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Filling my stomach: A Thai food review

THAILAND | Monday, 6 January 2014 | Views [473]

Isaan food

Isaan food

If you know me at all, even just a little bit, you know I claim that about 60% of my reason for choosing to teach in Thailand was the food (slight exaggeration, but just slight). I love Thai food and was so excited to be surrounded by it, especially by the prospect of eating Pad Thai every day.

Yet, here I am to find that Pad Thai is street food, and therefore something I just won’t find in my hometown. On the streets of Bangkok it’s a delicacy, and in a restaurant it’s just not good. I learned that the sauce for Pad Thai uses too many ingredients to be easily made anywhere, so it’s not so easy to find. Anytime we leave Amata, I jump at ordering the dish when it’s on the menu, only to become disappointed. In the touristy places, it’s often too sweet and the flavor balance is off! I want a little kick to my Pad Thai, and was more impressed by my local Thai joint in Philly than any restaurant in Thailand. That was until my 30 Baht Pad Thai cooked in a hot pot on the ground on the street in less than 5 minutes. The flavors and textures were perfect, and I never looked back. I solemnly swear to never order Pad Thai in a restaurant with 4 walls ever again.

Side note: Is it still called Thai food if it’s made in Thailand, or is it just food?

One of my favorite dishes to order is suki (soo-key) hang gai. It’s a clear mungbean noodle stir fry, mixed with vegetables (usually cabbage, kale and morning glory), egg, and chicken. A sweet chili sauce comes on the side. You can also order this dish suki nam, and it will come as a soup. Gai is the protein (chicken), but you can order it with just veggies (pak), moo (pork) or goon (prawn). When I order goon, it’s more expensive and I usually get only 4 pieces of prawn, so I usually stick to Gai. At our local joint, this dish is about 35 BAHT (or $1.06).

Next up is Pad See Ew Gai: thick, wide egg noodles with the same mix of veggies, chicken, and oyster sauce. Delicious, but the noodles are very filling and almost pastey. I feel rather gluttonous as I slurp up my noodles at dinnertime. Again, 35 BAHT.

No matter how sick I am of rice, I always find myself craving Khao Pat Gai, chicken fried rice. It’s a light dish, made with cabbage, morning glory, some Chinese broccoli (so much better than real broccoli), fresh tomatoes, egg, and whatever else they decide to throw in with the chicken. A lime squeeze makes it pop, and some chilies pickled in vinegar give it a kick. Tastes worlds better than any fried rice I’ve ever had in the states, and for a buck (30 BAHT), it tastes even better.

Some other dishes I’ve come to know and love…

Kratium Prik Thai Gai, or garlic pepper chicken.

Pad Kapow Gai, or chili basil chicken.

Kanaa Moo Grob, or crispy pork with Chinese broccoli and oyster sauce. AMAZING.

Green curry is always great, although I only order it in places where I can point to the picture or it’s translated. Massaman is also delicious, and is a southern curry.

Coconut milk soup, similar to green curry. Same story!

Chicken with cashew nuts, delicious but don’t know how to say it in Thai!

While here, I’ve also learned that the regions of Thailand have different cuisines. Most of the food I’m eating is Central or Southern Thailand cuisine, but I have to say that Isaan (Northeast) has become my absolute favorite. We discovered the Isaan restaurant in our town our first week here when eating dinner with our new co-workers. The food was so unfamiliar, and I wasn’t crazy about it, nor did I get the hype. After going back a few times, it began to grow on me. Let’s just say that after being here for three months, I crave it every single day. We go to our Isaan joint so often, and order the same exact things in our broken Thai every time, that they have started just bringing us our usual order, and not even asking what we want. Here’s what’s on OUR menu at Isaan.

Khao Neow – sticky rice. So much better than steamed rice.

Som Tam Thai – green papaya salad. Made with strips of green papaya, carrots, cucumbers, string beans, cabbage, tomatoes, dried shrimps, roasted peanuts, and chilies. Mixed with a sweet and sour salty dressing.

Moo yang – barbequed pork strips with a chili sauce.

Gai yang – barbequed chicken, which they're often sold out of.

Moo dai Dio - Literally traslates into "One Sun Pork"; sundried strips of pork, served with flash fried sweet basil. Mouth. Watering.

Larb moo – Minced pork with onion and chilies.

For the three of us, we usually order one of everything, except two Som Tams, and two Moo dai Dio… small portions, I swear! Usually, our meal costs us about 80 – 90 BAHT each (that’s about $3, folks).

OH.. don’t forget to order MAI PET (little spice) or the food with be laced with chilies and your mouth will be on fire. And if you’re Alex, you’ll get a mad real sweat stash.

I’m determined to take an Isaan specific cooking class, as well as a regular Thai class, so I can make myself all the Som Tam Thai I want when I return to the states.

As far as desserts go, I’m not a huge fan of Thai sweets. They are SWEET and everything is topped with condensed milk and more sugar. However, I do love fresh mango with sticky rice, and I love this dessert we get at school with these baby bananas in coconut milk. Fresh coconut ice cream is delicious topped with peanuts, and you can get a bag of fresh fruit anywhere on the street.

Speaking of school lunch, let me just say that it may be free but it’s absolutely HORRIFIC 75% of the time. We have a few solid dishes, but other than that it’s total hit or miss and I often find myself eating way too much white rice with chilies and fish sauce. Mai pen rai!

Tags: delicious, food, isaan, som tam, spicy, thai, thailand

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