Last month we featured the powerfully spicy, but often misunderstood drunken noodle recipe to assist you with letting the heat linger on beyond the end of summer. This month the vibrant red chili residue on our fingers may be reminiscent of a scene from Halloween, but we promise it won’t burn you nearly as bad as last month’s devilishly tasty noodles. In Thailand October’s biggest holiday isn’t Halloween. Instead of spooky decorations, the country is anxiously preparing to cover food stalls in little yellow flags for the celebration of the Vegetarian Festival.

For the occasion we’re making Thai nam prik pow jay (น้ำพริกเผาเจ), often referred to in recipes as Thai chili jam. For example, you can find it used in classic renditions of tom yum soup recipes, but most methods of making this chunky roasted paste include meat byproducts such as fish sauce, fermented shrimp paste, and dried shrimp.

Here’s a vegan version you can follow to make the paste by soaking, blending, roasting, seasoning, and finally reducing fresh Thai chilies. We hope knowledge of how to make this mainstay ingredient will inspire you to make your own at home, for use in vegetarian, vegan, and non-veg soups, salads, or various Thai concoctions. 

As with the previous recipes, look below for a frequently asked questions section, and an opportunity to give toward helping us feed and train more marginalized youth in need

Thai Chili Jam Ingredients

This recipe yields 480 – 500 grams of roasted sweet chili jam. 

  • 2 cups Vegetable oil 
  • 150g Garlic
  • 150g Shallots
  • 120g Sun-dried chilies
  • 2 tbsp Palm sugar 
  • 3 tbsp Tamarind juice 
  • 1 tbsp Salt 
  • 1 tbsp Black soy sauce 
  • 1 tbsp Roasted ground peanuts (unsalted)

Thai Chili Paste Instructions

  1. Soak the sun-dried chilies for 30 mins in water until they turn soft. Cut them open to remove seeds, then cut them into small pieces and rest them aside.
  2. Peel garlic and shallots, rinse well, and slice them small. 
  3. Toast the sliced garlic and shallots until they turn golden brown
  4. Pound the chili skins into a fine texture. This will take about 30 mins with a traditional mortar and pestle. Alternatively, you can use a blender or food processor to speed up blending the ingredients.
  5. Add the toasted garlic and shallots, pounding or blending them together until all the ingredients turn into a fine paste texture.
  6. Heat your wok or nonstick pan, adding 2 cups of oil. Next, add the paste into the wok then stir and mix well, allowing the oil to blend, and shallots to cook down. 
  7. Now you’re ready to season your paste. Add palm sugar, salt, black soy sauce, tamarind juice, and ground peanut. Stir for 20 mins until the color of the paste turns darker and you can smell a smoky aroma. The oil should now appear a deep red color. 
  8. Turn off the heat, and put the paste into the jar or airtight container. To avoid risk of illness and increase shelf life, we recommend sterilizing your container by boiling it in advance. You can also leave some space near the top of your container empty, filling the empty space with the extra oil from your pan. 

When I finish making my own Thai chili paste, what recipes should I use it in?

Thais love their roasted chili jam. In Thai it’s called nam prik pow. When you have mastered a recipe for this paste you can use it in a variety of recipes such as:

  • Tom Yum Soup (as well as some versions of Tom Kha)
  • Chicken and Cashew Nut Stir Fry
  • Seafood and sweet basil stir frys
  • Any creamy Thai salads (pomelo salad, roasted eggplant salad, wing bean salad, etc)
  • Thai sauces, marinades, and dressings

When does Thailand’s Vegetarian Festival take place?

The Thai Vegetarian Festival happens each year in October for 10 days. The dates vary depending on the lunar calendar, but you can usually expect it to happen within the first two weeks of the month. In 2018, we will celebrate the Vegetarian Festival from Monday, October 8th, until Wednesday, October 17th.

During this period, many people will give up eating meat, visiting temples to make alms. To support them, many of the street food and restaurants around town go completely vegan, or jay. Following this tradition goes beyond just vegetarianism, and includes refraining from eating eggs, dairy, garlic, onion, honey, and other ingredients. 

Is vegan Thai chili paste used in street food in Bangkok?

Heck no. Ahem— let us rephrase— absolutely not EVAH.

Although Bangkok has seen a resurgence of vegetarian (and to a lesser degree vegan) cuisine, don’t expect to experience this on the street. You can trust we’d know, because we’re always scanning Bangkok street food options in our weekly street food tours. Even during the Vegetarian Festival, many of the recipes where you would find the paste are forsaken, for less indulgent choices like soup noodles.

What are your favorite vegetarian and vegan restaurants in Bangkok?

Since there aren’t too many to choose from, this isn’t too difficult to answer. When our team is craving vegan Thai food that we can’t make at home, we visit May’s Veggie Home. The name sounds like a Thai vegetarian spot, but the restaurant is actually vegan. There’s lot to choose from on their menu, it’s not too pricey, and it’s located a short walk from the Asoke skytrain station. 

When we’re craving non-Thai vegetarian food, it’s usually hands down North and South Indian eats from Dhana Bhavan. Much harder to find, but always worth the hunt. Not far from this backside of Silom, is also Bonita Social Club, a place which has one of Bangkok’s best veggie burgers. 

Would it be hard to be vegetarian or vegan in Bangkok?

Yes, it can be depending on how restrictive your daily diet has become.

Do you love to eat fruit? Are you ok with mushrooms or tofu in everything? Not eating meat is one problem to adjust to, but tacking on a soy allergy, or disdain for fruit and mushrooms, could make your time in Thailand disastrous.

Here are a few tips to help you survive vegetarian or vegan life in Bangkok:

  • Be prepared to cook for yourself.
  • Be able to explain your dietary restrictions in Thai.
  • Explore the Northern Thai city of Chiang Mai, which has a stronger green-eating food scene.  
  • Beware of sneaky meats (aka meat sauces and broths) that may be a small component of Thai dish you love.
  • Tip your veg hawking street food vendors and restaurant staff, tell friends, and help them promote their restaurants on social media. 

Thank you for reading. If you enjoyed this recipe, please consider supporting Courageous Kitchen with a donation of a plate or cooking class below. 

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Dwight is director of Courageous Kitchen and a long term expat living in Bangkok, Thailand. A Thai speaker and astute lover of food, he enjoys teaching cooking, and using his passion for food to transform communities.

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Dwight is director of Courageous Kitchen and a long term expat living in Bangkok, Thailand. A Thai speaker and astute lover of food, he enjoys teaching cooking, and using his passion for food to transform communities.