Lots of Spice and Everything Nice: A Taste of Isan

Ten minutes after we started eating, he was dripping in sweat, and I was totally fine! The other teachers thought this was hilarious. So, yes, I’ve started to impress some Thai people with my spice tolerance!

How is the food prepared?:

Som tam is prepared by first shredding a green papaya. You do this by repeatedly hacking at it with a knife to make a ton of tiny vertical cuts, and then you turn your knife horizontally to shave off all those tiny pieces. Then you use a mortar and pestle to grind it together with a little bit of sugar, a whole lot of fermented fish sauce, some MSG powder, some crab, cut tomatoes and a squeeze of lime. Finally, you grind in as many whole red chilis as your mouth can handle without catching on fire.

Most other Thai and Isan foods are made by either grilling, steaming or stir-frying. In Isan, the older generation still likes to cook with a grill or a wok over a fire. But younger people (especially busy teachers) now also use rice cookers, electric woks and microwaves. Many people don’t have the time or energy to cook for themselves, so it is also popular to go to the daily outdoor market and buy food that has been freshly cooked by the vendors there.

Is this food connected to the local environment? How?:

When I first came to the Isan region, I was surprised by how many seafood dishes there are here. I can’t lie... I was also nervous to eat that seafood. Isan is completely landlocked, and there is not a sea in sight. Because of that, I really thought there was no way that the seafood here could be fresh.