Northeast Thailand, also known as Isan, is made up of a large, elevated plateau. The dry climate of the region affect the culinary tradition of the region, with protein sources being derived from a colorful array of critters such as field mice and lizards. The Mekong River also runs pass many of the provinces within the region. As such, many elements of Isan cuisine is shared with Thailand’s neighbor, Lao-PDR.
Isan dishes are characterized by spiciness, saltiness, and sourness. Saltiness, in particular, is derived from a unique ingredient known as pla ra (ปลาร้า) or fish paste. This item is consists of fishes that are mixed with salt, stuffed into earthen jars, and left to ferment. The end product is a strong-smelling paste that, when used properly, can add an exciting aromatic touch to dishes. The staple of the region is sticky rice, also known as glutinous rice.
Famous dishes from the Northeast include: som tam (ส้มตำ) – papaya salad, larb (ลาบ) – meat salad flavored with toasted rice powder, and gai yang (ไก่ย่าง) – grilled chicken.
From top right: 1. som tam 2. larb 3. gai yang 4. nam tok moo
- “Thai Food: Thai Culture Heritage”, Department of Cultural Promotion, Ministry of Culture: http://book.culture.go.th/thaifood/mobile/index.html#p=1
Written By: Tayud Mongkolrat