Isaan cuisine borrows heavily from Lao cuisine and is distinctly different from central Thai cooking, although there has been a considerable amount of cross-pollination. Perhaps the best-known Isaan dish is som tam (or tam mak hung in Lao/Isaan), a spicy salad prepared from unripe papayas. While Thais prepare this with dried shrimp, in Isaan the preferred style is with preserved crab (puu) or mudfish, an acquired taste. Other characteristic dishes include roast chicken (kai yaang), sticky rice (khao niaw) and a wide variety of cold meat, mint and lemon juice “salads” known as larb.
A word of warning: Isaan food is known even among Thais for being fiery hot!
Isan food has elements most in common with Lao and is distinct from the central Thai cuisine. The most obvious characteristics are the use of sticky rice that accompanies almost every meal rather than the non-sticky long grain rice, as well as fiery chiles, but the French and Vietnamese influences which have affected Lao cuisine are absent in Isan. Popular Lao dishes that are also staples in Isan include tam mak hung, or in central Thai, som tam (green papaya salad, larb (meat salad) and kai yang (grilled chicken). These dishes have spread to other parts of Thailand, but normally in versions which temper the extreme heat and sourness favoured in Isan for the more moderate Central Thai palate. Conversely, Central Thai food has become popular in Isan. The people of the Isan region in Thailand, a mixture of Lao, Vietnamese, Khmer, Mon, Cham, and other Tai groups, famously eat a wide variety of creatures, such as lizards, frogs and fried insects such as grasshoppers, crickets, silkworms and dung beetles. Originally forced by poverty to be creative in finding foods, Isan people now savour these animals as delicacies or snacks. Food is commonly eaten by hand using the sticky rice pressed into a ball with the fingers as a tool. Soups are a frequent element of any meal, and contain either vegetables and herbs, noodles, chunks of fish, balls of ground pork or a mixture of these. They are eaten using a spoon and chopsticks at the same time.
Refer to Temple of Thai (templeofthai.com) for further specifics and examples (recipes) of Northeastern Thai Cuisine. Also, Cooking-Thai-Recipes.com has a nice section on Northeast Thai Cuisine. Compare the “Larb” and “Somtum” recipes offered at ThaiHouse-Isaan.com.
I see that Amazon has a book titled Isaan Cuisine:
Recipes are easily enough found with a Web search. Also, many Isaan-style restaurants with a website will often have their own explanation of what Isaan cuisine is — these can actually be surprisingly informative.
I am adding the following related references in a January 23, 2013, edit to this post:
People in Bangkok are so fond of Isaan food (Northeastern Thailand). Papaya salad or what is called Som Tam is so popular and it can be found everywhere in this city. It is seen in a variety of vendors ranging from curbside …
Zabb Elee: An in-depth review of Zabb Elee Isaan Thai Restaurant in the East Village of Manhattan, New York City. Includes restaurant and food pictures and descriptions.
Sathorn’s secret Isaan dining gem. North East restaurant might not look much but the Thai Isaan menu attracts diners from all over Bangkok.
Hospitals, yes. Schools, yes. Parks, yes. But a cemetery? You’d never search in Bangkok for a food street next to a graveyard, would you? Years ago, the first time I ever went to this popular Silom Isan street restaurant, it was …
Publish Date: 11/05/2012 18:00
Green mango salad makes a great addition to any meal centered around Isaan cuisine, the spicy food native to the northeastern region of Thailand. 6. Yam takrai (lemongrass salad) Though lemongrass is normally boiled to …
You don’t have to travel to northeast Thailand to enjoy Isan food. Luckily, you’ll find the fresh, spicy cuisine all over the capital, too. Some of the best places to eat Isan food in Bangkok are at simple street food carts you’ll find …
Recipes and videos for authentic Thai cuisine. Menu. Skip to content … Laarb is a spicy type of north-eastern Thai (Isaan) salad and can either be served as an appetizer or part of the main course. Most of the ingredients are …
Famous Soi Polo fried chicken with fried garlic bits, delectable spicy som tum (papaya salad), larb moo (minced pork salad) and sticky rice (khao niao) from this 40 years old establishment in Lumpini area of Bangkok.
I have been hearing great things about Isaan food (the cuisine for the North of Thailand) since I first arrived in Thailand in 2009, yet I have never sat down to a meal at an Isaan restaurant. Well, not until a few nights ago.
Isaan food in the Northern part of Thailand is composed of som tam papaya salads, sticky rice, grilled fish, and many other tasty dishes!
A guide to choosing the best dishes in Asia. From Isaan cuisine in Thailand to dalk galbi in Korea, experts serve up advice on what to order to really get a taste of the local flavors. By Mrigaa Sethi, for CNN Travel 20 November, …
Isaan It Wonderful? Isaan is the Northeastern region of Thailand. It’s near Laos, and the Isaan people are of Lao descent. Isaan cuisine is somewhat distinct from the central or southern Thai food we’re most familiar with, …
The first time I went to Thailand I didn’t have a papaya salad (ส้มตำ, som tam in Thai). When I got back home I started studying Thai cuisine and immediately one dish stood out to me, so different and so popular. Why had I …
A highlight of Thailand’s Isaan region is its cuisine, so as the sun started to descend on Khon Kaen, we made our way to the night markets to sample some food.
The Roomjai Kai Yang restaurant is a Chiang Mai institution and certainly our favourite Isaan (northeastern Thai/Lao) spot in town. It’s not haute cuisine but rather simple, rustic dishes with plenty of intense flavours from the …
A “Hot Pot” Isaan Food Restaurant in Bang Phli, Thailand
BaanAjarn Published on 19 Oct 2012
The preparation of a traditional Isaan meal. A clear broth in a clay pot gets placed on the table and the diners then create a tasty soup by adding the meats and vegetables.
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