What is yam nua?
The Thai dish yam nua (pronounced ‘jam nuwa’) is a salad (that’s the yam) made from steak (that’ll be the nua part). Authentic yam nua steak (yang) is used, which is why the dish bears the complete name of yam nua yang. However, even more important than the meat is the dressing, dubbed nam yam. This delicious dressing has four pronounced flavours that balance beautifully. There’s sourness from the lime juice, salt from the fish sauce, sweetness from the sugar and heat from the chilli peppers.
There’s a whole range of yam dishes to choose from when you delve into Thai cuisine. There’s everything from the yam hua plee with its beautiful banana flowers, to the yam kunchieng with its Chinese sausage. Connecting these two variants is a delicious dressing that’s a crucial component to all yam recipes.
Yam salads share little in common with salads you’d expect to find elsewhere in the world, particularly the western hemisphere. A lack of green leaves and less vegetables set it aside from conventional salads, but they’re a longstanding staple of Thai cuisine going back centuries.
At first glance, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this dish looks similar to another Thai classic, nam tok. Both are yam salads hinged around grilled meat, but there’s some key differences. A yam nua is loaded with more vegetables, doesn’t include mint and lacks the inclusion of roasted ground sticky rice (khao khua).
Did you know
There are many nuanced differences to yam recipes throughout Thailand and beyond. Depending on the chef doing the cooking, the ration of the four key flavour elements for the dressing can vary.
How to make yam nua
The nam yam dressing of lime juice, nam pla fish sauce, sugar and chopped Thai peppers forms the flavour base of this salad. Finely sliced steak, mild onions or shallots, a vegetable of choice and chopped spring onions and herbs make the dish complete and ready to serve.
Tom yam, the classic Thai soup owes its name to the staple spicy/sour taste derived from yam ingredients. This spectacular soup contains lime juice, fish sauce, sugar and chopped Thai peppers.
The Thai eat their yam nua in combination with other courses of their choice. This can include steamed rice (khao), amongst other options. As such, it’s easy to transform several smaller dishes into expansive, complete meals.