Thai Bird’s Eye Chilies

I have a way of doing a deep dive into cuisines when I’m trying to learn about the food behind different cultures. It becomes almost like an obsession – it probably is an obsession – but it’s the best way for me to really get a good feel for the flavors and ingredients in the recipes for a particular country.

The last few weeks, I have been obsessed with Thai cuisine. I learned how to make Pad Thai about ten years ago, but have only tried to make a few other Thai dishes over the years. Like all new cuisines I’ve come across, I found the ingredients to be a bit intimidating at first.

Kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, red curry paste, green curry paste, galangal, palm sugar, fish sauce, tamarind, and Thai bird’s eye chilies are some of the ingredients I’ve become more familiar with over the years. Although not quite as intimidating as Indian cuisine, there was definitely a learning curve when I first started trying Thai recipes, e.g., how to cook dried rice noodles (versus fresh rice noodles that I was accustomed to), how to make tamarind pulp, how to use the disks of palm sugar, how to crush lemongrass, what the difference is between all the curry pastes (not at all like any other curry I’d come across).

Something that has intrigued me recently is Thai chili sauce. Our local Asian market carries bags of Thai bird chili peppers and I’ve always wondered what people do with all these chilies. You can’t possible use them all up in any short period of time, or can you? I’ve made chili vinegar pickles with them before from the Momofuku cookbook as a way of preserving all the extra chilies I didn’t use, but had never tried making any chili sauce out of them. It occurred to me that Sriracha Sauce, the popular condiment that is now used as a seasoning in anything from burgers to spaghetti sauce, just might be a common condiment used in Thailand, albeit it might not be in the same form or formula as it has taken on now that it is manufactured commercially.


Homemade Sriracha Sauce

There are recipes floating around for making Sriracha Sauce at home, which I thought of trying, but then, I decided to see what authentic Thai chili sauces were really all about. Since I can’t travel to Thailand right now, my only source was to scour Thai cookbooks and the internet. Interestingly, there’s not a lot of information on this topic.  A few images showed an assortment of chili sauces, dried chilies and sugar in a set of condiment jars at Thai noodle shops. From what I can gather, these spicy condiments are used to jazz up noodle dishes and rice dishes at local food joints.


Fresh Rice Noodles with Sriracha Sauce

Four different chili sauces caught my eye – each one used chili slices mixed with a different sauce. One was chilies with vinegar (white or coconut), another was chilies with fish sauce (some add garlic, vinegar and sugar), another was chilies with sweet soy sauce, and yet another resembled Sriracha Sauce (fermented chilies with vinegar, sugar and salt).  So, I chopped up my bag of chilies and split them up into four bowls. The first three sauces were ready to be used as soon as they were mixed. The Sriracha Sauce needed to ferment on the counter top for a few days. I did not write down the recipe for the Sriracha Sauce, so it’s pictured here, but I’ll have to post the recipe for it later (I have another batch fermenting on my counter).

Caution: Be sure to wear gloves when handling hot chile peppers!

Thai Chili Pepper Sauces and Pad Thai

To test all these sauces out, I made Pad Thai with Chicken, Shrimp and Pressed Tofu and let the kids go at it with the different Thai Chili Sauces I had made (except the Srirachi Sauce which was still fermenting). Although they preferred the Thai Chili Sauce with Vinegar and the Thai Chili Sauce with Sweet Soy Sauce, I liked drizzling a little bit of each Chili Sauce on top to add a little sour, salty, sweet and spicy flavor. So good. In fact, I’ve been drizzling these sauces on fried rice, hard boiled eggs, omelettes, and just about anything I can think of.


Thai Chili Fish Sauce with Thai Fried Rice

The ratio I’d seen used seemed to be roughly 1 part chilies to 1 part liquid (fish sauce, vinegar, sweet soy sauce). It’s really a matter of personal preference I think

Thai Bird Chili Pepper Sauce Recipes

Be sure to wear gloves when handling hot chile peppers. I loved playing around with these simple chili pepper sauces - drizzle on Pad Thai, fried rice, omelettes, just about anything for some heat. These chili peppers are very hot, so just use the sauce (don't eat the chili peppers) if you want the flavor, but not the heat.


Chili Vinegar Sauce

  • 1 tablespoon minced Thai bird chili peppers
  • ¼ cup coconut or white vinegar

Chili Fish Sauce

  • 1 tablespoon minced Thai bird chili peppers
  • ¼ cup fish sauce

Chili Sweet Soy Sauce

  • 1 tablespoon minced Thai bird chili peppers
  • ¼ cup kecap manis

See a Quick Sausage Alfredo Recipe


  1. Place chili peppers in three small bowls. To each bowl, add the vinegar, fish sauce and kecap manis. Keep in the refrigerator.