dishes or is this regular Kikkoman type soy sauce.

                Thanks for any help

                2 Replies
                1. re: lonestartor

                  What he's talking about is typically sold as "Kecap Manis" in Chinatown stores. It's very thick - not quite so much as molasses, but not all that far off, either. You definitely cannot substitute with regular soy sauce as you'll lose all the sweetness and texture.

                  Furthermore, for Thai food, drop the Kikkoman. Japanese soy sauce is not suitable for Thai cooking; you need Chinese soy sauce. I recommend Pearl River Bridge. Pick up some light and dark soy sauces from them and they'll be indispensable.

                  1. re: lonestartor

                    Oh... I should also point out that Kecap Manis isn't always kept with the regular soy sauces, so if you don't see it near them, don't get discouraged and dig around a little more!

                    Incidentally, if you want to avoid it altogether, there are tons of delicious recipes for Pad Grapao Gai that don't use it. Indeed, this is the first time I've ever heard of it being used for this purpose (I've only really seen it used in the contexts of Thai cookery in Pad See Eew and Radnar Talay). I would imagine you could probably use 1 tbsp light soy sauce and 1 tsp dark soy sauce instead and have a perfectly marvelous dish.

                  2. At my grocery store they sell "taiwan basil", the same purplish basil they serve with pho. Is this the same as thai sweet basil?

                    2 Replies
                      1. re: ChalkBoy

                        Well the leaves have some purplish tint to them too

                    1. I buy my basils at Hua Sheng on Spadina, though they seldom, but occasionally have holy (khrapao, tulsi/tulasi, teniflorum). They always have sweet Thai (horapaa, Siam queen).
                      Siam queen bedding plants are easy to find in the spring. Caledonia Garden Centre has had nice Siam Queen the past few years. For Holy Basil plants, you need to go to Humber Nurseries in Brampton. If anyone finds holy basil anywhere in more central Toronto (market, seeds, or plants) please post here.

                      I hope this is helpful. Happy Thai cooking!

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: dbbergen

                        In case those not familiar with the location of Humber Nurseries, technically in Brampton, but for location, it is not more than a kilometer or so from Hwy 50 & Hwy. 27 crossing Hwy 27 on Albion Rd. on 50 to the west side, if at Hwy 7 you will have gone too far.

                        1. re: dbbergen

                          Richters sells tulsi seed, it's pretty trivial to grow in the kitchen or garden.


                        2. You might want to try out
                          Vientiane Trading
                          They cater more to the restaurants but have hard to find stuff I haven't seen elsewhere.
                          51B Jutland Road
                          Toronto, ON M8Z 2G6
                          Phone number (416) 743-2911