This shrimp paste chili dip known as nam prik gapi is the embodiment of bold Thai flavors. It combines pungent shrimp paste and spicy Thai chilis with lime juice for sourness, fish sauce for saltiness, and palm sugar for sweetness. All of these flavors are present at high levels, making this dip not one for the faint of heart. However, once you become accustomed to its potency, it will soon become a dip that you just can’t get enough of!
The star of the show is Thai shrimp paste, known as gapi. This paste is made from salted, fermented shrimp. It is fairly thick, should be purplish-brown in color, and has a very characteristic aroma, which I should warn you, can be off-putting at first. However, when used correctly, this paste brings a wonderful richness and depth of flavor to many Thai dishes, including this dip.
I make this dip by first roasting the shrimp paste in a banana leaf. Then it’s a simple matter of combining the roasted shrimp paste with lime juice, fish sauce, palm sugar, and Thai chilis. Pea eggplants are frequently added to this dip in Thailand, so when I’m able to find these bitter little eggplants in my area, I’ll pound a few into the dip as well.
Once the dip is made, it is commonly served with a variety of fresh or boiled vegetables, omelet squares with cha om, and the Thai mackerel known as pla tu. These accompaniments, along with rice, help to tame the fiery pungency of the dip. At the same time, each bite with this dip transforms plain vegetables and fish into an explosion of fantastic Thai flavors.
The recipe below is how the boyfriend and I like our nam prik gapi. It is round, with all of the flavors well balanced, and slightly less potent than some of the mouth-puckering versions we’ve had in Thailand. If you’ve never had this dip before, I’d encourage you to give it a try! Hopefully it will become a favorite for you, just as it has for me…