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Wednesday, July 23, 2003

My Aunt's Nam-prik Pao

(Note: The recipe is here, finally. Posted on Oct 4, 07)

I have been so insanely busy I've completely neglected my blogs. Work is nuts, and I'm about to start my insane travel schedule again---so I thought if I didn't post now, I'd never get started again. En plus, boy do I have a story to tell.

Last weekend I was inspired to make my aunt's famous Chilli Paste (Chilli Jam or Nam-prik Pao in Thai). It was my grandmother's recipe. I am addicted to that paste. I grew up on it. We always had a jar at home, and used it for practically everything. A dollop in a bowl of Tom Yum Goong, stir-fired with clams, spreaded on toast like a spicy jam, or simply mixed in with warm rice. It is black gold, I tell you. I remember vividly the scenes at my aunt's house every time she made a batch. There would be cars waiting, driven by our drivers and even some of my cousins, to dispatch the Nam-prik Pao as soon as it was done to friends' and relatives' houses as gifts.

Anyway, I was missing it so much last weekend. My supply from Thailand ran out ages ago, and the commercially made stuff is crap to eat! So I decided to give it a try. A few years ago on a visit, my aunt taught me the family's secret recipe. We weighed everything so I had a recipe to start with, but she admonished me to not go by it alone. She had me taste every stage as she conjured her magic, and told me to memorize well. She didn't need to remind me to remember what the end product should taste like, as it was imprinted in one of my earliest taste memories.

So I did it. I started early Saturday evening, and it was well into the early hours of Sunday morning before I was done. I definitely underestimated the time it took to slice about half a kilo, each, of shallots and garlic. My aunt insisted that they should be thinly sliced, by hand. It was easy for her to say. She had servants to do all the heavy slicing!! So there I was, obediently slicing shallots, one by one, until the whole half kilo was done. Then there was the garlic to do!!

I persevered, not wanting to stray from the recipe the first time I made it. And when it was over, I had seven small jars of my aunt's Nam-prik Pao--exactly like how she made them. I was flabberghasted. I really didn't think I could do it. But I did! I was so happy I could cry. I was so happy I couldn't stop jumping around even though it was already well into the early morning.

The next morning, Chris walked around my apartment sniffing the air. He kept saying—what was that smell? It actually took a day or two for the smell of fried garlic and shallots to go away finally.

Chris's complaint went completely mum after Sunday night dinner. For which I made a few dishes with that magic Nam-prik Pao. Clams stir-fried with Nam-prik Pao and Thai basil, Tom Yum Goong and Tofu stir-fried with Nam-prik Pao. The meal was delicious, everyone said so---even our little friend Sasha.


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