Derived from a Sanskrit word, “Ishan” (north east direction), Isan is a commonly used word to describe the beautiful northeastern plateau of Thailand. Bordered by the famous Mekong River, Isan is situated next to Lao People's Democratic Republic and Kingdom of Cambodia. The region is known and loved for its strong family ties and lively cultures seen in upbeat music, memorable festivals and simple traditional clothing. Noted for their sincere hospitality, Isan people welcome guests with open hearts and fun loving spirits.
Equally magnificent are Isan dishes. Even though specific to the region, Isan gourmet varieties are ubiquitous in the vast landscape of Thai cuisine. Scrumptious choices such as somtum (papaya salad), sticky rice, hot soups and charcoal grilled meats among many others are mainstays of Thai food. Known for its simple presentations yet layered mixtures of ingredients, Isan kitchen leans towards the spicy side of the taste spectrum while packing in balanced, explosive punches from different but complimentary dishes. It is unique, energizing and simply delicious.
Without Isan cuisine, Thai gastronomic adventure would not be what it is today. As in Thai tradition, Isan eating culture is also of shared dish style where different types of dishes, placed in the middle of the table, are shared throughout the meal, allowing wider varieties and ultimately greater satisfactions. For Thais, an authentic, rounded Isan meal is equipped with various options—not one single dish—to be enjoyed with friends and families at any moment of the day. Even when dining alone, the sensible portions of Isan dishes allow multiple plates to be savored.
Usually accompanied by sticky rice, the numbers of Isan dishes are impossible to count, but somtum has always been a top choice, and it comes with countless varieties from fermented crabs to noodle infused kind. One of the most popular combinations include any kind of somtum, grilled chicken, larb moo, hot soup and sticky rice. Once enjoyed by hands in the old days, now Isan cuisine utilizes spoons and forks for modern day convenience.
Besides its age-old eating style and unrivalled tastes, Isan cuisine also walks on a healthy path. Most dishes are comprised of fresh mixed vegetables and lean meats, which are usually grilled or boiled. Authentic Isan kitchen brings forth traditions, cultural heritage and good health as well as never neglects majestic spices, admired simplicity and fresh products.