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 – Veiw on Map
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.
Green Papaya Salad with salted egg
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.
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
(Suitable for vegetarians – see tips below)
North Eastern Style Spicy Beef Salad
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.
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