Prik Nam Pla: The Thai sauce that makes everything better

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If you ask Thais about their favorite spice , prik nam pla will likely top the list. It is truly one of my favorite sauces in Thai cuisine. I put it on anything that feels like it needs a little “something more”, and it works every time.

dot nam pla

Prik nam pla is important to Thai people and Thai food culture. So much so that if you go into a Thai restaurant and they don’t have prik nam pla when you ask for it. Think about whether you are really going to eat there.

What is Prik Nam Pla or is it Nam Pla Prik?

Firstly, this spicy sauce is called either prik nam pla or nam pla prik.
Both are correct so don’t get hung up on it. Prik means chili and nam pla means fish sauce, and those are the two key elements.

Prik nam pla is a sauce that Thais use as an all-purpose flavor enhancer. It’s a table seasoning 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 sour. When your Thai food feels like it’s not quite perfect – maybe a little flat – it’s these flavors that are usually missing. That’s why it works in so many situations.

In Thailand, prik nam pla is ubiquitous. You can often see a bowl of it in dishes next to the utensils, on tables in some restaurants or included in your takeout.

How to make Prik Nam Pla

It doesn’t get any simpler than this:

  • Place the finely chopped Thai chili in a small bowl, then add the fish sauce and lime juice. Add finely chopped garlic and shallots (optional).
    Ready to serve immediately, but leave at room temperature for at least 10 minutes for the flavors to settle, especially if you add garlic and shallots.
  • Alternatives for a less potent version . Prik nam pla in the original 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 balance the salt and acid.

Ways to make it less spicy

Prik nam pla is usually made to be medium (by Thai standards) spicy, but you can make it milder in any of these ways:

  • The most effective method is to remove the seeds and pulp from the Thai chilies before adding them.
  • If you are making a lot, a quicker way is to finely chop the chillies and leave them in a bowl of water for a few minutes. The seeds fall to the bottom and some of the heat will dissipate into the water. Scoop out the chili that floats on top and drain well.
  • Chop the chillies into large pieces so that they can gently infuse their heat into the sauce, but are large enough that you can easily peel them away.

How to use Prik Nam Pla

As said before, you can use it as an all-round enhancer of any dish that needs a little flavor boost. If something is a little bland or a little flat, the salt, acid, umami and spice of prik nam pla usually improve it. Note that it is not a dipping sauce, but rather a sauce that you drizzle and mix into things.

Here are some common ways to use prik nam pla in Thailand:

  • Fried rice . As fried rice is a relatively common dish in Thai cuisine, it is almost always served with prik nam pla for those who want to enhance the flavor.
  • Fried eggs. Prik nam pla is usually served with anything that comes with a fried egg on top, such as our holy basil scramble (pad kra pao), as that is what will season the egg.
  • Noodles. Noodle dishes are often made with little room for diners to customize the seasoning, and noodle restaurants often have a whole bunch of spicy sauces available for you
  • Jasmine rice. In Thailand yesterday basically rice as a base in all dishes. If the dish itself is not spicy, many choose to add Prik nam pla to the rice. A good way if the tolerance for spicy food varies in the group (e.g. families with children)

Storage

Prik nam pla can be stored for a long time in the refrigerator in an airtight container.
I’ve never seen it go bad because it’s so salty. However, the lime juice flavor degrades over time, and if you add garlic and shallots, the pieces will eventually become very salty and fishy looking. Because of this, I only do a little bit at a time, and it’s as quick and easy as it gets!

prik nam pla

Prik Nam Pla (Fish sauce & chili seasoning)

The ultimate spice Thais can’t live without. It is used to enhance the flavor of any dish that feels a little flat. Try anything – Thai or Swedish
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 1 minute
Total Time 6 minutes
Servings 4

Ingredients

  • 1-2 msk Thai Chili
  • 3 msk Fish sauce
  • 1 msk Lime juice
  • 2 gaps Garlic (finely chopped or grated)
  • 2 msk Shallots (optional)

Instructions

  • Mix all ingredients in a small bowl. If adding garlic and/or shallots, let stand at least 10 minutes before serving.
    1-2 msk Thai Chili, 3 msk Fish sauce, 1 msk Lime juice, 2 gaps Garlic, 2 msk Shallots

Notes

Any other type of hot chili will work too, and you can add as much or as little as you like depending on how spicy you want it.
A mixture of red and green gives a nicer presentation

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