The recipe for this sweet-and-sour dip comes from Ton Kham, a restaurant outside of Chiang Mai, and is adapted from Austin Bush's The Food of Northern Thailand. The blend of toasted dried chiles, ground pork, and tart tomatoes is rich, spicy, pleasantly oily—and utterly irresistible.
Pla raa, an infamously pungent, unfiltered fish sauce and the source of this dish's deep umami flavor, is rendered mellow and fragrant through slow simmering—a technique known as ong.
Fish sauce and fermented soybeans add incredible depth of flavor to the base ingredients in this northern Thai-style dip: chiles, tomatoes, and ground pork. The resulting dish hits all the right notes: sweet, tart, and spicy.
Yield: serves 4
1 hour, 10 minutes
1 fermented soybean disk (½ oz. or 15 g) or 1 Tbsp. Thai fermented soybean paste, drained and rinsed
12 dried puya chiles (⅔ oz.), stems removed
8 medium garlic cloves (2½ oz.)
3 tbsp. unfiltered fish sauce
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
25 tart cherry tomatoes, halved (1 cup)
1 medium ripe tomato, sliced (4½ oz.)
6 oz. ground pork
1⁄2 tsp. MSG (optional)
1 medium scallion, dark green and pale green parts only, thinly sliced
1 tbsp. cilantro leaves, finely chopped
Assorted vegetables, such as fresh Thai eggplant and Thai herbs, or steamed pumpkin, cabbage, and long beans, to serve
Deep-fried pork rinds, to serve
Thai sticky rice, to serve
In a dry skillet over medium-high heat, toast the soybean disk until fragrant, golden, and speckled, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a large mortar and pestle, and when cool enough to handle, grind to a powder. Transfer the powder to a small bowl and set aside.
Working in a well-ventilated area, toast the chiles: in a large wok set over medium-low heat, add the chiles and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, swollen, and darker in color, about 10 minutes. (Use a damp paper towel to remove any seeds that fall out of the chiles as you go to minimize burning and smoking.) Transfer the chiles to the mortar and pestle, and pound and grind to a coarse powder. Add half of the garlic, and pound and grind to a coarse paste. Add the fish sauce and continue grinding to a fine paste. Transfer the paste to a small bowl and set aside. Wipe out the mortar and pestle with paper towels, then add the remaining garlic. Pound and grind to a coarse paste.
In a large wok set over medium heat, add the oil and swirl to coat the bottom and sides. Add the garlic paste and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant and just beginning to color, about 1 minute. Add the chile-garlic paste, cherry tomatoes, sliced tomato, and pork, and cook, stirring and crushing the tomatoes, until the mixture is combined, the pork is cooked through, and the tomatoes are soft and slightly cooked down, about 10 minutes. Add 1 cup cold water. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to maintain a strong simmer. Cook until reduced slightly, 10–12 minutes. Stir in 2 tablespoons of the soybean powder (reserve remaining powder for another use) and the MSG (if using); continue cooking until most of the water has evaporated and the mixture is thick, about 8–9 minutes more. Season with salt to taste. Transfer to a serving bowl and let cool to room temperature, then sprinkle with scallion and cilantro. Serve with assorted fresh or steamed vegetables, pork rinds, and rice for dipping.