All of the Flavors: An Isaan Food Guide

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Isaan, also spelled as Isan, is Thailand’s largest region which lies on the Khorat Plateau, not far from the neighboring countries of Cambodia and Laos. Being an agricultural area that is influenced by the Khmer and Laotian cultures, the culinary delights of Isaan have distinct tastes and qualities that will inspire every foodie to head northeast just to give them a go.

WHAT TO EXPECT

Expect a food adventure. In an agricultural culture, all animals are edible. So, expect to find frogs, snakes, ant eggs, and insects on top of the usual proteins. And, most of these meats are served off the grill. Also, expect a different blend of fish sauce — The Bplah rah, Isan’s thick, fermented fish sauce is present in most of its dishes. In Isan, dips made from mashed herbs and spices and sticky rice are present in every dining experience. What makes the taste of Isan different from other regions – Well, the sauces here tend to be slightly pungent and earthy and the chilis can be slightly hotter than usual so beware!

ISaAN SIGNATURE DISHES

Maybe not all of us are into exploring other types of proteins, so here are some dishes you may want to try while you are in Isan.

LAAB – MINCED MEAT SALAD

A dish made of diced pork that is soaked in a sauce made of fresh lime juice, fresh mint leaves, red chili, and scallions topped with toasted rice, the laab can also be made with chicken, liver, fish, and for vegetarians, minced tofu and mushrooms.

Also a Laos specialty that is usually served with raw meat like the Southeast Asian version of steak tartare, you will also find raw variations in Isaan. If you are looking for an adventure, have it with a dollop of blood and eat lie the locals.

To order this zesty dish, remember to pronounce it as lap like lap dance. Beside the laab is the type of protein it is made up of: moo (pork), blah tub tim grawp (tilapia fish), gai (chicken), and fish (blah).

Eat this with a side of sticky rice. Get a ball of sticky rice, dip it into the sauce, pinch a bit of the meat in between the rice, and pop the flavourful parcel into your mouth.

GAENG NAW MAI – BAMBOO SHOOT CURRY

A sour and earthy type of curry made for vegetarians with its usual fare of pumpkin, oyster mushrooms, and bamboo shoots, its secret ingredient is the medicinal yanang juice that adds a pungent after taste to the spicy curry.

You can eat it like a soup or perhaps add a few balls of sticky rice into your soup to soften the intensity of the flavours.

SAI GROK ISAN – ISAN FERMENTED SAUSAGE

Usually found on roadside grills, this sausage packs quite a taste. Smoked with an intense hit of garlic and just the right amount of zest, these juicy sausages can be eaten with a bit of sticky rice and a side salad made up of ginger, chopped raw cabbage, and really hot chilis.

PLA PAO – GRILLED FISH

With a heavy coat of flour and rock salt and stuffed with pandan leaves and lemongrass, the fish lying on Isaan’s food barbecues may not seem appealing but give them a go as they are bursting with flavour. Served with a dip made up of Isan’s signature fermented fish sauce, lime, and chili and a big plate of lettuce leaves, make a parcel and pop the succulent delight into your mouth. Remember to peel the skin off as it is not meant to be eaten unless you like extremely salty crackers coated in charcoal.

HAVE YOU BEEN TO ISaAN?

Share your experience with your fellow travelers by commenting below.

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