So you know your Pad Thai from your Panang Curry, but are you familiar with the fiery flavours of Isaan? Hailing from Northeast Thailand, this land-locked region is famed for its zesty salads, flame-grilled meats, glutinous sticky rice and coconut-free curries. Quite a different breed of Thai food.
Chances are you’ve been enjoying Isaan cuisine for years without even realising. Signature dishes include Som Tum (green papaya salad), Gai Yang (barbecued chicken), sticky rice, and tangy Larb (minced meat tossed with lime juice, herbs and ground rice).
The traditional way to eat an Isaan meal is to take a ball of sticky rice with your fingers, then use it to scoop up the accompanying salads and curries.
Here are some of our favourite places to try out authentic iterations of this unique regional Thai food.
5 Isaan Restaurants to Try
Nua Lao Thai
A humble little eating house in Haymarket, this Thai and Laotian joint showcases the punchy flavours of Isaan in dishes such as smoky Gai Yang and sour pork Isan sausages.
This lively beer hall and pan-Asian eatery transforms into a club after midnight. But before the DJ steps in, dine on plates of tangy Sai Krok (fermented pork sausage), or Isaan pumpkin, spinach and tofu soup at Cookie. These are just some of the surprisingly authentic Isaan dishes found on the fusion menu.
Thai Esarn Restaurant, Perth
A popular Perth eatery, Thai Esarn offers crowd-pleasing Thai classics plus signature Isaan fare, such as Som Tum with crab, chicken Larb and sticky rice.
Zab Isan Thai, Burleigh Heads
On the Gold Coast, sample the traditional dishes of the the Northeast in specialties such as duck Larb and king prawns with green papaya salad at Zab Isan Thai.
Isaan Village, Adelaide
In the South Australian capital, seek out the spice of Isaan at Isaan Village, home to plump pork sausages and vibrant Thai salads.