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A Single Mother’s Courage to Become a Restaurateur: Krapow

From a single mother to a Thai food restaurateur, Ratree Saenchai is the owner of Krapow, a restaurant located at Far East Plaza. Ratree, who was married to a Singaporean, faced the biggest upheaval of her life when her husband passed away 15 years ago. She had 2 kids to take care of on her own and some of her businesses running. Decisively gathering courage, grit, and resources to start up her own food stall, she opened Krapow and began selling authentic Thai cuisine. 

What is krapow?

Commonly found along the streets of Thailand, krapow or gaprao (ผัดกะเพรา) are small, fast and easily prepared dishes. Often, it refers to dishes stir-fried with holy basil, with meat ranging from chicken to pork and beef. This stir-frying process brings out the heat of the chilli and spices used, intensifying the flavours of the basil and adding a touch of wok-hei. This ‘heat’, Ratree explains, is almost tear-inducing. Nevertheless, the amazing aroma of basil pairs well with the savoury sauce and the chilli’s spiciness.

However, krapow means more to Ratree than just an enjoyable dish from her hometown. She tells us that from a young age, her grandmother used to cook it for her when she went to school.

“‘I want to eat krapow,’ I said. And she would just cook for me.” The flavour of home-cooked krapow from her childhood, imbued with the warmth of her grandmother’s love for her, continues to linger in Ratree’s memory as her favourite Thai-style dish. 

“So I remember the taste very well. I feel like I’ll never forget this taste. I’ll never forget this colour, how I want the dish’s colour to be.” This birthed the beginning of Krapow Restaurant in Singapore. Till today, she expects the same standards for her restaurant’s own rendition of krapow. And as before, Ratree continues to be inspired by her grandmother’s love-filled, home-cooked recipes.

Creating a home away from home

With a heart filled with love for her native cuisine, Ratree’s eyes sparkled as she shared about the joy she found in bringing Thai food to Singapore. For the Thai community, her shop could be a safe haven when they miss their hometown. She hoped that they could still find comfort in Singapore through the authentic Thai food she serves up. She expressed this by saying, “I don’t need to go back to Thailand. I [can] stay in Singapore… I can still have my food, you know?”

And when it comes to the local community, it was heartening for Ratree to find out that Singaporeans enjoyed her Thai cuisine, and especially loved her food.

Krapow’s signature dishes

One signature dish is Drunkard Noodles with Tiger Prawn and Fresh Squid ($18.80). Thai holy basil is the main highlight ingredient, together with chilli padi and Krapow’s own homemade sauce. Stir-frying at very high heat helps the dish to have its signature wok-hei. And once the fragrance is pronounced, the basil’s aroma would permeate the prawn dish. This Drunkard Noodle does not use alcohol, but you’ll possibly be drunk and doused by the punchy flavours of basil and spice. The noodles are so spicy that those partaking will get drunk in the process of trying to quench their thirst.

Another dish is the Deep Fried Pork Belly ($16.60), which has been served at Krapow from its beginning. A superbly tasty and addictive street food, it is cooked with holy basil and chilli over a low temperature. Then, it is fried with garlic and a special homemade sauce. Getting the crispy speckles of flavour right in this pork belly dish is crucial. Plus, to ensure the pork belly’s quality, fresh meat is delivered to the restaurant almost every day. This dish is one of those incredibly simple, delicious dishes that gives a huge bang for your buck. 

A story of perseverance and grit

We asked Ratree if she has ever felt overwhelmed or even afraid of what the future holds for her. Smiling, she says that she has felt this way. From being a wife, to a single mom, and now a successful female F&B owner—her answer is a resounding “of course”.

“But I tell myself not to be scared, because I’ve gone through everything… So, I just go ahead with what I have to do. What do I have to lose?”

Her personal mantra for success is to “just put your heart in, and follow your dream, and no matter how difficult, just go through with it.” For results would certainly come later, she says. This is a woman of grit. Someone who doesn’t look at gratification upfront and is, first and foremost, willing to put in the hard work. In trusting the process, and positively believing that success will reap gold for those who are willing to put in the effort, Ratree has succeeded in building a legacy of her own.