Vinegar with Pickled Chilies (น้ำส้มพริกดอง)

Vinegar with Pickled Chilies
To allow you to season your noodles to taste, noodle shops in Thailand always provide a seasoning caddy containing different condiments which they deem appropriate for the types of noodles which they offer. This is because most noodle dishes in Thailand are seasoned moderately when they leave the cook’s hand — it’s intentional — so that you can season your meal further to suit your taste. Vinegar with pickled chilies is almost always among these condiments which the people in Thailand consider essential to their noodle experience.

What it is: This may sound like I’m messing with you, but I’m not: some people see it as pickled chilies in vinegar (i.e. the main player is the pickled chilies and the vinegar is merely the pickling agent and the vehicle); some people see it as vinegar with pickled chilies (i.e. the vinegar is the main and essential player and the pickled chilies are along for the ride to make things more interesting). I belong to the second group; hence the post title. In any case, both components always go together.

What kind of vinegar to use: White distilled vinegar is what they use to make this condiment pretty much everywhere in Thailand. But if it’s too low-brow for you or if you really can’t stand it, I’d go with apple cider vinegar which is really great. Personally, I will never use Japanese-style seasoned rice/brown rice vinegar which is not used in everyday Thai cooking, but, surprisingly, is often called for in a lot of “Thai” recipes as if the word “rice” or “brown rice” makes the recipes truly “Asian” or “authentic” whereas the plain white vinegar you can get from Target makes it less so. Seasoned rice vinegar is a great product to use in Japanese dishes but does not go well with Thai or Chinese-influenced Thai food at all, in my opinion (ditto with white wine, red wine, champagne, balsamic vinegars). I don’t particularly like coconut vinegar in this either. But at the end of the day, go with any vinegar that works best for you. I’m merely reporting what’s typically done in Thailand.

Vinegar with Pickled Chilies
What type of chilies: Traditionally, the most common chili of choice is Thai long chilies (prik chi fa); both green and red are used. The smaller and hotter bird’s eye chilies (prik khi nu) aren’t typically used. The super mild peppers on the other end of the heat spectrum, such as banana peppers (prik yuak), aren’t used either. My guess is that long chilies are mild enough to be “tamed” after a day of pickling, allowing you to enjoy a whole piece of chili without suffering from the excessive heat, yet hot enough to still taste like chilies after being pickled. Again, this is me reporting what is usually done in Thailand. Go with whatever works for you. If you can’t find Thai long chilies, jalapeño or Serrano works very well.

How to make: Very complicated. Slice the chilies crosswise into thin slices, about 1/4 inch, and put them in a glass jar or bowl. Pour some vinegar, about twice the volume of the sliced chilies, over them. Let the chilies pickle at room temperature for 24-48 hours. Done.

How to store: I like to store mine in the refrigerator where it keeps for 2 months after which point the chilies tend to turn mushy (even though the vinegar still tastes just fine). I take out just the amount I need each time and let it warm up to room temperature first so that its coldness won’t cause my noodles to become lukewarm. Also, the pickled chilies taste better at room temperature, in my opinion.

Pad see-ew with pickled chilies
How to serve: Put a little bowl of it on the table for people to spoon just the amount they need into their individual bowl or plate of noodles.
What to serve it with: Stir-fried noodles with Chinese flavor profile such as pad see-ew (a greasy dish which benefits a great deal from the pickled chilies; I like one piece with every bite of my pad see-ew), rat na, various noodle soups, etc.

This condiment is not served with every type of noodles, though. In general, it’s not used to season noodles with Thai flavor profile such as pad thai or those with curry and/or coconut milk as the main ingredients, such as Muslim-style curry noodles, khao soi, or khanom chin and its curry-based sauces. In these cases, fresh lime works better, and is typically used, as a table souring condiment.

22 Responses to Vinegar with Pickled Chilies (น้ำส้มพริกดอง)

  1. Jonathan King August 16, 2013 at 8:42 pm #

    I think I can follow this complicated recipe … I’ll just take a deep breath and plunge in. FWIW, I frequently add this stuff to tom kha gai even though you’re probably right that it isn’t ideal, just because it’s on the table at most Thai places while lime juice isn’t.

    • Leela August 16, 2013 at 10:15 pm #

      Jon – Tom kha gai is usually not something you season at the table. This is different from noodles which are often intentionally under-seasoned (an invitation for you to season it to taste using what’s on the table). This is why they don’t offer any lime juice for your tom kha. The vinegar on the table is meant for other things on the menu.

