Food enthusiasts with even a cursory interest in Thai cuisine should be familiar with nam prik. The Thai equivalent of Indonesian sambal, it’s typically a zesty, salty and sweet melding of chilli paste, herbs, lime, fish sauce and garlic (though, like any staple, infinitely tweakable depending on region or taste), pounded together in a bowl. It’s ancient, normally served with plain rice or vegetables and ubiquitous in Thailand.
Launched earlier this year near Bangkok’s nifty Warehouse 30 cultural complex, KROK – the Thai word for “mortar” – is a small shophouse restaurant taking this humble condiment and elevating it to something spectacular.
Here, chefs Napol “Joe” Jantraget and Saki Hoshino – both from Bangkok’s boundary-smashing Michelin-starred Thai joint 80/20 – have repositioned nam prik centre stage, with a simple, straightforward menu of dishes led by the sauce, rather than it merely existing as a condiment.
A key part of the philosophy is provenance. KROK sources its ingredients from farmers and local artisans, aiming to support small producers wherever possible. Based on Jantraget and Hoshino’s knowledge – and the rarefied cooking techniques refined at 80/20 – they’ve created what they call “nam prik of the generation”, a bolder and more sophisticated variety of relishes. For instance, their kapi nam prik is made with peanut and tomatoes, giving it a thicker texture and fuller flavour; while the vegan smoked eggplant nam prik is made with in-house shio koji, affording a rich taste profile despite the lack of fish sauce – an otherwise essential ingredient in Thai cuisine.
Along with a number of other fish- and shio-based nam priks, these are served with rice and a protein, such as tofu, grilled pork jowl, fermented naem sausage, seabass, red chicken or grilled beef. Unlike 80/20, it’s also all eminently affordable, with combos maxing out at 250 Thai baht – around US$8 – or 450 baht for the multi-meat Super Mega Krok.
Intrigued gastronauts should make an early beeline for the restaurant each day – with only 12 seats (fewer under Covid restrictions) and a kitchen that closes when the food runs out, which it always does, demand is high. Proof that both in practice and flavour, KROK is hot stuff.