When the neighbourhood around Khaosan Road was mellow, in the days before it became a super-popular backpacker hangout, it was one of Bangkok’s main shopping areas, selling student uniforms, all kinds of fabrics (from high-price lace to funky velvet), classy and custom-made shoes, wedding gowns, souvenirs for traditional festivals, and many types of food specialties. It was full of local life and all kinds of local people, and as a child I loved visiting with my mother to shop and experience the bustle.
These days, the area is mainly known for its cheap guesthouses and backpacker-oriented bars. But my main interest in the area continues to be as a place for food, specifically cooking ingredients.
And this is what draws me to Namprik Nittaya Shop. It is the place for pastes, the key component of many curry dishes. Namprik Nittaya has been famous for its homemade curry pastes for more than four decades. For years, when my family didn’t have enough time to make the curry pastes for big feasts, my mother would go to Namprik Nittaya to get them. It has since become a tradition for me—before taking a long journey—to buy paste and other ingredients from the shop to carry with me in my suitcase.
Every time I step inside the store—spanning two contiguous shop houses—I swoon, like a kid in a candy shop. The smells of roasted chili, lime, and lightly fried salted fish greet me in the showroom. I wend my way through the crowded aisles, and past the cluttered shelves, towards the far end where the curry pastes are stored. There I deeply inhale their aromas.
The pastes are piled up, like little colourful hills, in separate containers—whether green curry, red curry, or kaeng taipla curry (a Southern style). I usually buy several different kinds, perhaps about 250 grams of each, but my favourite is nam prik phao, which I add to my tom yum soup recipe for an extra punch of taste and aroma. Sometimes I also use it as a dip for crispy crackers and chips. Nam prik phao is different than other curries because it can be eaten without cooking. It also has a little touch of sweetness and spice, and a dense texture from its mixture of dried shrimps, red shallots, garlic, and chilies.
Nittaya also has packages of dehydrated herbs, which are very convenient. Kaffir lime leaves, sliced lemongrasses, galangas, and dried red chilies are packed together to make tom yum or tom kha kai, or sold separately. I love to have those herbs in a variety of sizes. I can use them in my cooking or give them as gifts to friends who love cooking Thai food, but can’t find fresh ingredients where they live.
Namprik Nittaya is also very inexpensive, with prices far more modest than the modern supermarkets. During my many trips there over the years I have had lovely conservations with other customers who have been drawn there for the same reasons. And if I’m particularly lucky on these trips, and one of the ladies behind the cashier’s counter is not too busy, I will ask her about different recipes and find out about other cooking ingredients too. It means more new aromas in my kitchen, and more goodies for my friends abroad.
Address: The words “Namprik Nittaya” are written in green Thai characters on the front of the shop, which sits close to the corner of Soi Rambutri and Chakraponse Rd, right across from Bank of Krungsri Ayutthaya. The shop is open every day from 9am till 6:30pm.