In September 2017 I had a week of work in the north and north-east of Thailand. It was a whistle stop tour, we visited four towns in that time, so these posts are just a very brief snapshot of my experiences.
My employer provided a fixer called Grid to look after me. He’s on the left in this pic. Happily Grid was fond of his food as well and he nosed out some great traditional restaurants where we could try the local delicacies in each town we went to.
We started in Ubon Ratchathani (‘Royal Lotus City’), or Ubon for short. It’s one of the four largest towns in Isaan province, the name of which actually means ‘north-east’.
Within Thailand, Isaan is considered by the Thais themselves as the region that has the best food, going on the number of eateries in other regions. It differs from the central region in that flavours are hotter and sourer. Isaan people also have a preference for eating sticky rice.
In these respects Isaan cuisine is quite similar to that of neighbouring Laos. The difference is that it is without French and Vietnamese influences as it was never part of the French colony of Indochina.
Given the above I was very interested to try as many dishes as I could at this little restaurant specialising in local food…
You’ll find it on my map here.
Nom Chok Isaan Food (Elementary A), Sisaket 2 Rd, Tambon Warin Chamrap, Amphoe Warin Chamrap, Chang Wat Ubon Ratchathani 34190
This is a plain and simple place as you can see from the photo at the top, but the food is really good.
There were lots of intriguing things on display.
My friend’s local girlfriend, a speaker of Laos Isaan, calls the eggs ‘Kai Ping’. ‘Apparently the eggs are emptied, lightly whisked, lightly seasoned with salt and pepper and then put back inside the shells, then steamed’. After which they’re ready to be skewered and put on the BBQ.
Three tubs contained small packages made of Pandan leaves, their contents ready for steaming. Grid ordered one of each.
Here you can see the cooked contents of the packages. This is Naem, fermented pork (B).
The other two contained fish, Ho Mok Pla (A), minced fish with red curry paste, and another with whole fish which had more chilli and an unusual flavour that I couldn’t pin down (B+).
We also had Som Tam (A), the classic Isaan salad (tam) made from shredded green papaya, green beans, tomatoes, peanuts, lime, dried shrimp, garlic, chili peppers, fish sauce, and palm sugar. It’s eaten all over Thailand and will be very familiar to tourists.
Soups are very popular in Isaan. This is Tom Yam Het, which directly translates as spicy mushroom soup (A).
Didn’t get the name of this chicken dish right sorry, but it was very tasty (B+).
We also tried Mu Yor, a steamed pork mince sausage (B)…
… and some Cab Moo pork scratchings (B).
Finally, another salad but made with crab and extra strong fish sauce (B+).
This was too hot for our local driver!
A top spot for trying classic Isaan food. Definitely recommended!