At the very center of Thai cuisine are relishes or ‘Nam Prik’ in Thai. There are many of them and they vary greatly, from extremely rustic ones to the most exquisite that have their roots in royalty.

‘Nam Prik Pao’ น้ำพริกเผา, stands out among them for being in itself a key ingredient for many other Thai dishes. This is in contrast with majority of other Nam Prik relishes that are consumed themselves as a centerpiece of a meal.

Chili jam is a good way to describe what Nam Prik Pao is about, but don’t think of a sweet jam with hints of spiciness, rather imagine a very spicy, sweet, complex and savory flavor. You can buy Nam Prik Pao, but like anything else the version you would make at home would be far superior. Another reason to make it yourself, is in case that you want a plant based version, as the purchased ones are likely to contain shrimp paste.

Nam Prik Pao
  • Red dry chilies (Prik Chee Fah)
  • Thinly sliced shallot
  • Thinly sliced garlic
  • Coconut sugar
  • Tamarind puree
  • Light soy sauce
  • Sea salt
  • Chinese olives (optional)

1.In a wok deep fry the sliced shallot and then the garlic. Place on a paper towel and let cool and drain any excess oil.

2.In the same oil deep fry the dried chilies until their color turns dark red to brown and they smell nutty. Set aside on a paper towel. Deep fry the Chinese olives and set aside.

3.In a large clay mortar (pok pok) pound the Chinese olives first, then add the shallot and garlic and pound into a fine paste. Add the fried chilies and pound them into the paste. The entire mass would smell wonderful.

4.Continue to pound and add in the sugar, the tamarind puree and the soy sauce. Pound for a few more minutes until you get a smooth and quite wet consistency. Taste and adjust the flavor, add some salt as needed. It should be spicy and taste sweet, salty and balanced by a little bit of tartness from the tamarind.

5.In a wok, heat a little bit of vegetable oil, I often use avocado. Fry the mass for a few minutes, but not too long. Add oil as needed, it’s OK to have some extra oil as this deep orange oil gives a nice hue and flavor to dishes. Transfer into a sealed jar. Keep in refrigeration for a few months.

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