Thailand has many different chilies (the Thai name for chili is phrik), some hotter than others, some quite sweet, and all adding subtle, and not-so-subtle flavors to the food. As a general rule, the smaller the chili the hotter it is. Hottest of all are the tiny red or green ones that look so unassuming and innocent lying on the market stall, but the intensity is enough to reduce a grown man to tears.
Chillis are used in almost every dish from vegetarian to gourmet and from soups to sauces, heart-pumping and mouth burningly hot. Remember, if you don’t want it hot, just say “Mai Phet, Ka” when you give your order, and you should survive the experience.
Here are the main chillis used in Thai cuisine.
Suan Bird Chilli (Phrik Kee Nu Suan).
Smaller than the bird chilies, this variety is the hottest of all and very pungent. A side effect of eating these chilies is deafness and watering eyes. Don’t attempt to sample unless an expert in chilies and do not put anywhere near the eyes or a cut finger. Comes in both red and green.
Red, Yellow, and Green Bell Chilli (Daeng, Lueng & Kiew Waan Phrik)
Sweeter than the western variety and often called Sweet Chilli. Used both pickled and fresh to spice up a number of classic Thai dishes. The yellow one is frequently carved and used for food decoration. The green one is usually much bigger than the other two and is not hot at all.
Noom Chilli (Phrik Noom)
Despite its small size, the Noom Chilli is not very hot. It has a strong fragrance when roasted and is often found in Northern dishes served as a Paste (Noom Chilli Paste) and eaten with crispy pork rind.
White Spur Chilli (PhrikYouk Yao)
This large, long chili is light green in color and just a little bit hot. It is often found stuffed with minced pork and then fried. Quite delicious.
Short White Spur Chilli (Phrik Youk Sun)
The same variety as the White Spur Chilli but shorter and plumper. Usually fried and the main ingredient in Phrik Yam (chili salad)
Red Spur Chilli (Phrik Chee Fa Daeng)
The color is hot and so is the chili. Found in spicy salad sauces and in many recipes such as sweet and sour-based vegetables and meats, and blended into a chili paste to add color to soups and curries. Can be carved and used for food decoration (again, don’t try this with open cuts on fingers).
Yellow Spur Chilli (Phrik Chee Fa Lueng)
This is the hottest among the spur chili varieties, brightly colored and very fragrant. It is pickled, and used in kinds of vinegar, coconut chili sauce, and curries.