A Guide to Condiments in Thailand
In Thailand, it is important to know what kind of food you are ordering. Before you know it you might end up with something that is perhaps a little too spicy, too salty or too sweet for your taste. As you may know by now, after reading our posts, the Thai cuisine is extremely diverse and works with all types of flavors. So, in order to adjust your dish without ruining the food experience, you will always find an assortment of condiments. Today, we will tell you what they are as well as introduce you to other delightful sauces that you have to try.
The Four Core Condiments
You go into a restaurant, sit down, order your food and find four or five condiments in front of you. In cheaper restaurants, they come in a plastic set, in classier places in beautifully ornamented ceramic jars. However, regardless of the presentation they all contain the same ingredients and here they are:
- Salty Fish Sauce: The Thais use this sauce as a substitute for table salt. It has an acquired taste but it works really well with almost any meal in Thailand. You can ask the staff for regular salt if you are not a fan of it.
- Vinegar/lime juice with chilies: If your dish is too sweet then a few drops of this sour sauce will counterbalance the flavor. The chilies in it are usually chopped, so just leave them in the jar to keep the spiciness at bay.
- Dried Chili Flakes or Chilies in Oil: In case you really want to turn up the heat then half a spoon of this condiment will do the trick. The chili oil is similar to the one you find in Italian Restaurants.
- Sugar: It really is just regular cane sugar. The appearance of it may appear strange to Westerners, but in the Thai cuisine, it is all about keeping the harmony between the flavors. You would be surprised at how a few grains of sugar can create the perfect balance for a delicious dish.
In some restaurants, there is also a jar of grounded peanuts or a bottle of soy sauce, but generally, these are the core condiments.
When you get finger food like satay or spring rolls from one of the food stalls or markets, you will get some kind of dip as well. It is not ketchup, because that would be too boring for the local people. The most common (and best) one is a sweet & sour chili sauce (Nam Jim Gai). It is made of chili, garlic, vinegar, and sugar, and tastes particularly great with grilled chicken. This is no coincidence since Nam Jim Gai means chicken dipping sauce.
Another classic is Nam Prik Pao – a paste that consists of onions, garlic, chilies, palm sugar, and oil. It is both a dipping sauce as well as an ingredient for cooking. It is also not uncommon to see a Thai person spread it on a slice of bread as a snack. Did we mention that it tastes fantastic with noodle soups? In short: Nam Prik Pao is the ultimate Thai condiment.