Epicurean Journey Through Isaan: 7 Must-Try Dishes

By Ivan PetrenkoApr 3, 2024 10:30 AMNews
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Green grass field near mountains under white clouds and blue sky during daytime
Green grass field near mountains under white clouds and blue sky during daytime. Source: unsplash

Northeast Thailand, known as Isaan, is a culinary goldmine, offering a treasure trove of flavors that defy the conventional Thai food narrative. Embark on an epicurean journey through Isaan to discover dishes that encapsulate the essence of this vibrant region, from the fiery spice of duck laab to the unique tang of weeping tiger steak.

1. Pla ra som tam: A Bold Start in Loei Begin your culinary adventure with Isaan’s iconic papaya salad in Loei, where the pla ra gives som tam an unforgettable umami punch. Som Tam Muang Loei stands out for its family-fermented pla ra, offering a som tam that's both authentic and extraordinary.

2. Gai yang: Charred Perfection No Isaan food tour is complete without gai yang. This marinated, grilled chicken, a staple street food, finds its epitome at Seri Grilled Chicken Khao Suan Kwang in Khon Kaen. Here, the chicken, infused with lemongrass and grilled over charcoal, achieves a perfect balance of flavors.

3. Duck laab: A Spicy Delicacy Duck laab, a spicy salad rich in herbs and chili, is a testament to Isaan's bold flavors. Udon Thani's Ban Nuea Laab-Koi is renowned for its rendition, perfectly balancing spicy, salty, and sour notes.

4. Weeping tiger steak: A Tale of Flavor Dive into the legend with weeping tiger steak at Mae Suk Isaan Restaurant Lap Koi, where the brisket's marination and charcoal grilling produce a dish so flavorful it could make a tiger cry.

5. Gaeng om gai: A Curry Unlike Any Other Explore the subtleties of Isaan curry with gaeng om gai at Jae Daeng Gaeng Om. This dish, a simple yet aromatic curry packed with regional greens and chicken, showcases the complexity of Isaan cuisine.

6. Soop naw mai: A Bamboo Favorite In Isaan, bamboo shoots transform into soop naw mai, a refreshing salad that exemplifies the region's knack for turning simple ingredients into culinary delights. Han Laab Ai Tong in Khon Kaen is your go-to for this and other Isaan specialties.

7. Jaew: The Ultimate Relish End your journey with jaew, an aubergine chili relish that embodies Isaan's love for punchy, fermented flavors. Ue Kia Hiang in Khon Kaen offers quality jars of this beloved condiment, perfect for taking a piece of Isaan home with you.

Savoring Isaan: Tips for Travelers

  • Embrace the Spice: Isaan cuisine is known for its bold flavors. Start with milder dishes if you're not accustomed to heat.
  • Market Exploration: Visit local markets for the freshest ingredients and a glimpse into Isaan's food culture.
  • Local Insights: Engage with locals to discover hidden gems and authentic eating spots.
  • Pair Wisely: Enhance your dining experience with sticky rice and local beverages for a truly Isaan meal.

Embarking on this gastronomic exploration through Isaan offers not just a taste of its distinctive dishes but an immersion into a rich culinary tradition that's as flavorful as it is fascinating. From the smoky allure of gai yang to the complex layers of gaeng om gai, each dish tells a story of culture, tradition, and the land itself.

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