Chile relishes or dips, called nam prik, are essential components to a well-rounded, multi-dish Thai meal. Served with an assortment of raw, blanched, or steamed vegetables, a spicy nam prik acts as a palate cleanser and refresher—the vegetables provide fresh crunch that complements the sinus-clearing power of the pounded chiles in the dip. Nam prik ong, found in northern Thailand, is a pork-based relish that balances the sweet acidity of tomatoes with savory fermented soybeans and shrimp paste, all of it accompanied by the heat from pounded dried chiles.
This recipe starts with dried chiles that are toasted in a dry wok and then pounded to a coarse paste in a mortar and pestle with lemongrass, garlic, shallots, and shrimp paste. Charred plum tomatoes, an unconventional addition that imparts extra depth of tomato flavor, are worked into the paste for smoky, sweet acidity.
The paste is cooked in hot oil to bloom the aromatics before ground pork is added to the wok. Once the pork is just cooked through, cherry tomatoes are stirred in and coaxed into bursting, giving the mixture a saucy consistency and bright sweetness, which is balanced by a mixture of soy sauce, fermented soybean paste, fish sauce, water, and a touch of sugar. The mixture is simmered until it thickens to a bolognese-like consistency and then allowed to cool to room temperature before serving.
The resulting relish is spicy, sour, sweet, and savory—ideal for dipping. We recommend serving nam prik ong with an assortment of raw vegetables, cooked jasmine or sticky rice, and some crispy pork rinds for good measure.