Pictorial: Benjarong – a Special Issan Dinner
“Northern Thai is my favourite food in Thailand” is a common paraphrase uttered by aficionados of Thai cuisine (especially those who have actually been to Thailand). Northern Thai cuisine is certainly more exotic and complex than the more common and more pedestrian “Bangkok-style” Thai food from the south. It is very easy to find Bangkok cuisine at the numerous local restaurants (often not run by actual Thai) that serve the usual pad thai, red, green, and yellow curries.
Northern Thai cuisine is relatively much harder to find; and the food from Issan (or Isan, Isaan) in the northeastern region is particularly rare. Benjarong’s chef, who hails from that part of Thailand, obliged us with a special meal with an Issan slant. Fermented, funky flavours jostled with unusual spices, tartness from lime juice, freshness from herb blends and the quick-acting heat from bird’s eye chilies to create a harmonious complexity that is the signature of this cuisine. We didn’t even bother ordering their worthy pad thai to make room on this special menu for more usual dishes.
On the surface, Benjarong is just like most Thai restaurants here in North America. Aside from a couple of outlying, somewhat unusual dishes, the menu has all the usual suspects (pad thai, mutli-coloured curries). But phone ahead and talk to them about making it “Issan style” like we did for tonight’s dinner and you will reveal a gem. (Thanks for setting this up grayelf).
Our menu (You need to call ahead for an Issan style Dinner)
- sticky rice
- goi goong (tiny freshwater shrimp)
- name peek gai (deep fried chicken wings)
- som tam (papaya salad) with extra anchovy!
- tom sap with beef, Isaan style
- larb moo, Isaan style
- gai yang (grilled chicken) with Isaan dipping sauce
- soop nor mai (bamboo “salad”)
- om moo (Isaan pork soup)
- mushroom curry (another local specialty, no coconut milk)
- naem kao thot
- moo yang jeow ma kheuua thaeht (grilled pork marinated in garlic, coriander and pepper with hot and sour tomato relish)
- Isaan sticky rice with plantain dessert