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  1. #1
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    In Praise of Isaan Fare

    Thailand's North Eastern region, known locally as Issan or E-ssan, may be considered as the country's most economically impoverished area, but in terms of its culinary output, you would be hard-pressed to find a more prosperous part of South East Asia.
    Dotted with calculated frequency amongst the tapestry of rice paddies, dragon fruit , sweetcorn and custard apple plantations, any visitor to the region, which is incidentally bordered by both Laos and Cambodia, will undoubtedly stumble upon what the locals refer to as a lan aharn, literally 'shop food'

    Now these food shops or 'restaurants' as the English translation would have it, are home to a huge selection of not only delicious but also extremely healthy cuisine.

    The definitive Issan dish is hailed Som Tum or Papaya Salad to those of you who weren't paying attention in their Thai lessons at school. This dish comprises of the five flavours which Thai people consider to be an integral part of the dining experience; sour, sweet, bitter, salty and spicy, All of these flavours are as important as the next, but should you make the mistake of omitting the spicy element (chili, lots and lots of chili) to a Thai's lunch, then expect hearty laughing to ensue, followed by words to the effect of.."..and how, dear fellow, do you expect me to eat this filth?". Indeed, serving one of the natives a meal without chili wouldn't be unlike dishing up a Westerner a plain un-buttered white slice for lunch – in other words, as bland as a blackboard.
    So we have now deduced that the quintessential North Eastern plate de jour is a salad which contains five key elements; lets break them down within the dish itself:
    • Sour: Lemon
    • Sweet: A pinch or two of sugar
    • Bitter: A selection of jungle pickings (randomly plucked stems and leaves)
    • Salty: Fish sauce
    • Spicy: Chilli and garlic
    These are our condiments, so to speak. They are present to flavour the otherwise indistintctive taste of unripe papaya, to enhance the already spritely zest of the indigenous Pink Pear tomato and to breath some fire into the crunchy in texture, earthy in taste, long green beans, so called because they are, well, long and green and erm..beans.
    After our ingredients have been added to a mortar and lovingly but firmly been beaten with a pestle for 2 minutes, the mixture is then ready for the serving.
    Incredibly tasty and ridiculously nutritious, as we say round these parts, "A Som Tum a day keeps the doctor away" , as long as you don't add too much garlic or you'll find your family and friends disappearing too.



    What's that?

    No, of course not. A papaya salad may be rich in vitamins but when faced with a hard afternoon in the rice fields, under Issan's unrelenting sun, protein and carbohydrates are an absolute must in terms of maintaining strength, morale and motivation.

    Let's take a look at our options:

    Well, now this looks tempting; the lady in the kitchen (the chef, if you will) is furiously concentrating her attentions and her meat cleaver in the direction of a succulent cut of pork. She is currently in the process of preparing another favourite with the North Easterners known as Larb Moo, literally Minced Pork. As mundane as this may sound, when the appropriate herbs and seasoning are added, the end result is that of a nigh-on flawless plate of food. The pork is slowly browned off in a saucepan and in turn supplemented with chili powder (quelle surprise!), rice powder, spring onion, garlic, mint and basil to create an unlikely gourmet treat.
    This is customarily accompanied with a small basket of Khao Niaw or Sticky Rice which is essentially used as one would a slice of bread, to mop up the flavorsome residue.
    Now, while we allow our lunch to digest in preparation for another hard afternoon's toil in the paddies, let's take a moment to peruse the invoice kindly presented to us by the sweet little old lady with the large medieval and, quite frankly, terrifying meat cleaver.

    1. Som Tum (Papaya Salad) 20 Baht - 40 pence
    2. Larb Moo (Seasoned Minced Pork) 40 Baht - 80 pence
    3. Khao Niaw (Sticky Rice) 10 Baht - 20 pence
    So, (whips out calculator) tap tap tap, I make that 70 baht or 1 pound and 40 pence.
    Very reasonable indeed. I should really think about coming here more often.





  2. #2
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    alwarner's Avatar
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    delicious.

  3. #3
    splendid and tremendous
    somtamslap's Avatar
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    Mods - add an 'a' to the thread title if you would. Much obliged..

  4. #4
    splendid and tremendous
    somtamslap's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by alwarner
    delicious.
    Abs o' loot-lee..

  5. #5
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    Only when you add the health warning to the carcinogenic shite known as som tam.

  6. #6
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    Not sure if these are strictly Issan Fare, I'm sure I'll be corrected if the aren't.

    Love em and they've got better recently too - 20B for a bag full of them, the price has stayed the same, but the price of pork has gone up up up so there's less lumps of fat in em and more rice.

    Win. imo

  7. #7
    splendid and tremendous
    somtamslap's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by alwarner
    Not sure if these are strictly Issan Fare
    Sai gok Issan - really rather fucking tasty indeed...

