If you have seen the sign of "Issan", "Isan" or the lousy spelling "E-San" for Thai restaurants, you probably will be wondering what that was all about.
Isan (pronounced like E-San) is from the Northeastern region of Thailand where the cooking tends to be more salty and sour than the other region of the country. Thank goodness it's not as spicy as Southern Thai, which I will not be able to survive again if two or more dishes hit the table.
One of the big feature about eating Isan style Thai food was the variations of different meat that is provided to the cuisine. When we came here for dinner, we were definitely expecting great things about the different types of meat and fishes we were about to explore. We were able to enjoy some of the off-the-menu fares that was not advertised for the public.
We started off with a traditional Isan style sausage called Sai Qua. Imagine getting Polish sausage being made from scratch, then having different spices adding on to the meat for the final product. This was not a widely available starter as most restaurants either put it as a main course or just not mentioning it in the menu. It will be hard to make and it's usually in limited quantities, but on this night we get to savor this fried sausage.
We also got the Yum Tale (beef with onion, chili mixed with lemon juice) and Nam Kao Todd (minced sausage with crispy rice). These two dishes are the staples course item on any Isan style restaurant. The minced meat dish is like a variation of ceveche salad you would see at a Peruvian restaurant as the lemon juice added in as a flavor mirrored that popular seafood salad. The minced sausage is not as complicated as the homemade Sai Qua was, but with crispy rice and lettuce, you can hearty case regarding that it doesn't need to be complicated as long as it tasted good.
Nam Kao Tod - Minced Issan Sausage mixed with green onion, fresh chili, peanuts, crispy rice and lime juice
After getting simple, but good dishes to start off, it was time for some of the main attraction to show up. The first one up was the Pad Prik King Moo Bah (wild boar), instead of having pork or beef, we have a wild boar that was lavished with chili and onion to make it one of the more spicier item we had. The boar for me tasted like intestines because of its smooth skin. It amazed me beyond point that a fat like that was going to taste as good as pork belly would have.
Our other special dish was the Kaeng Om Nok (Quail curry). The quail in curry was done without the benefit of having coconut milk or curry paste for rich texture or color. It let clear color the soup show you on how spicy it was going to be, but more importantly letting the quail to be the main attraction for that dish. If you want fried quail legs, they got them too.
The other specialties were the fish items that was offered here. One is the unique steamed trout which we let the juice simmer on the fish to get it more flavor on the meat. The other was the fried catfish which was a favor of mine which had different spices added to the fish without too spicy, but still retains the great taste and tenderness of the fish despite being fried.
For the veggie lovers, if you love the color of green, then you would love Kaeng Normai Ya Nang, which was the bamboo curry with ya nang leaves. The bamboo shoots were always something I like to eat, but to get this minty color? Well, the leprechaun will appreciate the vibrant color, but the dish still has a smooth curry taste to the bamboo shoots.
Honestly, if you think of BBQ pork ribs and BBQ chicken as part of the Isan dishes, I don't blamed you at all. Definitely papaya salad is another dish that jumps up to everyone's mind because NE region of Thailand is close to Laos where the papaya salad is very popular.
Once you get an idea of what an Isan dishes have more to offer outside of BBQ dishes, you'll appreciate more the different complexity of what each of those dishes will bring. You will get to see a lot of herbs and spices along with lime juice to make it sour, hot, sweet, and spicy. it doesn't meet the same level spiciness of southern style Thai food, but can still pack a punch when you ordered very spicy.
Sticky rice and pork ribs are the huge deal if you are looking for easy fix. However, if you do explore a little, you will discover a whole new side of Thai food that is otherwise not well publicized.
All the dishes we have that night were fantastic! It lived up to what I expected the dishes to taste like and the comparisons will be hard press for the similar dishes as it will be hard to top Bahn Thung. If you do stop by, get the wild boar as it will be a difficult dish to find in any Thai restaurant.
Definitely a worth visit if you are in the Hollywood area for Isan style Thai food.
P.S. Special thanks to Sinosoul for organizing this feast for a friend that was leaving on a trip. Wouldn't you know the friend was leaving for Thailand?
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