Thai food sometimes has terrible names. Of course, there is always the prik ki nu, translated literally to “mouse shit chili”, but which in English goes by the far more urbane term “bird’s eye chili”. There are the kai luk kuey, known as “son-in-law eggs”, a delicious dish in which the main ingredient is boiled and then deep-fried before being smothered in a tamarind sauce; the story about the origins of this dish is probably untrue but entertaining nonetheless.
Then there is nam prik ki ga, translated literally to “crow’s poo chili dip”. The reason behind this name has never really been explained properly to me, except to emphasize that the colors in this dip are red, green and white, and that the ingredients are pounded roughly, just enough so that they stick together to form a paste. It is also usually served warm. This, apparently, is enough to make it resemble crow’s poo, but I honestly have not examined it enough to know for sure. I have only been shat on by pigeons, not crows. Pigeon poo is much more liquid and the colors are only black and white. It is, however, also warm.
This chili dip has become something of a family favorite. We always have it for lunch with grilled chicken and/or beef and some sticky rice, with a stir-fried vegetable dish or two. My mother-in-law makes huge batches at the end of the year to give out as New Year’s presents. The flavor is bright and bold, and ideal for people who are wary of the swampy quality that the typical shrimp paste can bring to the tastebuds.
Lauren and I are in the middle of testing this particular recipe; we are wondering whether jalapeño chilies, roasted and peeled, will make a good substitute for bird’s eye chilies. I made the above, which I loved when brightened up with extra lime juice at the end. It’s awesome simply with wedges of hard-boiled egg, some fresh cucumber, and rice, but you can also spruce it up with some blanched wing beans, knotted long beans and cabbage.
Nam prik ki ga (For 2-4 people)
– 10 small garlic cloves (Thai garlic really does lend a better flavor and aroma, but if you don’t have it, use 3-4 big cloves of Western garlic)
– 6 small shallots (again, the Thai ones are superior) or 4 big
– 3 big long green chili peppers (mildly spicy, the ones you use for nam prik num or Northern Thai young green chili dip)
– 5 small bird’s eye chilies (deseeded if concerned about spiciness, I did half-and-half)
Before roasting these ingredients, please prick chilies with a fork or they will explode. Roast at full whack in oven until blackened (or in pan without oil). When blackened, peel big peppers and cut into thirds.
With mortar and pestle, pound garlic and shallots until broken into pieces, and add chilies gradually. Add 1 tsp fish sauce and 2 tsps lime juice, and mix gently with pestle. Taste, then add palm sugar (up to 1 tsp) if the flavors are too aggressive.
Add half a piece of cooked chicken breast, shredding it into the mortar, and then mix into the dip with a spoon. Taste again and add another squirt of lime juice if the mix is not bright enough.