29 May 2012

Thai Food Travels – Part 2

Welcome back. Today’s blog post concludes last Friday’s guest travelogue by John Lukens on his food trek through the Isaan region of Thailand, with his wife, Thitiya. As John pointed out, Isaan is similar to State of Maine in size and shape, and about the same distance and direction from Bangkok as Maine is from New York City.

So imagine leaving New York City and driving up to spend a weekend with friends in Maine’s bit of the White Mountains. That’s Thailand’s Pasak Mountains. Then head northeast to somewhere above Mt Katahdin for a few days. Now you’re on the Mekong River visiting a good friend, recently widowed. After that, meander here and there back to NYC, generally along I 95. Now you’re seeing the flat, dry agricultural heart of Isaan. Halfway back, you stop at a friend’s mother-in-law’s house in a small village to collect items that were mistakenly shipped to her.
Golden squashes ready for harvest are
excellent baked with a custard filling.
On this Isaan trip, our friend, Malinee, drove her car. Thitiya was the lookout. I tried to navigate.
A khanom beaung vendor at a night bazaar. It’s very sweet.
Pad si-ieu in a roadside restaurant.
It’s common to put ice in your beer.
All this time on the road, you are keeping an eye out for indications of good food at a restaurant on the next street or in a village a few kilometers up the road. Besides street signs and billboards, restaurant signs boast a “famous food” logo, similar to the old Duncan Hines seal of approval. There are regional culinary guidebooks, again like the old Duncan Hines guides. There is word of mouth; very important. (We have spent hours of aimless wandering to find a superb noodle shop that was there in 1968.)
The best restaurant in Nong Khai. Diners: John and
Thitiya, with friends, Malinee (L) and Naiyanee (R).
Next to the best restaurant in Nong Khai
is a stall selling fresh fruit juices.
For those who know Isaan specialties, I have shown none, except for Isaan’s savory golf-ball shaped sausages. No grilled chicken, no minced meat salad, no sticky rice, no crispy fried bugs. You can get enough of those dishes in the Isaan communities in Bangkok, which tend to be near train stations along the rail lines from the northeast. (We live near a train station.)
Strings of Isaan sausages are great with
cabbage leaves, ginger and chilies.
One photo I regret not taking was of the girl selling batter-fried bananas in front of her house in a Hmong village in the Pasak Mountains. She was charming, and in some inspired moment, she had added crushed peanuts to the batter. It was superb – even Thitiya and Malinee said it beat what you get from Bangkok street vendors.
Back in Bangkok, a shrimp dish in an
Isaan neighborhood restaurant.
I hope you enjoyed this look at food in Isaan, not traditional Isaan food, just what you find when you wander.

Thanks for stopping by.

1 comment:

  1. Hey John,

    You're making me hungry!

    And I love your photos, as always.

    But a short article like this can't begin to do justice to the variety of food, or experiences, in Thailand.

    ~ Sally