Thai Foods Ep.2

Thai Grilled Steak Salad - Neua Yang Nam Tok

by Thomas M. Tillman
Nam tok น้ำตก is a grilled meat Thai salad that hails from the northeast of Thailand. This version made with beef is a "steak salad," but this isn't your average bowl of leafy greens with a sliced steak on top. Nam tok is made almost entirely of steak; no vegetables, just lots of fresh herbs and a spicy, tart dressing. Served with sticky rice, it's one of the best dishes the Northeast has to offer, and is so easy to make at home!

What is "Nam Tok"?

Nam tok literally means "falling water" or "waterfall," so you might have seen this steak called "waterfall salad" on some menus. The name refers to the dripping (i.e., falling) of meat juices as it’s being grilled; so the one requirement for this dish is that the meat has to be grilled. There are two common types of nam tok: one made with pork, usually grilled pork jowl, and the other made with beef.


Ingredients for steak marinade

Ingredients for the Steak Marinade

This marinade is a simplified version of my ultimate steak marinade recipe because the steaks are going to get even more flavour from the salad.
  • Grilling steaks. Pictured are picanha steaks, also known as "top sirloin cap," but any other grilling steaks can be used. In Thailand, tri-tip is quite common.
  • Oyster sauce.
  • Soy sauce.
  • Sugar
  • Water
  • Neutral oil
  • Black pepper
Ingredients for steak salad

Ingredients for the Salad

  • Uncooked jasmine or glutinous rice for making toasted rice powder
  • Makrut lime leaf (optional, not pictured). This is for adding fragrance to the toasted rice powder.
  • Cilantro
  • Mint
  • Shallots
  • Lemongrass
  • Shallots
  • Sawtooth coriander (optional, not pictured)
  • Roasted chili flakes - You can simply toast some plain chili flakes in a dry skillet over low heat for just a minute or so, until it darkens slightly and smells smoky. Or toast whole chilies, then grind.
  • Fish sauce.
  • Lime juice
  • Water
  • Sugar
  • Thai sticky rice, for serving. This salad is always paired with sticky rice and I highly recommend it.

How to Make Thai Grilled Steak Salad

process shots for making nam tok steak salad steps 1-4
  1. Make the marinade by combining all ingredients.
  2. Marinade steaks for at least 2 hours.
  3. Grill the steaks, flipping at least twice for more even cooking.
  4. I recommend medium to medium-well doneness for this recipe. Rare steaks don't hold up as well in this salad.
process shots for making nam tok steak salad steps 5-8
  1. Toast the rice with a makrut lime leaf in a dry skillet or wok until browned.
  2. Grind into a powder.
  3. Slice the steak and place into a mixing bowl, adding any juices collected during resting.
  4. Add all dressing ingredients and the toasted rice powder and toss.
process shots for making nam tok steak salad steps 9-10
  1. Toss in all the fresh herbs.
  2. Serve immediately with sticky rice!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best cut of steak for a steak salad?

There are a lot of options depending on your budget. I'm using picanha for this, which can be hard to find, so any of the following would be a good choice: tri-tip, top sirloin, hanger, bavette (flap), skirt, flank, or flat iron. Higher amounts of marbling (fat) is better, so keep that in mind when you're looking at all the options.

Can I make this salad in advance?

You can prep some of the components in advance, but I recommend tossing the salad right before serving as the toasted rice powder will absorb all the moisture from the dressing and the herbs will wilt. You can do any of the following ahead of time:

- Marinate the steaks up to one day ahead. Marinated steaks can also be frozen. - Cook the steaks up to a few days ahead. Keep it in the fridge and re-grill to heat it up before serving. - Toast the rice. Keep it in a sealed container and grind when ready to use. - Up to a few hours before serving; chop the herbs and combine the seasonings for the dressing.
Can I make this with another meat?

Yes! Pork is another common meat used for nam tok, and you can use the recipe for Thai BBQ pork jowl here for the marinade. Other meats are not common for this dish in Thailand, but you can certainly try it with chicken (dark meat recommended) or lamb.


For the Marinated Steak

  • 8 oz picanha steak, tri-tip, or another grilling steak about 1-inch thick
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 ½ teaspoons oyster sauce
  • ¾ teaspoon sugar
  • ½ tablespoon water
  • 2 teaspoons neutral oil

For the Salad

  • 2 tablespoons uncooked jasmine or Thai glutinous rice
  • 1 makrut lime leafoptional
  • 2 teaspoons fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons water or unsalted chicken or beef stock
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • ½ teaspoon roasted chili flakesor to taste
  • 1 small stalk lemongrassbottom half only, thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons thinly sliced shallots
  • ½ cup mint leavesloosely packed
  • ½ cup chopped cilantro
  • 2-3 leaves sawtooth corianderchopped, optional
  • Thai sticky ricefor serving


  • Combine all steak marinade ingredients and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Place the steak in a sealable plastic bag or in a container that isn’t much bigger than the size of the steak, then add the marinade and toss to coat the steak all over. Marinate for at least 2 hours and up to overnight, turning the steak at least once in between to redistribute the marinade. If marinating for more than 2 hours, put the steak in the fridge.
    8 oz picanha steak, tri-tip, or another grilling steak,¼ teaspoon ground black pepper,1 teaspoon soy sauce,1 ½ teaspoons oyster sauce,¾ teaspoon sugar,½ tablespoon water,2 teaspoons neutral oil
  • If refrigerated, bring the steak out to room temp at least 30 minutes before grilling. Grill in a closed preheated barbecue over medium-high heat (400°F/200°C) for 6 to 8 minutes for a ¾ inch (2 cm) thick steak for medium doneness. Turn the steak at least twice, or every 1.5 minutes or so, for more even cooking. *For this dish I prefer medium doneness, so I pull it off the grill at an internal temperature of 135°F, and let it rest until the final temperature reaches 145°F. Insert an instant-read thermometer sideways into the center of the steak for an accurate reading. Allow the steak to rest on a plate while you prep the rest of the salad, keeping all the liquid that pools on the plate.
  • While the steak rests, make the toasted rice powder by adding the rice and the makrut lime leaf, (if using), to a dry skillet and cook over high heat, stirring constantly until the rice has developed a dark brown colour, or about 3-4 minutes. Pour the rice and lime leaf onto a plate to cool slightly, then grind into a powder using a mortar and pestle or a coffee grinder.
    2 tablespoons uncooked jasmine or Thai glutinous rice,1 makrut lime leaf
  • Once the steak has rested for at least 5 minutes, thinly slice it into bite-sized pieces, then add to a medium mixing bowl along with any of the collected steak juices. Add 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of the water or stock, plus the fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, chili flakes, and the toasted rice powder; toss to mix well.
    2 teaspoons fish sauce,2 tablespoons water or unsalted chicken or beef stock,1 tablespoon fresh lime juice,½ teaspoon sugar,½ teaspoon roasted chili flakes
  • Add the lemongrass, shallots, mint, cilantro, and sawtooth coriander (if using) and toss to mix. Taste, and if the flavour feels a little too salty, add the remaining water or stock to dilute. Serve immediately with Thai sticky rice.
    1 small stalk lemongrass,3 tablespoons thinly sliced shallots,½ cup mint leaves,½ cup chopped cilantro,2-3 leaves sawtooth coriander,Thai sticky rice