  8. #8
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    the "Issan" in the name gives it away doesn't it??

  9. #9
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    Som Tam five chilli,s is my limit. Lovely although its normally hooter on the way out than on the way in.....

  10. #10
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    ^ Should be hotter I crack my self up sometimes...

  11. #11
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    alwarner's Avatar
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    who nose?

  12. #12
    splendid and tremendous
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    Quote Originally Posted by thehighlander959
    Som Tam five chilli,s is my limit.
    Pretty potent blend there, chap..3 or 4 blows me balls from beneath me..

  13. #13
    Member Albert Shagnasty's Avatar
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    Larb Moo's the dogs bollocks when done well

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by alwarner
    another favourite with the North Easterners known as Larb Moo, literally Minced Pork. As mundane as this may sound, when the appropriate herbs and seasoning are added, the end result is that of a nigh-on flawless plate of food.
    Ahh, now your talking... the thought leaves me salivating with Isaanic culinary antisipation.

    By the way STS, those frogs you were on about a few weeks ago.... saw them in Macro the other day for Tb94 each - bit of a mark up compared to your local supplier.

  15. #15
    splendid and tremendous
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    Quote Originally Posted by Khun Custard
    saw them in Macro the other day for Tb94 each - bit of a mark up compared to your local supplier.
    Really?



    Were they packaged or in buckets?

  16. #16
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    When I come back to Thailand every month from work,the missus has the family round.Som tam as hot as you like for them and only five chilli,s for the White boy cos he is a bit of a poofter.
    Water for the Thai,s and Leo for the farang. TheN someone mentions starting the karaoke machine. It's a sharp exit to the boozer and come back when they are finished killing the Eagles and fucking Donnie Osmond Jesus I hate Crazy Horses.
    "Don,t f*ck with the baldies*

  17. #17
    sabaii sabaii
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    You must be eating different Isaan food to the stuff I've tried

    If it's so delicious, why do they need 5 condiments and 50 chillis on every dish

    As for the meat, most is 6 months old, judging by the amount of salt its been doused in, and having to stop and spit out all the gristle and sphincter aint too pleasant

    As for healthy, most Thai food is fried or deep fried, coconut milk especially is really high in fat, then there's all the sugar they chuck in

  18. #18
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    Som Tam is OK as long as they keep the fucking rotting crabs away from it!

    That stuff is like an instant colonic irrigation for me!

  19. #19
    The Dentist English Noodles's Avatar
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    A laab Muu made from decent quality pork, sticky rice, and a yaam salad of some sort is pretty hard to beat.

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by somtamslap
    Were they packaged or in buckets?
    They were in the fish section on crushed ice.

    I think if I was ever to succumb to the pleasures of Frogs Legs à la Meunière again I'll do it in the safety of a French restaurant not a DIY

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by sabaii sabaii View Post
    As for the meat, most is 6 months old, judging by the amount of salt its been doused in, and having to stop and spit out all the gristle and sphincter aint too pleasant
    I have only ventured up there a couple of times - too hard on the liver mostly. One time I was up, there was a big celebration, and a fairly large pig was slaughtered at the house. For the most of one day there was hacking and chopping and cooking and god knows what else going on - I was not going to go have a look - what came out the back end wasa few bowls of rice porridge, with a few shreds of pork in it - the buggers some how made a whole pig vanish!

    Another time I can remember (not too many of those as "lets go drink with the farang" seems to be a sport the whole family play all day) -they caught and slaughtered a couple of the chickens running around the place - again the only noticible output was a few bits of fat, gristle and bone. Not one recognizable piece of chicken.

  22. #22
    sabaii sabaii
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    I think they see me coming, then get all the offal out

  23. #23
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    ^ Lets see what shit we can get the outsider to eat is, I think, a national sport worldwide....

  24. #24
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    ha ha it is a bit like that.

    My Mrs. cousin was back for the weekend from Rayong a week or two ago, his mum and dad live round the corner from ours, so i went to have a bevvie. He drinks that Regal brandy like it's going out of fashion. Anyway, i hadn't seen him for ages and it was only when I saw what they were cooking that I remembered that this branch of the family do not take any prisoners when it comes to food.

    Cows tongue - check.
    Cows heart - check.

    buzzing. I gave it go, but never again.

    As for the recognisable bits of animals disappearing i've noticed that too.

    My brother in law will kill a chicken, butcher it and make a really tasty "chicken" soup - but when you get a bowl full of it, there's more bone than chicken.

    weird.

  25. #25
    splendid and tremendous
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    Quote Originally Posted by sabaii sabaii
    As for healthy, most Thai food is fried or deep fried, coconut milk especially is really high in fat,
    Coconut milk isn't used in any Issan dishes, SS..ever! You must be finkin' bout darn sarf..

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