If you ask Thai people about their favorite condiment, prik nam pla will likely be at the top of the list. It's certainly one of my favorite sauces in Thai cuisine. I put it on anything that feels like it needs a little "something-something", and it works every time.
Prik nam pla is so important to Thai people that if I go into a Thai restaurant here, and they don't have prik nam pla when I ask for it...I'm taking major points off the place!
What is Prik Nam Pla...or is it Nam Pla Prik?
First, this condiment goes by either prik nam pla or nam pla prik; both are correct so don't get hung up on it. Prik means chilies, and nam pla means fish sauce, and those are the two key elements.
Prik nam pla is a sauce that Thai people use as the all-purpose flavour enhancer. It is a tableside condiment you put on the finished dish, much like salt and pepper in the West, but it's not something you cook with.
Prik nam pla is salty, spicy, umami and acidic. When your Thai food feels like it's not quite perfect - perhaps a little flat - these are the flavours that are usually missing. This is why it works in so many situations.
In Thailand, prik nam pla is ubiquitous. You can often see a bowl of it in food courts next to the utensils, on tables in some restaurants, or included in your takeout.
Here are the ingredients for prik nam pla. You really don't need to measure anything, but for some basic ratios to get you started see the recipe card below.
- Thai chilies, or any spicy chilies you have on hand.
- Fish sauce. I suggest using Thai fish sauce for this; Squid and Megachef are both good brands. Use Three Crabs if you want something a little milder. Red Boat can be used but since it's a first press fish sauce, it's a little more intense and also has no sugar added to balance the salt. If you're vegetarian, use your favourite vegan fish sauce or soy sauce.
- Lime juice. The amount of lime juice to add it totally up to you. I like it heavier on the lime which I find makes it less salty and more versatile, so I use a general ratio of 3 parts fish sauce to 1 part lime juice.
- Optional aromatics: Garlic and shallots.
How to Make Prik Nam Pla
It doesn't get any easier than this, but as always, I suggest watching the video tutorial so you see it all in action!
- Place the Thai chilies into a small bowl, then add fish sauce and lime juice. Add the garlic and shallots, if using. Use right away, but ideally let it sit at room temperature for at least 10 minutes for the flavours to infuse, especially if adding garlic and shallots.
- Option for a less potent version. Prik nam pla straight up is quite intense, and a little goes a long way. If you want to be able to use it more liberally, add a splash of water to dilute and a touch of sugar to help balance the salt and the acid.
3 Ways to Make it Less Spicy
Prik nam pla is usually made to be medium spicy, but you can make it milder in one of these ways:
- Remove the seeds and pith from the Thai chilies before adding them in. This is the most effective method, but can be tedious if you have a lot to do.
- If you're making a lot, a faster way is to finely chop the chilies and let them sit in a bowl of water for a few minutes; the seeds will fall to the bottom and some of the heat will infuse into the water. Scoop out the chilies floating on top and drain well.
- Chop the chilies into big chunks so they can gently infuse their heat into the liquid, but are big enough for you to easily avoid when using. You'll then only use the liquid.
How to Use Prik Nam Pla
As mentioned, you can use it as an all-purpose enhancer of any dish that needs a little flavour boost. If something is a little bland or a little flat, the salt, acid, umami and spice in prik nam pla will usually improve it. Note that it is not a dipping sauce, but rather a sauce you drizzle and mix into things.
Here are some common ways prik nam pla is used in Thailand:
- Fried rice. Because fried rice is a relatively plain-tasting dish in Thai cuisine, it is almost always served with prik nam pla for those who are looking up amp up the flavour. E.g. Crab Fried Rice.
- Fried eggs. Prik nam pla is usually served with anything that comes with a fried egg on top, such as our holy basil stir fry (pad kra pao), because it is what will season the egg.
- Noodles. Noodle dishes are often made with a little room for diners to customize the seasoning, and noodle restaurants will have a whole bunch of condiments available for you. While most places nowadays set out plain fish sauce alongside the chilies, vinegar and sugar so you can fine tune each flavour separately, you might see prik nam pla as an option as well.
- Plain jasmine rice. As mentioned in my How to Eat Thai Food Correctly post, Thai people eat family style, with rice as the foundation of the meal. Sometimes people like to season their rice with prik nam pla, especially if the dishes being served aren't particularly strong tasting; like a Thai omelette or a vegetable stir fry. Families with kids often make dishes a little milder, and prik nam pla is how the adults then turn it up a notch.
Prik nam pla will keep indefinitely in the fridge in an airtight container. I've never seen it go bad because it's so salty. However, the lime juice flavour deteriorates over time, and if you add garlic and shallots, the pieces will eventually become very salty and look dodgy. Because of this I make just a little at a time, and it's so quick and easy anyway!
Prik Nam Pla (Fish Sauce & Chilies Condiment)
- 1-2 Tablespoons chopped Thai chilies, see note
- 3 Tablespoons fish sauce
- ½-1 Tablespoon lime juice
- 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced or chopped (optional)
- 2 Tablespoons thinly sliced shallots, (optional)
FULL VIDEO TUTORIAL
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- Combine all ingredients together in a small bowl. If adding garlic and/or shallots, allow to sit for at least 10 minutes to infuse.1-2 Tablespoons chopped Thai chilies, 3 Tablespoons fish sauce, ½-1 Tablespoon lime juice, 2 cloves garlic, 2 Tablespoons thinly sliced shallots