This week’s column, dear reader, comes to you from Thailand.
Not, I hasten to add, that I mean to rub it in or anything like that. But if you happen to be reading this week’s missive while at work or engaged in work of an extremely involuntary nature, you might want to bookmark this and get back to it later.
Mandatory disclaimer aside, I should also make it clear that I am in fact not going to rhapsodize about everything that is wonderful about Thailand – and that’s a rather long list. Nor, as you might expect, am I going to rhapsodize about Thai food in particular – although I might get around to doing that in next week’s blog.
No: today’s blog is a humble tribute to perhaps the most humble of Thai dishes. Truth be told, it doesn’t even qualify as a dish in its own right – a side dish at best, if that. But, if you ask me, not only should be given the right to be labeled a dish, paeans ought to be sung about it, for it is the very definition of Thai food.
I speak today, dear reader, of the naam pla prik.
So unsung a thing, it doesn’t even get its own Wikipedia page. In fact, if you were to run a Wiki search for it, Wikipedia baldly informs you that in Thailand, fish sauce is called nam pla. What do they know who only taxonomy know.
Nam pla prik, I assure you, is much more than fish sauce. If you wrinkled your nose in distaste that I might be writing about fish sauce, unwrinkle it right away. For yes, it is true that the base of the nam pla prik is in fact fish sauce, but that is where the similarity ends.
To said fish sauce are added the following things. First, chopped up bird’s eye chillies. And no other chillies, mind you! Only the bird’s eye chillies, and only the spiciest among them. Small in size but large in impact, these chillies have the ability to make your eyes water for hours on end.
Second, a dash of vinegar. This provides a necessary counterbalance to the heat of the chili, but also adds a note of tanginess that detracts from the salty taste of the fish sauce. And finally – and this is the true genius of Thai food, a dash of palm sugar.
No Thai dish is complete without each of the four elements: saltiness, tanginess, spice and sugar.
And the nam pla in particular manages to achieve a perfect balance of each of the four things mentioned above by combining four of the cheapest things one could imagine. But when you add a spoonful of nam pla prik to, say, a plate of stir fried beef, or maybe to a plate of pad thai – why the whole thing is elevated to truly heavenly levels.
And so the next time you visit Thailand, or decide to rustle up a Thai meal at home, do see if you can combine the four things listed above, and serve the result on the table. Your guests, and more importantly, your tastebuds, will thank you with tears in their eyes.
He doesn't expect the paradox to be resolved in his lifetime
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