Nam prik, ( also nam phrik, น้ำพริก) is one of Thailands most loved food types but often one that doesn’t get the praise it deserves. In essence, Nam prik is a chilli dipping sauce.
However, the way it is consumed and the variety of recipes depends on the region and the family that prepares it. In our eyes, it is one of Thailands most loved national dishes.
Nam prik is not something you would order as a main going out. It is often used as a condiment although it can also be consumed as a meal on its own served alongside some boiled vegetables, rice, omelettes or boiled eggs.
It is believed that Portuguese emissaries and traders introduced chilli peppers to Asia in Thailand in the 16th century but that locals at the time used black, Sichuan and long peppers to create versions of Nam Prik back.
Nam Prik comes in many different colours, consistencies and textures. The traditional way of preparing the paste is by pounding chillies, garlic, shrimp paste, shallots and lime juice in a pestle and mortar usually with some kind of fish.
Salt and fish sauce are added to taste and then hot water to change the consistency.
Some can be very liquidy and others dry and thick. Some are red. Some are green. Some can be eaten by the spoon and others scooped on a cracker. It is a delight to try each one and see the differences. In fact, according to a recipe book published in 1974, there are over 100 recipe variations!
Nam Prik is very popular in Thailand and every family will have their own recipe depending on the province. It has been an integral part Thailands culinary legacy.
The first western written example was by French Ambassador to the court of Ayutthaya, Simon de la Loubère (1687–88), who wrote of “a mustard-like sauce with crayfish corrupted (fermented fish) which they called Kapi.”
Still to this day, Nam phrik Kapi is one of the most widespread types and is typically found in central Thailand, although not with crayfish. This variety has the addition of fermented shrimp paste and often pea eggplant.
Like we mentioned before, Nam prik is more an accompaniment to a dish and will be served with boiled vegetables like cucumbers, Thai eggplant, Thai bitter melon, cauliflower, longbeans and cabbage. Often it will be served with boiled/ salted egg and rice or sticky rice.
This all comes down to region, preparation and ingredients which are all open to interpretation. The base of alliums and chilli tends to stay but some include fragrant herbs like galangal, lemongrass or fruit like tamarind and green mango. The base of fish is also open to change with grilled, boiled, salted or even fish roe being used. Here is a rundown of some of the most popular:
More found in Bangkok. this uses grilled, roasted or deep-fried mackerel to give a smokey taste. (Also our favourite, Recipe to follow). The original would have the alliums and fish charcoal grilled for the extra flavour.
Made with roasted chillies, garlic, galangal and salt. You will find this in the northern areas of Thailand. it is often served as a dip with steamed mushrooms.
A Southern Thai speciality which is popular in the Phuket and Krabi provinces. It is made from crispy smoked dried shrimp, shrimp paste, lime juice, palm sugar, and fish sauce.
This one is very different to most. This Nam Prik is fried alongside sweet pork, fruits like Solanum Ferox and garcinia. Sweetened to taste with sugar it is eaten with salted duck egg and fresh greens..
is a popular issan food. pla ra is pickeled fermented fish and is added to the nam prik with roasted chillies, garlic, fish sauce and lime juice. it’s a very unique flavour!
is readily availble among street food stalls in Thailand. It tastes like a smokey and sweet salsa because of the roasted shallots and palm sugar. Great with stir fry dishes.
is a traditional speciality of northern Thailand and made with minced pork and tomato. Mark Wiens, from migrationology, recommends Huen Huay Keaw in Chiang Mai to eat this.
Is a northern speciality. Thicker in consistency it is based on roasted green chillies, and eaten with vegetables, pork cracklings, and sticky rice.
with minced a grilled fish called Pla Chon (a snake fish). mixed with onion, garlic, powdered chilli, shrimp paste, fish sauce and the addition of tamarind and sugar.
a popular dish in Phuket made with small anchovies.
A very, very spicy version made with dried chillies, shrimp paste, catfish, shallots, garlic, fish sauce and sugar. Narok literally translates as ‘Hell’ so you can get an idea of how spicy this really must be.
is an odd one using roasted and pounded giant water bug. Interestingly this is not the first time waterbug has popped in topic as Liberation Cocktail bar make a waterbug infusion for there drinks which Suwincha ‘Chacha’ Singsuwan tell us the waterbug gives flavours of peach.
Strangely made with the fermented innard of small mackerel and used as a sauce in southern Thai cuisine.
This is one we eat often and is the easiest to make at home! you will need to fry most of the ingredients and use a pestle and mortar for some beating but you can buy most of the items readily at a local convenience store. If you are in Bangkok then you can try a really well made Nam Prik Pla Too in the Sit and Wonder restaurant by Thonglor.
It takes us about 30 minutes or so to make and we usually have it once a week. it’s super healthy and nutritious!
You will need the following ingredients.
Nam Prik in Thailand is very common and you won’t have to look far to taste some. As you travel around Asia be sure to find local or floating markets to try the different Nam Priks and get a sense of place through taste.
Nam Prik is such an important aspect of Thai cuisine and its heritage should be celebrated. And it is not just relegated to street food.
Michelin Starred Chef Aom from Saawaan in Bangkok tells a story of how she found Rice farmers easting Nam prik made with fresh crab and sticky rice which inspired her rice paddy course at her restaurant.
Whether eaten as an appetizer or taken away as a snack for home, I’m sure you will find a Nam prik that’s right for your taste. You can check out our Thai restaurant categories section to see your nearest Thai restaurant to try and sample this unique dipping sauce.
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