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Best Thai Dipping Sauce

When you ask expats in Sakon Nakhon why they live here, you will get two kinds of responses: the long-winded philosophical treatise and the short but sweet retort. We prefer the latter, especially when it involves Thai food.

Over the past decade, Thai restaurants have popped up everywhere in Western countries, giving foreigners a taste of what we here in Thailand have been enjoying all along. Unfortunately, many Thai restaurants in Europe and America change Thai recipes to suit the local palate and customers miss out on experiencing the true wonder of Thai sauces and traditional Thai dishes.

Much of Thai cuisine favors simplicity, Thai cooks believing that complexity is usually the sign of a show off who doesn’t have proper respect for his or her ingredients. A delicious and satisfying Thai meal (especially in Sakon Nakhon) can be had simply by grilling up some chicken or pork, and serving it up with a bit of sticky rice and Thai dipping sauce.

When it comes to Thai sauces, it is the Thai dipping sauce that truly shines. And no Thai dipping sauce dazzles more than the Isaan favorite nam jim jaew (น้ำจิ้มแจ่ว). Many foreigners are familiar with sweet Thai dipping sauces. But nam jim jaew really can’t be characterized as a sweet sauce. It is a delicious blend of sweet, sour, salty, spicy and bitterness that places it in a class of its own among Thai dipping sauces. And Sakon Nakhon cooks produce the best.

The first time you try nam jim jaew, you may think “What the heck is this?!” But just give it time. Try some more. It grows on you with each dip of grilled chicken or pork. By the time you have finished your first meal of grilled meat, nam jim jaew, and sticky rice (sided by a plate of som tam), you will be singing the praises of this Thai dipping sauce too.

Thai Dipping Sauce Recipe: Nam Jim Jaew

Step 1: Roast & grind up a few Thai chillies (or use 1 tbsp roasted chili powder).

Step 2: Dice up a spring onion and shallot and toss it in with the chili.

Step 3: Add 2 tablespoons of tamarind paste & 2 tablespoons palm sugar.

Step 4: Mix in 4 tablespoons of nam plah (fish sauce) & 2 tbsp lime juice.

Step 5: Add 2 cloves of finely diced garlic.

Step 6: Whisk everything for a minute and adjust above ingredients to taste.

Step 7: Prepare several hours or days before serving with food. (It gets better with age). Then whisk again before serving.

Step 8: Top with finely chopped parsley.

So, what about ordering your new-found favorite Thai dipping sauce at your local Thai restaurant? If you are in Sakon Nakhon, this will be no problem. However, many Thai restaurants in the West don’t prepare nam jim jaew because they think it is a Thai dipping sauce that won’t appeal to their customers. However, there is no harm in asking. Here is how to ask in the Thai language:

Learn Thai Language Lesson

มีน้ำจิ้มแจ่วหรือเปล่า

Mee nám-jîm jàeo rĕu bplào

Have nam jim jaew or not?

Do you have any nam jim jaew?

e-Learn Thai Language Tip: What exactly does nam jim jaew mean? That’s a good question. The first part of the name of this Thai dipping sauce (nam jim) literally means liquid dip and can refer to any Thai dipping sauce. When the Thai word jaew is pronounced with a falling tone it means melodiously and when it is pronounced with a rising tone it means excellent — both of which seem proper adjectives for this delicious Thai dipping sauce.

However, the jaew in nam jim jaew is pronounced with a low tone — and this has no meaning that we are aware of in the Thai language. It is only applied as the name for this particular Isaan dipping sauce.

Ready to learn more Thai language and food culture in Sakon Nakhon? Check out our article on how to order a delicious bowl of gŭay-dtĭo without the blood: Thai Noodles.