This Thai nam prik num recipe makes a smoky green chilli dip that’s one of the best known Northern Thai specialties – so much so that it’s often called Chiang Mai chilli relish. Made from local chillies, it’s grilled on a barbecue with garlic and shallots and typically served with crunchy pork crackling and sticky rice.
If you liked the nam prik ong recipe that we recently published and you enjoyed that, then you’re also going to enjoy this Thai nam prik num recipe for a smoky green chilli dip that’s another Northern Thai specialty from Chiang Mai. If you’re not familiar with nam priks, they are a family of Thai condiments that include dips, relishes and dipping sauces.
We love this Thai nam prik num so much that whenever we used to travel to Thailand, immediately after checking into our hotel or apartment we’d head straight to one of our favourite spots to pick up a tub of the dip, a bag of pork crackling, some Chiang Mai sausage, and sticky rice to dip into the nam prik num.
It’s common for Thai visitors from Bangkok to Chiang Mai to return laden with containers of nam prik num – along with bags of crackling and Chiang Mai sausage – for their family and friends back home. We’re dreaming of the day we can hop on a plane to Chiang Mai to do the same again.
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Now let me tell you about this Thai nam prik num recipe for a smoky green chilli dip from Northern Thailand.
Nam Prik Num Recipe for Smoky Thai Green Chilli Dip from Northern Thailand
Nam prik num – also spelt nam prik noom, nam phrik noom and nam phrik num – is so associated with the former Lanna capital that it’s also known as Chiang Mai chilli relish.
Like Cambodians, when Thais have traditionally sat down to enjoy a full meal of rice and accompaniments – called ‘samrub’ in Thai, which comes from the Old Khmer word ‘samrap’, which means ‘set menu’ – the spread usually includes a salad or vegetables, perhaps a stir-fry or something deep-fried, maybe a curry or stew, a soup, and a nam prik.
There are essentially two types of relishes, nam priks and lons. Nam priks tend to use shrimp paste and chillies, while lons contain coconut cream incorporated to calm the intense flavours of the often preserved ingredients of the dips.
To make nam prik num, local chillies are grilled on a barbecue with garlic and shallots, and it’s served with everything from crispy pork crackling and steamed and fresh vegetables to the classic sticky rice.
Years ago when we lived in Bangkok near BTS Asok, stalls would set up along the footpath on our road around mid-morning on weekdays to serve lunch to local office workers. One of our favourite stalls specialised in grilled marinated chicken pieces and pork shoulder. On the days when Lara and I were on deadline and working from home, we’d take turns going to pick up lunch.
The friendly vendor always put a little container of her homemade nam prik num in the bag. We adored the stuff but could barely touch the dip with a piece of meat and we’d break out in a sweat. It was so hot that we often wondered why the plastic container didn’t melt. Regardless, we’d always dive back in for more, it was that good.
Just a few tips for making this Thai nam prik num recipe…
Tips to Making This Nam Prik Num Recipe for a Smoky Thai Green Chilli Dip from Northern Thailand
There are a few myths surrounding this popular Northern Thai chilli dip that we need to get straight. Firstly, let’s talk about the chillies themselves. The chillies look like a green banana chilli and are called ‘prik num’ in Thailand. While these specific chillies are often called ‘Thai chillies’ and are mainly found in Northern Thailand, they’re not strictly ‘Thai’. We do get them in Cambodia and you’ll find them in other Southeast Asian countries.
If you can’t find them where you live, your best bet is to use banana chillis, although these are pretty mild. In the USA, Anaheim peppers are a popular substitution, however, they don’t have the heat that you’re looking for in this dip, so if you have to use either of those chillies, try adding a couple of green bird’s eye chillies if you’re used to that level of heat.
The other ingredients that go into this Thai nam prik num recipe are often debated. Some recipes claim that this dip has no shrimp paste in it. One, from a reputable publication at that, published a recipe without shrimp paste yet oddly enough had an accompanying photo that featured shrimp paste wrapped in banana leaves on the grill with the chillies, shallots and garlic.
Other nam prik num recipes include lime juice and palm sugar, much to the chagrin of Thai chefs who see this as a way of taking the heat out of the dish. A pinch of sugar is acceptable, as is a little salt (fish sauce is seen as too disruptive to the balance of the dish), but the dip should ultimately remain spicy and smoky.
We use eco-friendly coconut shell charcoal BBQ briquettes for our traditional clay brazier on the balcony, which we grill the chillies, shallots and garlic on, as they do not smoke and ash as much as traditional charcoal, and they will stay hot enough to cook with for a couple of hours.
If you’re new to Thai cooking, you’re going to need a good mortar and pestle that can hold up to two cups of paste.
Nam Prik Num Recipe for a Smoky Thai Green Chilli Dip
- 6 fresh green Thai chillis
- 4 red shallots - unpeeled
- 4 cloves garlic - unpeeled
- ¼ tsp rock salt - ground
- 1 spring onion - chopped
- ½ tsp shrimp paste
- Wrap the shrimp paste in banana leaves or foil. Place on the BBQ grill until you can smell the aromas of the paste. Remove from the grill.
- Place the chillis, shallots and garlic on the BBQ grill. Grill the garlic until the skins are darkened.
- The skin of the chillis will turn brown, turn these over a few times to allow the skin to come away from the flesh of the chillis.
- The shallots, being bigger, will take longer to soften up, so allow the skin of the shallots to turn almost black.
- Remove all of these from the grill and allow to cool down before peeling off the skin.
- Place the rock salt in a mortar, followed by the chillis, shallots, garlic and shrimp paste. Pound into a paste where all the ingredients are incorporated.
- Serve with pork cracking and sticky rice.
Please do let us know if you make this Thai nam prik num recipe for a smoky Thai green chilli dip as we’d love to know how it turns out for you.