The Best of Thailand's Isan Cuisine

Isan Laab
Isan Laab | © T.Tseng/Flickr
Iona Proebst

Thailand’s Northeastern Isan cuisine is known to be wild and adventurous and can put off even the most discerning traveller when innards and bugs are served on your plate. Don’t worry, we’ve compiled a list of Isan’s more palatable dishes which are characterized by their mouthwatering hot, salty and spicy flavours.

Sticky Rice

Sticky rice is the staple of all meals in Isan and is generally preferred over the usual jasmine rice in Northeastern Thailand. Sticky rice is served in a small bamboo steamer or in a bag and is eaten by hand to dip into things or mop up at the end of a meal.

Laab (Spicy Salad)

Laab is a spicy salad with meat or mushroom and mint, which originates from Isan. Laab comes in a variety of styles including chicken, pork, duck and mushroom. It is not recommended for those who can’t handle spice as it tends to come with a kick.

Nam Tok Moo (Grilled Pork Salad)

Similar to Laab, Nam Tok Moo is a pork salad but rather than minced pork it is prepared with grilled pork. Nam Tok Moo still has all the similar delicious components to Laab but it is just a little chewier. You can also order this dish with beef, Nam Tok Neua which literally translates to “waterfall.”

Somtam Korat (Papaya Salad)

Somtam Thai is arguably one of Thailand’s most popular dishes which originates in Isan province. In a mortar and pestle, unripe papaya is pounded with palm sugar, lime, fish sauce, chillies and peanuts. Somtam Korat differs to Somtam Thai in that it comes infused with lashings of stinky pickled fish sauce.

Making Somtam

Kor Moo Yang (Grilled Pork Neck)

Likely one of Isan’s most famous dishes is Kor Moo Yang, pork neck marinated in a sticky sauce and barbecued. It is served with one of Isan’s favourite dips, Nam Jim Jaew, a hot, sour and tangy mouthwatering flavoursome bowl of chilli, shallots, tamarind, palm sugar, fresh mint and fish sauce.

Kai Yang (Grilled Chicken)

Kai Yang is another all-time popular staple food from Isan. This delicious grilled chicken can be found in every food market and is served throughout the day and night. The slow-grilled chicken is often brushed with marinade or stuffed with garlic and is served with lashings of Nam Jim Jaew.

Grilled chicken

Pla Pao (Grilled Fish)

Pla Pao is a grilled fish that is stuffed with pandanus leaves, lemon grass and is coated in flour and salt before being slowly grilled over charcoals. Pla Pao is served with a hot and tangy green sauce which is made from fish sauce, lime and green chillies.

Sai Krok Isan (Isan Sausages)

Sai Krok Isan is a tasty street food named after the region in Northeastern Thailand where it originates from. The Isan sausage has a distinct sour taste which comes from the fermented pork and sticky rice ingredients. Isan sausage is usually served with fresh cabbage, slices of ginger and fresh chillies.

Isan sausage

Jim Jum (Thai Hot Pot)

A little fierier than its Chinese counterpart, the Thai hot pot or Jim Jum hails from Isan and includes distinct Thai flavours of shallots, lemongrass, chilli, garlic and sweet basil in the broth. Jim Jum provides diners with a customizable experience where you literally throw in whatever meat, vegetables or noodles you fancy. Jim Jum is a fun communal dining experience that can easily last a few hours.

Moo Dad Diew (Marinated Pork)

Moo Dad Diew is a Thai version of pork Jerky which is ideally paired with a cold beer. The pork is marinated in dark soy sauce, oyster sauce, garlic, pepper and palm sugar and oftentimes sesame seeds and then left to marinate in the sun before being grilled. Moo Dad Diew is served with Nam Jim Jaew.

Thai jerky

Tom Saap (Hot and Sour Soup)

Tom Saap (which literally translates to “tasty soup”) is Isan’s version of Tom Yum. This bowl of steaming goodness is sweet, sour, salty and hot and includes chunks of pork ribs, mushrooms and tomatoes. In Isan, both wild foods and using up most of the animal are popular so don’t be surprised if you find innards in your Tom Saap.

landscape with balloons floating in the air

KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?

Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

Winter Sale Offers on Our Trips

Incredible Savings

X
Edit article