Taste of Thailand – Experience the diversity of flavours
February 18, 2016
Bangkok Street Life – Mr Tum the motorbike taxi driver
March 6, 2016

Taste of Thailand – The spicy flavours of Isan food


The north-eastern area of Thailand is known as Isan, it is the largest region in Thailand and is famous for some of the most unforgettable and spiciest salads that can be found in this country. Isan food is typically very spicy and heavily seasoned with various fresh herbs; although the flavours are enticingly complex, the preparation of the individual dishes is surprisingly simple!

This small family run restaurant is called Esarn Zaab Zaab, it’s just to the left of Siri Sathorn Condominium – Find it here
Serving authentic Isan food it is popular with the local office workers and is particularly busy during the lunch hour rush.

As this video was shot in real time you can see that Isan food is incredibly fast and simple to make, apart from preparing the cooking stock for the beef salad. It is therefore not surprising that many street food vendors can be found on most street corners serving Isan food.


Som Tum

Green Papaya Salad with salted egg


Som Tum

This fantastic and simple spicy green papaya salad, traditionally made with a mortar and pestle, is one of the most popular and well-known Thai dishes and has become one of the most common street foods that can be found in Thailand. There are a simple handful of ingredients but variations can be prepared by adding salted egg, salted crab or even anchovies to name just a few additional ingredients.


Good to know

Isan food vendors, particularly those serving Som Tum are easy to spot in Thailand, just look out for the large mortar and pestle and the bright red fresh tomatoes in the glass display cabinets.

Being a very popular dish, Som Tum street food vendors have a rapid turn around with their ingredients, so it is extremely unlikely that you will ever fall ill after eating Som Tum. Take care if you order Som Tum with raw crab, as it’s difficult to tell if they are fresh. Also, other variations of this Isan food, such as adding anchovies, can have a very powerful taste that may not appeal to everyone. It is probably best to start with a plain Som Tum and then you can be more adventurous and try the other variations.


Taste of Thailand

This refreshing crunchy spicy salad has a fantastic combination of flavours. It is salty, a little sour, slightly sweet and obviously spicy with a crispy and juicy texture.


When ordering

If you don’t want too many chillies say “Sai Prik Nid Noi” – put a few chillies
If you want something left out, for example the salted egg, say “Mai Sai Kai Kem” – don’t put salted egg


Serves: 2
(Suitable for vegetarians – see tips below)

  • 3 chilli peppers, add more if you like it spicy!
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 2 ½ tbsp palm sugar (see Tips below)
  • 1 green bean cut into 3cm lengths
  • 1 tbsp dried shrimp (see Tips below)
  • 1 tbsp toasted peanuts
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce (see Tips below)
  • ½ tbsp of lime juice
  • 3 tbsp tamarind juice
  • 1 cut tomato
  • 1 salted egg (optional)
  • 50g shredded green papaya (unripe)
  • 10g shredded carrot (optional)


Easy guide

  • Pound the chilli, garlic and palm sugar in the mortar.
  • Add the green bean, dried shrimp and toasted peanuts, mix and pound a few times.
  • Add the fish sauce, lime and tamarind juice and the cut tomato.
  • Add only the salted egg white and use the pestle and spoon to gently bruise and mix all together.
  • Add the shredded papaya and carrot and mix well.
  • Taste and if required add more fish sauce, lime juice or sugar.



  • For vegetarians omit the dried shrimp and substitute soy sauce for the fish sauce.
  • You can substitute regular sugar for the palm sugar.

Som Tum recipe download


Nam Tok Nuer

North Eastern Style Spicy Beef Salad


Nam Tok Nuer

This is another very simple but delicious salad that most visitors to Thailand may not be aware of, however, once tried it will certainly become one of your favourite Isan food dishes. Nam Tok Nuer can be made with grilled beef or as in this case; the meat is quickly cooked in a chicken and pork bone stock. The dish is very similar to Larb, another north eastern salad which is made with ground meat, both, however have a similar taste from the sauce and both are eaten with sticky rice. Sticky rice is eaten with almost every meal in Isan and northern Thailand. As you can see in the video small clumps are massaged and then dipped into the salad so there is no need for tableware.


Good to know

You may be surprised to see that in the smaller local restaurants, and particularly with street food vendors, that fresh meat is often stored in open glass cabinets, this is very common and acceptable in Asia. It’s reassuring to know that usually these cabinets are chilled with plenty of ice, and as long as the vendor is busy with a good turn around you will not encounter any problems.


Taste of Thailand

This salad is best eaten with sticky rice and should be hot from the chilli powder, a little sour and a little salty, with a chewy texture and the smell of mint.


When ordering

Thais love fatty meat, if you are not so keen you can try and ask for the fat to be removed, say “Mai Aow Mun” – no fat
If you don’t want it too spicy say “Mai Ped Mark” – not very spicy


Serves: 2

  • 100ml chicken and pork bone stock (see Tips below)
  • 350g of lean steak
  • 1 tbsp of ground toasted rice (see Tips below)
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • ½ tbsp of lime juice
  • 4 Thai shallots thinly sliced
  • 1 lemongrass stick finely sliced (optional)
  • Handful of coriander
  • Handful of torn mint leaves


Easy guide

  • Heat the stock in a small saucepan and add the thinly slide steak.
  • Cook for a few minutes, ideally it should still be rare inside, remove from the heat.
  • Discard most of the stock keeping just 2 tablespoons with the cooked steak.
  • Add the ground toasted rice, chilli powder, fish sauce, lime juice, shallots, lemongrass and coriander and quickly mix well.
  • Taste and if required add more ground toasted rice, chilli powder, fish sauce or lime juice.
  • Serve and garnish with the mint leaves.



  • You can substitute the homemade chicken and pork bone stock with any stock cube.
  • Instead of cooking the steak in a stock it can be grilled whole then sliced.
  • Making ground toasted rice is simple, toast a handful of jasmine rice in a dry wok or frying pan until golden brown, then grind to a coarse power, a coffee bean grinder is perfect for this.

Nam Tok Nuer recipe download


Please like, give thumbs up, subscribe, share or comment if you enjoyed this video and introduction to the spicy flavours of Isan food by Follow Me Bangkok Bicycle Tours. If you would like to see a cooking demonstration of your favorite Thai dish then please leave a comment below.

Thank you from Ar and the Follow Me team

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