Lots of Spice and Everything Nice: A Taste of Isan

Follow along with me as we learn a bit about Isan food.

What food did I try?:

I have tried so many delicious Isan foods! My favorite might be som tam, or papaya salad. It’s made of shredded green papaya tossed with red chilis, tomatoes, shellfish and fish sauce. Isan-style som tam is different from most Thai papaya salads because in this region they mix it with a special fermented fish sauce called bplaa rah. People are always shocked when they hear that I like bplaa rah because most foreigners are too turned off by the fishy smell to even try it. But I think it’s delicious! 

Other well-known Isan dishes that I really like include geeng som (sour curry), geeng no mai (bamboo shoot curry), khao niao (sticky rice), and khao jee (grilled sticky rice patties). Curry here is usually served with plain jasmine rice, sticky rice, or rice noodles called khanom jiin. Rice, in all its shapes and forms, is very important in Thailand. In the Thai language, the phrase for “to eat a meal” is gin khao, which literally translates to “to eat rice.” That’s because no meal is complete without rice! And, if you ask people from the Isan region, no meal is complete without som tam, either.

How did I feel when I tried it?:

The first time I tasted Isan-style som tam, it nearly knocked me off my feet. I couldn’t eat more than two bites without choking on spice and chugging half a bottle of water! But I’m proud to say that my spice tolerance has gotten a lot better since then. Last week, I had lunch with a few of my teacher friends at school. Mr. Non warned me that the eggplant curry would be really spicy.