      • Jonathan King August 17, 2013 at 12:31 pm #

        Leela – I’ve learned something new! Still, I tend to season most versions I get — out of chile-head habit I suppose… also, many versions seem oversweet to me.

  2. Lisa August 16, 2013 at 9:35 pm #

    I love to add it to khao pad gai, too. I find that such a mild dish really perks up with the added vinegar and chilies. 🙂

  3. Spikygreengobbermonster August 17, 2013 at 10:18 am #

    Those chilies look so nice floating around in the vinegar.May i ask what those stacked pots are behind the chilies in the first pic?

    • Leela August 17, 2013 at 2:02 pm #

      monster – That’s pinto — a tiffin, a retro multi-tiered lunch carrier.

  4. brillsec August 17, 2013 at 2:57 pm #

    Lovin’ the tiffin!

  5. CindyK August 17, 2013 at 3:20 pm #

    Perfect timing! I had various hot and sweet peppers on hand, so I made several jars up. I can’t wait to use eat and use them! Thanks!

  6. Jane Steinberg August 17, 2013 at 3:37 pm #

    In the American South, at least in north central Florida where I grew up, there was always a bottle of pepper vinegar on the table, always. It was this same condiment but made by simply filing a bottle with hot chilis and pouring in heated cider vinegar to cover. It was continually topped off with more peppers and vinegar. We put it on everything that needed a bit of zing, but greens and beans would never be eaten without it.

    • MomZed August 17, 2013 at 10:03 pm #

      Jane, so funny! I just typed nearly the exact comment–especially the part about the greens and beans– when I looked up and read your post. I live in south Florida with NE Florida roots. Leela, your condiment is beautiful and it is great to see how food really does connect us all.

  7. WCB (West Coast Bob) August 18, 2013 at 6:30 pm #

    I’ve been looking for just this recipe. Also at my favorite Thai spot in Frisco they sport a three jar condiment … tree-thing … and one of then is a finely diced chilie and vinegar thing. If you’re aware of this one, is it the same as the above but with a different slice (fine dice) to the pepper?

    • Leela August 18, 2013 at 8:04 pm #

      WCB – That one is very similar to this. It’s usually used in beef noodle soups, boat noodles, etc. Instead of slicing the chilies like I’ve shown you here, simply puree 1 part chilies in 2 parts vinegar and let it sit for a day or two. For this type of chili vinegar, some people add a tiny bit of white granulated sugar and sometimes garlic. If you can detect either or both of these things in the version you like, just add them.

      One thing about the pureed type of chili vinegar is that people usually don’t mix green and red chilies together; you use either all red or all green. I think it’s mostly for aesthetic purposes. For the type you see here, though, anything goes.

  8. Donald@Tea Time August 20, 2013 at 4:09 pm #

    What to serve it with – I think pickled chillies fit everywhere like good addon.

  9. beerdedone August 23, 2013 at 5:06 pm #

    I stray from the traditional thai preparation and prefer to make the similar viet style nuoc cham. The flavor profile is very similar, the predominant ingredients being white vinegar and chillies. However the addition of a small proportion of lime and sugar deepens the complexity of the flavor in a way that I think compliments both thai and viet noodle and rice dishes.

    If you add a little bit of salt the chillies stay preserved almost indefinitely. I store mine in a mason jar at room temperature and it lasts for months without affecting the taste or texture of the chillies at all.

  10. Malee November 4, 2013 at 12:08 pm #

    I have been getting more annoyed lately that a lot of Thai restaurants in my area – even the ones that are considered most “authentic” – no longer provide this, even when asked. They will have red ground chili sauce, and the red pepper powder, but not the sliced peppers in vinegar. Heck, I’d even settle for the yellow pepper sauce from Steak n’ Shake… I usually use the not-sour-enough chili sauce, or ask for Sriracha, when this happens. *sigh* It’s neither difficult nor costly to provide this, I believe: Peppers will happily grow in Central and South Florida.

    • WCB (West Coast Bob) November 5, 2013 at 11:54 am #

      I too have noticed the slow disappearance of the condiment tree from my favorite Thai haunts. And the new Thai restaurants don’t offer them. Not to be beat; thanks to “She Simmers” I’ve successfully made my own and when planning a night out for Thai we bring our own condiments. Always get a double take from the staff. This is probably like bringing your own wine to dinner and having to pay a corkage fee: next the restaurants will charge a condiment fee for bringing in your own.

  11. Marian January 5, 2015 at 10:47 pm #

    My husband and I went to Thailand last year and loved the condiment caddy. I found another recipe today that used fish sauce instead of vinegar. I think I’ll make a batch of both, I can never get enough of the hot/sour combo! Thanks for this easy recipe!


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