Nam prik ong (tomato chilli paste)

Nam prik means chilli paste in Thai, literally translated as “spicy water”. Nam prik ong is a chilli paste from northern Thailand made traditionally with tomatoes and ground pork. My version substitutes ground tempeh for the pork, and I think it works great as a meat-free substitute.

Nam prik ong, like any Thai chilli paste, is eaten as part of a surprisingly healthy meal of sticky rice with a selection of raw and steamed or blanched vegetables which are dipped in the chilli paste. I used to have this regularly for breakfast when I lived in northern Thailand, and I can attest to the fact that it’ll get you pumped for the day ahead if you brave this as a breakfast dish!

Here’s how to put together an authentic Thai health-feast, all tied together with some seriously moreish spice…

Flavour: Spicy (nay, fiery!) & tangy

Yield: Enough nam prik ong for your contribution to a potluck party, or as a side dish at a meal for 4-6 people


  • 4 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped finely
  • 4 shallots, chopped finely
  • 4 fresh bird’s eye chillies, chopped roughly
  • half teaspoon dried chilli flakes (omit this if you’re sensitive to spice!)
  • quarter teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon unflavoured oil (I tend to use sunflower oil)
  • 1 block tempeh, finely chopped to resemble ground pork
  • 200g tomatoes, chopped roughly – cherry tomatoes are ideal as they pack a flavour punch, otherwise I try to get good thin-skinned heirloom tomatoes that are super-ripe and ready to rock (if you prefer your tomatoes peeled, see here for my how-to tip)
  • 1 teaspoon palm sugar (otherwise known as coconut sugar)
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 spring onion, chopped
  • small bunch fresh coriander, chopped

To serve:

  • sticky rice (this is a must with chilli paste!) – see here for how to prepare sticky rice
  • crisp green cabbage – some raw, some steamed or blanched
  • cucumber wedges
  • snake beans, snapped into 4-5cm pieces – some raw, some steamed or blanched
  • any other vegetables you like to dip – cauliflower and carrots work well if steamed or blanched, and Thais love to also use some steamed Chinese broccoli
  • sprigs of coriander


  1. Pop your garlic, shallots, fresh chillies, dried chillies, and salt in a mortar and pestle, and pound until you have a coarse paste
  2. Heat oil in a wok over medium heat, and cook your chilli paste mix for 2 minutes, stirring constantly – you’ll know it’s starting to pop when it becomes fragrant, and you might develop a bit of a chilli cough!
  3. Add the tempeh, and stir in well – cook for 5 minutes, ensuring the tempeh is thoroughly flavoured (don’t worry if the wok starts to dry out a bit – it’ll add a slight smokiness to the flavour – just don’t burn it!)
  4. Add the tomatoes, and palm sugar, and cook for a further 10-15 minutes until the mixture is reduced and well combined – it will start to resemble bolognese sauce (you can choose how much you want to reduce it by – I like it quite dry, so it’s easy to pick up a large dollop of it on a bit of crisp cucumber… but there are times I prefer to have it sloppy and saucy, and just eat it with rice 😀 )
  5. Remove from heat, and stir in soy sauce, spring onions and coriander
  6. Pop your nam prik ong in a serving bowl, garnish with sprigs of coriander, and serve with a platter of raw and steamed/blanched vegetables and a generous serve of sticky rice – his is finger food, so get stuck in and don’t be afraid to get messy!

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