Nam prik pao is sometimes called Thai chili jam and is a spicy, savory condiment traditionally served with fresh vegetables. You will need it to get that authentic taste in many Thai-style recipes for soups and stir-fried dishes, but it is not yet a common ingredient in the West. If you cannot find it or don’t have time to shop, you may be able to get away with an alternative. Here are our suggestions for the best nam prik pao substitutes.
Your best bet: Make your own nam prik pao
Thai cooks often make nam prik pao at home, so its flavor profile can vary. Because there is no one true authentic version, you have a lot of flexibility to tweak the flavor profile to suit your preferences. If you are trying to replicate a particular version, you may need to play with the ingredients a bit to get the right nuances.
That said, Nam prik pao does contain ingredients that you are not likely to see in a standard Western grocery store, but it is still a relatively simple recipe and you can find most of them in stores that supply Asian foods. If you are a fan of Southeast Asian cuisine, you may already have the main ingredients on hand; they are fish sauce, tamarind, and chili peppers. Those seasonings form the basis of many recipes from the region. You will use them — along with shrimp paste — as the foundation of your nam prik pao.
A decent second choice: Sambal terasi
You can get the same umami note from sambal terasi that nam prik pao would give you. Sambal terasi is one of the many different Indonesian sambals. It can also provide a strong umami note along with the acidity and heat that you would get from nam prik pao. It looks similar enough to pass for it as well.
Like nam prik pao, sambal terasi contains shrimp paste. The seafood element is responsible for the umami quality that makes it similar to nam prik pao. It has a similar acidity as well, but its tartness comes from tomatoes rather than from lime juice like nam prik pao.
The big difference is that sambal terasi is cooked while nam prik pao is not. That fact might be a positive since cooking has the effect of concentrating the flavors. Sambal terasi is not easy to find in the West, but it may be available in some Asian grocery stores.
In a pinch: Gochujang
Gochujang is a Korean spice paste with a flavor profile that has several significant similarities to nam prik pao. For starters, it has the chil pepper heat that is one of the main properties of nam prik pao. Also, it has an umami quality that comes from its fermented soybean content. Gochujang does have a stickier texture than nam prik pao because of the glutinous rice that it contains.
Sambal oelek is another Southeast Asian chili paste that will provide heat similar to that offered by nam prik pao, though it may lack some of the savory notes. It contains garlic but no fish sauce or shrimp paste. Still, it is a workable option since it is much easier to find and has some of the flavor notes.
Sriracha sauce is easier to find than almost all of the other alternatives. While it does lack some of the flavors, it can provide a simple heat to stand in for nam prik pao.