Naem Khao Tod (แหนมข้าวทอด) by Spoon Thai Restaurant, Chicago


When I was talking to Khun Wanna, owner of Spoon Thai restaurant in Chicago, my main objective was to get from her the recipe for (Yam) Naem Khao Tod [1] which apparently is a favorite among hard-core Thai food lovers in Chicago many of whom gather virtually to express their love for this restaurant and this dish on LTHForum. Well, that objective was achieved.

But my conversation with Khun Wanna also touched on many issues pertinent to Thai food as found in the US, how a restaurant must walk the delicate line between serving food that we Thais consider good and food that will appeal to the non-Thai palate and ensure profitability, etc. It was very interesting and made me think about things. However, to relay all that to you in this post will only detract from the attention which this great dish so richly deserves. Therefore, I’ll keep all that for a later time.

This post is dedicated to my awesome readers in Chicago.

spoon thai chicago

Wanna of Spoon Thai, Chicago

While minor variations abound, the main components of Yam Naem Khao Tod are pretty much constant: crispy bits of curried rice croquettes, slivers of fresh ginger, some fresh herbs, fried peanuts, and soured/fermented pork naem (แหนม). What draws the multitudes to this salad is its varied textures and flavors. With every bite, you get the crunchy rice bits, the tang of the lime and soured pork, the refreshing herbs, the bite of raw ginger, and some heat from the chilies. Oh, and the peanuts. How can that not be good?

I don’t eat out at a Thai restaurant in the US very often. But when I do, this is the type of thing I order, namely multi-component, multi-step dishes that take longer to make than they do to eat, don’t keep well (or at all), and leave behind tons of dirty dishes to wash after the craving has been satisfied (after just a few bites). Yam Naem Khao Tod is one of those things that I adore but rarely, if ever, feel compelled to make at home. If your local Thai restaurant has this on its menu, by all means, get it.

The version of Naem Khao Tod as served at Spoon Thai is quite good in a no-frills way. The rice croquettes are seasoned simply with prepared red curry paste and a little bit of rice flour to enhance the crunchiness. The soft interiors of the deep-fried rice croquettes are scooped out, and only the crunchy shells get used — something not commonly done elsewhere as far as I know. Additionally, fresh bird’s eye chilies are used instead of the more common fried dried red chilies, and red onions are used in place of the more common shallots.

It’s simple, but it works.

Naem Khao Tod (แหนมข้าวทอด)
Recipe courtesy of Spoon Thai Restaurant, Chicago
(Serves 2)
Printable Version

2 cups of cold, cooked long grain rice (preferably jasmine)
1 tablespoon Thai red curry paste
2 tablespoons rice flour (All-purpose flour also works.)
1/2 cup naem slices
1/2 tablespoon finely-chopped fresh bird’s eye chilies, or to taste
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup ginger slivers
1/3 cup thinly-sliced red onions
1/2 cup mixture of chopped cilantro and green onions
Approximately 1/3 cup fried or roasted peanuts


  • Make the rice croquettes by mixing rice, curry paste, and flour together very thoroughly.
  • Form the mixture into 3 patties of equal size.
  • Deep fry them until the exteriors are golden brown and crunchy.
  • Split each croquette in half and let them cool down enough for you to handle.
  • With a spoon, scoop out and discard the inside and tear up the crunchy shells by hand into 1/4-inch bits; set aside.
  • Add to a mixing bowl, fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, and chilies; stir.
  • Add naem, followed by the rice bits and the remaining ingredients. Toss and serve immediately. (These last two steps are flexible in terms of the order in which the ingredients go in. It’s best, however, to mix together the dressing ingredients in the bowl until the sugar has dissolved before adding other ingredients.)

Disclaimer: is not connected to or compensated for in any way by Spoon Thai restaurant.

[1] Officially, (Yam) Naem Khao Thot; shown on Spoon’s Thai menu as Naem Khao Thawt.

31 Responses to Naem Khao Tod (แหนมข้าวทอด) by Spoon Thai Restaurant, Chicago

  1. Arwen from Hoglet K September 26, 2011 at 2:45 am #

    I can remember always loving the crispy bits of rice left in the dish from one of my mum’s casseroles. I don’t think I’ve ever had deep fried rice though. It sounds like a good way to get that crunchy/chewy texture.

