Any time we go out to eat in Thailand, whether at a street vendor or somewhere a bit fancier, we can count on there being four containers at our table, each with their own little spoons. When we paid a visit to my Thai Uncle, this was one of the first things we asked about.
It is called a Kruang Prung, a condiment carrier providing four primary flavors with which diners can season their own meals. Here are the flavors one can generally expect to find in the kruang prung:
First up in the four part flavor harmony is sugar. I like to sprinkle a spoonful or so over a savory plate of noodles or a bowl of soup. Tyler thought it was strange at first, but I think it makes sense (and he loves it now). After all, I add a bit of sugar when I'm making tomato sauce and chili and salad dressing, because I find that it balances out the flavors. The same holds true here.
Sour (& Spicy)
Next up, providing sourness is prik dong. It's a sauce of bird's-eye chilies sliced into a dish of rice vinegar, whose tang cuts through the heaviness of greasy fried rice or stir-fried noodles. Plus it just tastes good, especially against the aforementioned sprinkling of sugar.
Straight Up Spicy
Next up, is phom prik, or ground dried red bird's-eye chilies. As far as I'm concerned, chili flakes can be added to anything and everything for a little bit of a spicy kick. Back when we used to camp and cook all the time, we added them to nearly every dish we made.
Salty (& Spicy)
Finally, there's Thai staple, nam-pla prik. It's salty fish sauce with slices of bird's-eye chilies infusing it with spice. A little bit goes a very long way with this one! Used in the right amount, I find that it enhances the flavors already present in the dish. Too much, though, and my food becomes a salty, fermented, fishy mess.
A fifth option, often available, is prik siyu wan, green Thai serrano peppers in dark sweet soy sauce. I like to spoon this over plain white rice, or to a dish of overly plain/dry noodles that could use a bit more gravy.
I like the variety of flavors you can produce with the kruang prang so much, I'll be making my own four-part harmony of condiments for the dinner table when we get home. They will live right next to our French sea salt and black pepper!