The northeastern region of Thailand, also known as Isan, is a land brimming with culture, history, and culinary wonders. One such culinary delight that has gained international recognition is Khao Hom Mali Thung Kula Rong-Hai, a type of jasmine rice known globally as Thai Fragrant Rice or Thai Jasmine Rice. This aromatic rice is cultivated in the expansive open fields of Roi-et, Mahasarakam, Surin, Yasothon, and Srisaket provinces, right in the heart of Northeast Thailand.
1. Khao Hom Mali Thung Kula Rong-Hai: A Fragrant Culinary Gem
Khao Hom Mali Thung Kula Rong-Hai also referred to as Thai Fragrant Rice, is celebrated for its exceptional qualities. It is available in two varieties: brown and white rice. This rice variety is characterized by its elongated, slim, glossy, and translucent grains, which emit a fragrant scent reminiscent of pandanus leaves.
The texture of Khao Hom Mali Thung Kula Rong-Hai is exceptionally smooth, and its rice hull has a straw-like yellow hue. When cooked for 15 to 20 minutes, it undergoes a remarkable transformation. The rice becomes slightly sweet, delicate, velvety, and spongy. Its texture turns smooth, sticky, and creamy, making it a delightful addition to a wide range of dishes.
2. The Art of Mu Nam Tok: A Traditional Thai Grilled Pork Salad
In the heart of Isan cuisine, you’ll find the flavorful Mu Nam Tok, a traditional Thai grilled pork salad that hails from the northeastern regions of the country. This delectable salad is crafted using a combination of glutinous rice, succulent pork, fragrant oil, shallots, refreshing mint, scallions, coriander, crisp cabbage, and a medley of herbs.
Before grilling, the pork is marinated in a mixture of sugar, fish sauce, and black pepper, imparting a harmonious blend of sweet and savory flavors. Once grilled to perfection, it is thinly sliced and combined with the other ingredients. The salad is then generously dressed with a tantalizing mixture of fish sauce, sugar, chili flakes, and zesty lime juice, creating an explosion of flavors that will leave your taste buds tingling.
3. The Flavorsome Legend of Suea Rong Hai
Suea Rong Hai, affectionately known as the “crying tiger,” is a classic Thai dish that showcases grilled slices of spicy marinated beef brisket. This delectable dish is often served with a side of sticky rice, elevating the dining experience.
Suea Rong Hai is deeply rooted in the traditions of northeastern Thailand and is best enjoyed fresh off the grill. The dish is typically accompanied by a spicy dipping sauce that combines Thai chilis, garlic, fish sauce, lime juice, coriander seeds, and cane sugar. The succulent, smoky flavors of the beef, paired with the fiery kick of the dipping sauce, make this a must-try for anyone exploring Isan cuisine.
4. Sato: The Unique Thai Rice Wine
Sato, a distinctive Thai rice wine, is crafted from glutinous rice and originates from the heart of Northeast Thailand, or Isan. Initially, this ceremonial beverage was reserved for special occasions, but it has since found a place in the hearts of locals and adventurous travelers alike.
The creation of Sato involves steamed rice and a starter known as lukpaeng, a blend of rice starch, yeast, and an assortment of herbs and spices. These ingredients are left to ferment for several weeks, resulting in a delightful rice wine with a unique flavor profile. It’s worth noting that Sato has a relatively short shelf life. While the best versions are traditionally homemade, some commercial varieties are also available for those eager to explore its distinct taste.
5. Sai Krok Isan: The Fermented Sausage of Isan
Sai Krok Isan is a beloved fermented sausage that hails from the Isan region of Thailand. This flavorful delicacy is created by combining ground pork meat and fat with garlic, sticky rice, salt, and pepper, all encased in a natural casing. What makes Sai Krok Isan truly special is the method of drying and fermenting it under the scorching sun for several hours, or even up to 2-3 days. This unique process gives the sausage its signature hint of sourness.
When served, these sausages are both salty and slightly sour, making them a perfect pairing with fresh chilis, ginger slices, garlic, and a side of fresh vegetables. Locals enjoy them for breakfast, or you can find them at street carts, grilled on a stick, offering a convenient and delicious snack for those on the go.
6. Thai Grilled Chicken (Kai Yang): A Flavorful Poultry Delight
Kai Yang is a delectable poultry dish that involves grilling or barbecuing a whole marinated chicken. While it has its origins with the Lao people of northeastern Thailand, it has since become a beloved dish enjoyed throughout the country.
Kai Yang stands out thanks to its flavorful marinade, which includes ingredients such as soy sauce, ginger, white pepper, fish sauce, vinegar, hoisin sauce, and an array of herbs like cilantro, lemongrass, and garlic. This dish is typically served with sticky white rice and accompanied by dipping sauces, which can vary from sweet sauce in the Central region to a tangy sauce in the Northeast. To complete the meal, a vegetable salad called som tam adds a refreshing contrast to the smoky, succulent chicken.
Whether you’re exploring the bustling streets of Bangkok or the serene landscapes of Northeast Thailand, the culinary treasures of Isan, including Khao Hom Mali Thung Kula Rong-Hai and the delightful dishes mentioned here, are sure to leave a lasting impression on your taste buds. These unique flavors and traditional recipes are a testament to the rich culinary heritage of this region, and they are waiting to be discovered by food enthusiasts from around the world.