  2. Michael September 26, 2011 at 6:49 am #

    Is naem khao tawd a dish specifically from Isarn or is it a dish from Central Thailand? I am thinking that naem is an Isarn dish. Naem and “nem” (the Vietnamese version of it) are practically the same thing. Do you know the history of naem?

    กรุณาเล่าให้ “แฟนคลับ” พี่ฟังนะครับ!

  3. Nat September 26, 2011 at 9:55 am #

    Interesting, thanks for posting this Leela! This is a very popular dish among my friends at the Buddhist temple in Pearl City, Oahu, Hawaii and they’ve all been asking for a recipe and I couldn’t find a good one for them.

    Any suggestions for a replacement for the soured pork if you wanted to make this veggie? How about the fermented red tofu, tahu dang?

  4. Admin September 26, 2011 at 1:27 pm #

    Michael – Dangerous territory. 🙂 But, yeah, one of these days.

    Nat – I wouldn’t use red fermented tofu. It’s too salty and mushy. It won’t hold its shape in a tossed salad like this, and will most likely turn the whole thing unappetizingly red. To make this vegetarian, I would use either cubes of extra-firm tofu which have been marinated in lime and salt (to imitate the flavor of naem) or something entirely different such as pineapple cubes.

  5. Diane September 26, 2011 at 4:39 pm #

    I looooooove this. And like you, I make it rarely as it’s a big pain.

  6. Colette September 26, 2011 at 7:11 pm #

    I just tried it and…absolutely loved it! I had never even heard of this dish, but from the photo, the fact that it had crispy fried rice, all with a sweet and sour seasoning, peanuts and coriander, I knew it was worth the try! I just skipped the “naem” part, as here it’s impossible to get as far as I know. But since I’ve never tried it, I don’t know what I’m missing. But just the other ingredients together make a wonderful dish!!Thank you for sharing the recipe (or should I thank Michael for insisting! 🙂 )…I’ll be making it again for sure!

  7. Thip September 26, 2011 at 9:12 pm #

    this made HUNGRY!!!

  8. Kristen September 26, 2011 at 11:07 pm #

    This looks fantastic. I wish our local Thai joint could find a happy medium in pleasing local palates and authentic food. It must be a tough struggle.

  9. Peggy September 27, 2011 at 3:53 am #

    I can’t wait to try it.

  10. Nat September 29, 2011 at 10:00 am #

    I just made the veggie version with the lime salt marinated tofu (found locally made fresh at the farmers market today) and it turned out amazingly tasty! Thanks for the veggie mods, Leela!

    I made the rice cakes very thin (<1/4") so they were mostly tasty crunchy bits and not much inside to discard. See any issues with that being true to the taste of the recipe?

  11. Admin September 29, 2011 at 1:42 pm #

    Nat – Glad it worked out! Regarding the rice balls, most people don’t do what is done here. You’d just crumble up the rice balls and throw both the soft and crunchy bits into the salad. So, I guess at Spoon, they want to make sure every bit is crunchy. This leads to the question of why they don’t do what you did (that crossed my mind as well). The answer is, I don’t know. 🙂 It makes perfect sense to me, and I don’t think it affects the taste at all.

  12. Kim - Liv Life October 5, 2011 at 3:08 pm #

    This is a dish my whole family would love!! Good work getting the recipe, and I’m so glad that Wanna didn’t mind you sharing. And your photos… wow! Simply beautiful!

  13. luvwtr October 7, 2011 at 12:14 am #

    I see that many of the recipes use sticky rice instead of jasmine. Do you think it makes much of a difference?

  14. Admin October 7, 2011 at 1:09 am #

    Luvwtr – I’ve never once had or seen this dish made with sticky rice. Can you point me to some of the many recipes you’re referring to?

    Personally, knowing how sticky rice behaves, I think it will be tricky to mix the curry paste into it thoroughly. This will also cause the rice kernels to lose the stickiness. That’s why when you eat sticky rice, you make a ball out of it and dip or scoop food with it as opposed to mixing the food or sauce with it like you do jasmine rice. You will have a hard time forming round rice balls with sticky rice that has been seasoned in this manner.

    The only way to get around this is to fry the rice in small chunks instead of 3- or 4-inch balls.

    Having said all this, I have to say again that I’ve never seen this dish made with sticky rice. Could you poine me to your sources?

  15. luvwtr October 7, 2011 at 10:20 am #

    One place I saw a mention of using sticky rice was wiki They even used a picture with a caption!

    Another place was a thread on ChowHound where someone said that sticky rice worked better than Jasmine.

