What is nam tok?
Nam tok (pronounced ‘nam tòh’) literally means ‘waterfall’, which is why it’s often referred to as Thai waterfall salad. It’s a salad dish consisting of strips of grilled pork or steak, shallots, spices and aromatic, ground, roasted rice powder. The waterfall aspect of the name refers to the meat juices that drip from the meaty morsels to the charcoal when grilling.
Nam tok comes from the Isaan region in the northeast of Thailand. In addition to nam tok nua with its beef steak and nam tok moo with its pork, there’s a further version called paa nam tok that puts mushrooms at the centre of its recipe.
Did you know...
Like laab koi, Nam tok belongs to the yam class of Thai dishes. With these dishes, mixing of ingredients is the most important part of recipe preparation. In fact, yam dishes are made with a kind of dressing, explaining why such dishes are often dubbed a salad, even though they have very little in common with the salads found elsewhere in the world , heaped with leafy greens and vegetables. The dressing almost always consists of fish sauce, lime juice, palm sugar, garlic and Thai peppers.
How to make nam tok
This dish showcases the four main flavours of Thai cuisine. Sour, sweet, salty and spicy are all represented and come together for a beautifully balanced whole. Fine rings of shallot, chopped lemongrass, coriander, mint and spring onions are mixed with hot chilli powder, salty fish sauce, sour lime juice and roasted rice powder (khao hua) for a nutty aroma. Remember to add a tiny amount of sugar for balance. Fried beef steak can then be sliced finely and added to the dish. Once well mixed, your meal is ready to be savoured, served with a side of sticky rice.
How to eat
To enjoy this delicious dish, simply roll small balls of rice, dip them into the dressing provided and pop them into your mouth with a piece of meat.
Yam nua is like nam tok, with its salad of grilled beef strips. Yam nua usually has tomato and cucumber in the mix as well. If you find you miss that signature rice powder presence, try laab kai, a salad of minced chicken and other delicious ingredients.
The pronounced flavours of nam tok are delicious teamed with sticky rice. Because the dish itself does not contain any vegetables, you can easily combine this dish with som tam to construct a full, better-balanced meal.