Ant egg salads, street food counters lined with entrails, carts filled with bugs, I understand why visitors to Thailand can be put off by Isan food. Not all of it is appealing. But bravado and beetle munching aside Isan food offers much of the best eating in Thailand. Less celebrated globally but hugely popular locally. Eat Isan food with sticky rice and booze and optional sides of White Cabbage (Pak Gad Khao), Sweet Basil (Horapa), Long Beans (Tua Fak Yao).
Minced Pork Salad (Laab Moo, ลาบหมู)
Originating from Laos this fiery minced pork salad is the big favourite in Isan food. While there are variations the most popular Laab comes as a stir-fried minced pork dish with shallots, coriander and mint leaves. Seasoned with the salty of fish sauce and the sour of lime juice.
Isaan Sausages (Sai Krok Isaan, ไส้กรอกอีสาน)
Named after the Northeastern region in which it originates. This scrumptious sausage is one of my favourite street foods. Also one of the most common. The Isan sausage brings a unique sour taste brought about by the fermenting of pork and sticky rice. Accompanying Galam (cabbage), sliced ginger and fresh chillies add that extra heat and spice (occasionally lime and peanuts). Roll together in a cabbage leaf, pop in your mouth, eat. Amazing.
Hot and Sour Soup (Tom Saap, ต้มแซ่บ)
The Isaan equivalent to the better known Tom Yum? Tom Saap literally translates as “Tasty Soup”, Saap in Isan meaning Tasty. And yes it definitely lives up to its name. Sweet, Sour, Salty and Hot. Add savoury and hearty with chunks of pork ribs, mushroom and tomatoes. This delectable pork soup does give Tom Yum a run for its money.
Marinated Pork (Moo Dad Diew, หมูแดดเดียว)
The Thai equivalent to the delectable pork Jerky. Ok not overly exciting but does well for a quick nibble. Small bites of pork, marinated in dark soy, oyster sauce, garlic, pepper and palm sugar. Occasionally sprinkled with sesame seeds. The marinated pork is then left in the sun to catch some rays. Dry and glaze. A quick grilling at roadside street food vendors gives an added smokey flavour. End result, a chewy, sticky, nibbletastic pork snack. Served with a sour and spicy chilli dip (Nam Jim Jaew).
Thai Hot Pot (Jim Jum,จิ้มจุ่ม)
The fiery Thai interpretation to the famous Chinese Hot Pot. Jim Jum, originating from Isan, uses a signature Thai infused broth of shallot, Lemongrass, Chilli, Garlic and Sweet Basil. The rest is up to you. Jim Jum allows eaters to pick and prepare their own favourite ingredients. Cooked at hot pots on restaurant tables. Meats, veg, noodles whatever tickles your fancy. Once fully cooked the Jim Jum is served in small soup bowls and mixed with a hot, sour, tangy chilli sauce (Nam Jim). While traditionally prepared in clay pots the modern Jim Jum is now best found in franchised restaurants at most major malls of Thailand.