Thai name: Nam Prik Awn
They're what a lot of people think of first when the topic of Thai food comes up: Those teeny tiny innocuous looking chilies that don’t seem like they could do much harm, but those that have carelessly eaten one on that assumption know better. David Thompson, in his compendium on Thai Food, refers to them as ‘scuds’ for their ability to sneak up on you and wreak complete destruction on your tongue.
The Chiang Mai chili is a unique strain to the north. It is something of a combination between the relatively mild banana chili and the spicy spur chili. It has a curved shape like the spur, but the skin is more irregular like a banana chilli. When green, the chili has the lime color of the less spicy chili, but unlike the banana chili the Chiang Mai chili will turn red when fully ripe. However, the Chiang Mai chili is rarely allowed to fully ripen, since the primary use of the chili is to make one of Chiang Mai's most well known dishes, a fiery hot chili dip.
Thais who are surprised that I enjoy their spicy foods such as som tam and lahb are positively shocked when I list jungle curry (gaeng ba) among my favourites. This is one dish even some Thais find too spicy. Consider yourself warned!
This can be a nice and easy side dish, or a way to quickly dress up tuna for a light meal. Tuna seems to offset the spiciness of the chilies, so this salad may not be as hot as it might seem from the recipe.
Use whatever type of lettuce you prefer. I like red coral but regular iceberg works nicely as well.
This is an extremely light stir-fry that can be served along side hotter curries or stir-fries to balance out a meal.
A beautiful pile of Banana Chilies on sale in a Thai fresh market.
I first encountered dabu-dabu on a trip around North Sulawesi, where it's the local sambal (the generic Indonesian word for chili sauce). Although almost certainly developed locally, dabu-dabu is definitely a dead ringer for Mexican salsa. It went very well with another Indonesian favorite: corn cakes.
As a seemingly obvious "Chinese" import, cashew chicken often gets dismissed as not really a "Thai" dish, but it definitely helps to balance out a meal that already has many spicy dishes. Although they make the dish look spicy, the dried chillies usually don't impart much heat to the rest of the ingredients. In Thailand, this dish is almost always mild, with little or no spiciness. Since they can be a bit tough, most people just push the chillies to the side of their plate and don't eat them.
The small mouse dropping chilies are what really make Thai food fiery hot, buts it's often the much larger and more visible spur chilies that get the blame. Spur chilies are usually around five centimeters (two inches) long, and can be found in red, green and even orange colors.
Although you may not always see them, dried chilies are found in a large proportion of Thai recipes, especially in the north. Drying is a traditional way of preserving foods in Thailand that goes way back into the pre-history of the region. Drying is the best way to preserve foods in the humid air of the tropics. It was only natural that the technique was applied to chilies when they were introduced in the 17th century.