Introduction to Isan Food

It might come as a surprise to some, but Thailand is actually a fairly big country, with many regional differences, including language, culture and perhaps most noticeably, cuisine. And when it comes to Thai cuisines, perhaps none is more distinctive or unique (or popular for that matter) than the legendary Isan cuisine, from the Northeast of Thailand.

Isan cuisine, from the Northeast of Thailand

Thai Isan Food – Lab Gai

Isan food is based primarily on sticky rice, along with vegetables, spices and fish. Although meat is also used, Isan folk will use far less than what’s used in the heartier dishes seen in central Thailand. Isan food also tastes far more pungent than other Thai foods, due to its heavy reliance on spices for flavoring.

The Northeast is one of the main rice-growing areas of Thailand, and so the food would typically be prepared in the morning, so the workers could take it into the fields with them to eat later on.

For this reason, Isan food is not served hot (although you can’t exactly call it cold either, given Thailand’s typical day time temperatures!). The sticky rice was  stuffed into small bamboo containers, while the rest of the food was wrapped in banana leaves.

Perhaps the most classic of all Isan dishes is Laap, an exotic blend of red and green chilies mixed together with fish sauce, meat (pork, chicken or beef), onions and herbs, which is typically eaten with sticky rice. Isan people traditionally eat with their hands, taking small balls of the glutinous rice and dipping them into the Laap, before eating them.

Som Tam salad is equally famous amongst Isan foods, and popular across the whole country, not just in the Northeast. Most commonly made from Papaya, it can actually be made using various different fruits and vegetables, including mango, and is known for its red hot spicy taste. Som Tam can be eaten with sticky rice, or else noodles and other vegetables also go well with it.

Finally, we must not forget that simple, but most delicious Isan cuisine – grilled chicken with sticky rice. It is exactly what it says it is – no fancy, spicy ingredients here, but boy does it taste good!

Do you want to experience all of these Isan dishes? Then check out our Bangkok and Beyond Food & Cooking Tour.

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