Friday, January 23, 2009

Favourite Thai Esaan (Nth East) Food

Have you tried spicy Som Dum? It's a Lao style salad and a staple food in the Esaan (also spelt Esarn, Isaan, Isan in English) (meaning Lao) area of North East Thailand. It's made from fresh green papaya (green mango, or cucumber), with cherry tomatoes, lime, fish sauce, sometimes peanuts, carrot, tiny shrimps or crab and always with chilli (Prik)!!! Every day I hear the sound of "pok pok" the nick name for Som Dum as women make Som Dum by pounding it with a pestle inside a morter. There's even a movie by the same name. In the movie a farang (foreigner) eats Som Dum and it makes him so crazy that he demolishes the restaurant. He later uses his extraordinary strength from eating Som Dum to beat up the baddies. Try it to see if you get Som Dum strength!

Also in the photo is another favourite Esaan staple: Laab. Laab is a kind of minced salad (again from Laos), made with minced chicken (gai), pork (moo), beef (nuea) or local favs. fish (pla) or waterbuffalo (gnuea). The buffalo is smililar to beef but is a bit tougher and doesn't really have a strong flavour. The mince is mixed with rice powder (the rice has been fried and then ground into a powder), ubiquitous fish sauce, dried chilli, lime, chicken stock or water and garnished with mint, thai basil, coriander or other herbs. An important purpose of vegetables here is to be "Ghin gup Laab" to eat with Laab. So Laab is served with fresh vegetables such as cabbage, lettuce, beans, small round eggplant, cucumber or other greens - yum.

In the picture we are eating steamed rice (Khao Jao in Essan or Khao Soi in central Thailand), but usually we eat both these dishes with sticky rice (Khao Niao). The sticky rice is rolled into balls, eaten with Laab and Som Dum using your fingers. For steamed rice you use a fork and spoon. There's also some chicken in the picture, we had a feast that day! (Oops we'd just started to eat and I remembered to take a pic). From the photo we can tell it's not taken in the North East because there's no Khao Niao. We eat Khao Niao usually three times a day here (that's in the rural Thai village of Ban Pao in Kaeset Sombun). The rice is freshly harvested from Apichart's family's rice paddy fields. Did you know that rice growing in the rice paddy smells like freshly cooked rice only a bit sweeter?

The Earth's waters are both boundaries and pathways for peoples, objects and ideas.
Fumio Nanjo

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