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Thu 27 Apr 2017
Sauces and Dips
Written by Wadee Kheourai   
Wednesday, 21 February 2007 18:30

Foreigners who have just come to Thailand are often baffled by the array of small bowls, each containing different colored sauces, laid out for a typical Thai meal.

At a typical Thai dinner, there are many sauces and dips on the table, sometimes they are more than the main dishes. Thais like tasty food and believe in satisfying everybody individual taste. So although the main dishes are already prepared to the cook's satisfaction, each person is still allowed leeway to season some more with a good range of sauces and dips.

1. Dry chilli powder 2. Vinegar with chilli pieces
3. Vinegar with chilli powder 4. Sugar

At a noodle shop, you may see this common scene. At each table there is a set of four containers which Thais call Khrueng Phuang or ring of spices. After being served their hot bowl of noodles, nine out of ten Thais will automatically reach out for these condiments, spoon in some fish sauce, a bit or small spoon of sugar or chili powder and toss in a small spoon of pickled chilies in vinegar all this before having had their first taste. Then, after taking a few more mouthfuls, some may continue to season a few more times during the course of the meal. And as any Thai will confirm, it is the last few mouthfuls that are indeed the most delicious. Then it's time to order another bowl and start the seasoning process all over again.

The ring of condiments which contains fish sauce, sugar, vinegar and chili powder, mirrors the four tastes that form the basis of all Thai sauces and dips. The salty flavour comes through with the use of fish sauce or soy sauce. The sour taste comes from vinegar, lime or tamarind juice. The sweetness comes from sugar. And the spicy hot comes from chilli peppers, garlic and ginger root.

Thailand has a wide variety of chilli peppers. Most commonly used are the tiny but fiery phrik khi nu, the equally potent larger phrik lueng (yellow chili) and the larger red and green varieties called phrik chi fa, which are a little milder.

Sauces and dips are an essential part of Thai cuisine as they add even more flavour to the meal. The amount to be used is determined by each individual according to his own personal preferences. Sauces and dips come in many colours and textures. Some sauces are murky, some are clear. Some are a mixture of ingredients that have been finely chopped or coarsely crushed, while others have been pounded to a uniform colour and an even, thick consistency.


Each sauce and dip is a delicate blend of the four main flavours with usually one of the tastes predominating. Here are the sauces and dips you will be likely to encounter and their contents:

Fish Sauce: A staple in any Thai house, this brownish liquid is made of salt and fish essence. Though it has quite strong smell, no Thai dish tastes quite right without it.

Nam Pla Phrik: Fish sauce with thinly sliced phrik khi nu and a squeeze of lime (may add sliced garlic). This sauce complements fried fish and fried rice dishes, but it is used universally as a more sophisticated substitute for plain fish sauce.

Pickled Chilli in Vinegar: Fresh green and red chilli (phrik chi fa) are sliced and pickled in clear vinegar. This is used to give noodles and congee a sharp tangy taste.

Crushed Chilli in Vinegar: Fresh chilli coarsely pounded with vinegar added. This sauce is also used with noodle dishes.

Nam Phrik Siracha: This is a thick, orange chilli sauce made from red chilli, vinegar and sugar. It can be bought in Bottles at the markets. It is used as a sauce and a dip for seafood.