This recipe for Nam Prik Ong makes a small portion suitable as an appetizer for about four people. For larger groups, simply scale it up. Some versions of this recipe call for the addition of a small portion (1 teaspoon) of shrimp paste, a tofu sheet or fermented soy beans. I think the dish does fine without them, as they are difficult to find and the quantities needed are so small.
Thais are the ultimate snackers. The typical day includes not only a morning meal, lunch and dinner, but there's rarely a day without an afternoon and late night snack. Any of the other foods discussed in this site may be eaten for a snack, especially noodles, but there is also a whole other group of foods that are best categorized as snacks. In restaurants catering to westerners, some of these dishes become appetizers, and it's not even unusual for Thais to order these dishes as part of a large meal.
Oddly, although perhaps not surprisingly, there are several words for snacks in Thai. The term I've used, gup glaem, literally suggests “food to eat with drinks.” These seem to be the most appropriate words to use for many of the most popular northern Thai snacks, given the extreme spiciness of many of these foods. Of course, “drinks” more often than not implies cold beer, or perhaps the Thais' own rice whiskey, typically diluted with cola or soda water.
The other common term for snacks is a-han wahng, which roughly translates to “food for free time,” suggesting that, where Thais are concerned, one's free time is best spent eating.
One type of Thai food is rarely seen outside of Thailand, and that is the chili dip. Even tourists to Thailand rarely get exposed to all its variety. In many regions, and especially in the North, 'dips' of various sorts are a quite common snack or appetizer. These dips generally use raw chilies as their main ingredient, and then add shallots, garlic and other herbs and spices. The dips typically use little, if any, meat.
When visiting a Thai products festival in the parking lot of a local shopping centre, I happened on a booth selling deep fried insects. This isn't the kind of thing you find on the street every day, although in Bangkok they're pretty easy to find. They normally appear at temple fairs or other festivals, and then move on.
Creepy crawlies on sale in a bug buffet
Most of the busy morning markets all around the north seem to have at least one stall selling deep fried twists of dough that would best be described as fritters, which in Thai are called patong-go. The dish and its name are apparently both of Chinese origin. Fritters are a popular snack throughout Thailand, although the specific style and accompaniments vary between the different regions. In Bangkok, these bits of deep fried dough are mostly eaten in the morning with a soya milk dip, while in the south they prefer a sweet syrup.
I must have heard that old Christmas song, “Chestnuts Roasting Over an Open Fire” thousands of times when growing up. It was on my mother's favorite “Andy Williams Sings Your Favorite Christmas Songs” albums. The funny thing is that I had never seen chestnuts being roasted until coming to Thailand.
Chestnuts roasting in a pot in the market
These little wrapped meatballs are quite a popular afternoon snack. They would make quite a good appetizer, or finger food for a party. Stalls will specialize in this and nothing else. As with noodle stalls that get a reputation, people will drive a long distance just to get to a good dumpling stall.
Freshly steamed dumplings still in the steamer
Thai steamed buns are closely related to their Chinese origins. The main difference is the variety of fillings to be found in Thailand. Sala pao have become an increasingly popular snack in recent years, thanks no doubt to their wide availability in the local branches of a large international convenience store chain. You can still find 'authentic' steamed buns in many markets, especially in Chinese districts.
You could easily get the impression that Thais are relatively unconcerned about their health. They often seem to eat so many things that – from a western perspective – don't seem very healthy. However, most Thais I have known have been very concerned about their well-being, sometimes even obsessively so.
Fried Pork Skins