    I might try this with both and see what works best

  16. Admin October 7, 2011 at 3:18 pm #

    luvwtr – Ah, that explains it.

    That CHOW thread reads to me like an attempt to replicate the version of NKT served at Lotus of Siam than anything else. That version — though I’m sure is great and could very well represent the tradition in which the chef grew up in — doesn’t represent what you’d most commonly find on the streets of Bangkok.

    This is not to say that making NKT with individual grains of crunchy rice has never been done or that it should not be done or that it doesn’t taste good; this is simply to say that such a version is more of an anomaly than anything. If that’s indeed the version you’d like to replicate, the recipes that require forming the seasoned rice into balls will not help you achieve that. And that applies to pretty much all the recipes I have seen to date.
    (Ironically, that Wiki page links to another Wiki entry for this particular dish that links to 3 external sources: one doesn’t contain a recipe but shows rice balls that clearly can only be done with long grain rice, one leads to a wrong recipe on a website that also features a NKT recipe (it calls for long grain rice), and one is in Thai (the recipe calls for long grain rice).

    I can’t confirm whether they use jasmine or sticky rice at LoS. Based on the description I’ve read on CHOW, it could go either way since no rice balls are involved.

    It’s possible that in the Northeast of Thailand and Laos, the rice is fried in tiny chunks or individual grains in which case it’s possible to do so with cooked glutinous rice. But to form cohesive rice balls like what we see here, I really doubt sticky rice is the way to go.

    All this is to say: if you want to use sticky rice for maximum crunch, it would be a viable option. My only concern is that this method may not work for you. Instead of forming the seasoned sticky rice into balls, you’d most likely end up having to separate the seasoned sticky rice into tiny, tiny chunks or individual grains before frying.

  17. Anonymous October 15, 2011 at 9:56 pm #

    hello leela,

    i am going to bangkok this winter, and i would like to know if you know a place where i can have this very appealing dish?

  18. Admin October 15, 2011 at 10:20 pm #

    Anon – If you want the best, go to Soi Petchburi 5. It’s the most well-known food stall in that area. I vaguely recall that they open only at night, but to be on the safe side, call 081-628-4885 for accurate information on their hours. Be prepared to wait in line for a long time (30+ minutes).

    Otherwise, any major mall food court has it. The most convenient location is probably the food court on the 7th floor of Central World.

  19. Anonymous October 16, 2011 at 1:10 pm #

    hello leela,

    thank you so much for your reply; i truly appreciate it. my mouth is watering just thinking about all the delicious food i gonna have in bangkok…


  20. Lorna E November 2, 2011 at 3:32 am #

    Here’s a photo of the version I’ve been getting at the summer markets at Thai temple in Warren, MI. It also contains thin clear noodles and minced coconut shreds. Both textures of rice are used. I thought the crunchy bits came from the top of a dish of baked curry rice, but perhaps not.

  21. Admin November 2, 2011 at 12:01 pm #

    Lorna – That looks absolutely amazing. While coconut is not an unusual ingredient in this, glass noodles aren’t normally included. There seems to be a trend these days to add glass noodles to things where rice is normally used. Sai Krok Isan (Northeastern Thai sausage) that is soured by rice has been getting the glass noodle treatment lately, I’ve noticed.

  22. Laura November 5, 2011 at 2:40 am #

    This just looks absolutely scrumptious. I want it NOW.

  23. Lorna E November 5, 2011 at 6:49 am #

    Leela – Does this dish have a particular name? I’ve only had it twice, but it was one of the best things I ever ate!

    Laura – Road Trip! We’re just the next state north, and Sunday Markets are very family friendly! 🙂

  24. Admin November 5, 2011 at 12:19 pm #

    Lorna – The closest thing to that would be kuay tiao lawd, but it that is indeed intended to be a variation of KTL, it bears very little resemblance to the dish as we usually see it. Can’t think of anything else that might be.

  25. justin November 29, 2011 at 10:22 pm #

    Hi Leela,

    Your site is wonderful. I was wondering if you have any recipes for Khao Kha Moo or Kuay Tiao Neua Beuai (apologies for the sloppy phoneticization). Those were some of my go-to meals when I lived in Thailand, and while I’ve made a few good batches, I haven’t got it just right yet.

  26. Admin November 29, 2011 at 11:14 pm #

    Justin – Thanks. I’ll add those to the list of requests.


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