I went to Northeastern Thailand on a tour sponsored by the Tourism Authority of Thailand. In fact, this trip is a rare trip in cooperation with the Thai restaurant “Mango Tree”.
Since its opening in Marunouchi, Tokyo in 2002, “Mango Tree Tokyo” has been supported by many gourmets and is known as a restaurant where you can enjoy authentic Thai food. In April 2018, Mr. Yoshio Kojima, who represents Mango Tree Japan, published a book titled “Mango Tree Kitchen Recipes for 32 Popular Menus and Traditional Dishes in the Isan Area”.
Head to the Isan region in the Tohoku region to find the deep charm of Thai food
This time, we visited restaurants in the Isan area listed in the recipe book and took a cooking class.
So, I am targeting the Isan region in Northeast Thailand, which is a first for me personally. I fly from Haneda and Narita from Tokyo to Bangkok, but this time I will fly from Narita. In the morning, take Thai Airways flight TG641 from Narita Airport to Udon Thani International Airport via Bangkok Suvarnabhumi International Airport.
I use Thai Smile Air for domestic flights, which is the airline of Thai Airways’ parent company. We draw a clear line with LCC. Although the flight time was about an hour, a simple in-flight meal and drink was provided for free, and I was a bit hungry, which I appreciated.
Dinner on the first day, experience Isaan cuisine for the first time at a government-approved local restaurant
The restaurant “Krua Khun Nid”, which is about 20 minutes by bus from Udon Thani International Airport, is said to be “a well-known restaurant that won the Isaan Food Competition” according to the recipe. It is said to be a restaurant for government officials and embassies of various countries, but the unpretentious interior decoration makes people feel the local style.
I thought I didn’t have much of an appetite since I’d already eaten the in-flight sandwich, but that was a huge miscalculation. Tom Yum Kung coconut, green curry sausage, som tam, pork salad lard, etc., “spicy”, “sour”, “salty”, “sweet” are all wonderful! Plus, it’s non-greasy and healthy, with plenty of herbs and spices to keep your stomach and mind healthy.
Most importantly, my favorite dessert, Khaonhao Mamuang, is an exquisite dish that has been etched in my heart as the first Khaonhao Mamuang in my life.
The accommodation of the first day and the second day is at the hotel “Centara Hotel & Convention Center Udon Thani” in the center of Udon Thani. It is a large hotel integrating conference hall, banquet hall, SPA, swimming pool, tennis court, etc. The vibrant atrium space is spectacular as you step off the elevator to your guest room. The rooms are simple, spacious and comfortable.
To Nonghan Lake full of red water lilies
This tour includes sightseeing and meals. On the second day, we went to Nonghan Lake, which is about 43 kilometers southeast of Udon Thani City. The lake is famous for its red water lilies that bloom from December to February. However, it can only be seen in the early morning. The flowers close around noon, so you have to go early in the morning.
It takes more than an hour to arrive at Nonghan Lake from the hotel. Near the large parking lot, there is a scenery like a sightseeing spot, and souvenir stands are lined up. Usually buy tickets here. Since we are traveling with a group, we don’t care about the price, but according to the price, a boat costs 500 baht (about 1750 yen, 1 baht = about 3.5 yen). The boat can accommodate 5-6 people so the price per person is very reasonable.
Before visiting here, I had fancied that the water lilies could be seen from the shore of the lake, but that was not the case. I watched with excitement as the pink color of the distant water gradually approached.
The boat stops its engines and moors in an area of lush water lilies. The standard here is to sit on the bow and take a commemorative photo (probably). The beauty of the blooming water lilies within reach is too beautiful to take many shots. By the way, I asked the boatman about the depth of the lake. He said it was about 1 meter and 50 centimeters. I was able to fully enjoy the stunning scenery that can only be seen this time of year.
Experience the essence of spicy Isaan cuisine in a cooking class
After leaving the lake, I headed to the restaurant “Chabaa Barn E-san Vintage Kitchen” on the outskirts of Udon Thani. This is the first cooking class of the trip, and the location is a restaurant with a beautiful garden.
The two items to be made are the representative salad “Som Tam” of the Isan area and the spicy soup “Tom Cep”. Start with som tam made from unripe green papaya. Prepare these materials, a large millstone and a stick. It seems that many Thai households have unglazed stone mills like cooking utensils, and they use a stick called a sak to tap, break, and grind ingredients for cooking. So I’ll throw in the peppers and garlic and crush them.
When I tried it this time, I was amazed that all the ingredients and spices of Som Tam were placed in a stone mill and cooked with a stone stick! It looks like the taste changes depending on how you crush and break it, so the teacher tasted what we made and gave us advice like “more salt”, “not enough lime”, or “more sugar”. After trying various flavors, I concluded that the teacher’s is the best. Mmm, rich Isaan cuisine!
The second item is a spicy soup from the Isaan region called “tomcep”. This is also a representative dish of the Isan region that uses a lot of herbs and spices.
Depending on the amount of seasoning, this tomcep also has a slightly different taste and aftertaste. It is obviously the same method, but for some reason, the teacher’s recipe skillfully combines spicy, sour and salty tastes. By the way, the characteristic of Isan cuisine is that it does not contain much sugar. The culture of fermented food is also deeply rooted in the region, and it is said that insects such as grasshoppers and ant eggs have been used as a source of protein since ancient times. It was interesting to see the differences in Thai food culture.
As soon as I heard that insect food was taking root, I had a dish for lunch, ant egg salad! I was a little hesitant and said, “This white grain is Mr. Ali’s…”, but I took the plunge. Because it is seasoned spiciness, it feels mild and just right when you eat it. I didn’t expect to be eaten normally~.
Bike around border towns
After the cooking class, we drove about 60 kilometers north to a border town overlooking the Mekong. A bicycle is provided here. We enjoyed a city tour of about 6km by bike, stopping at the market on the way.
The market passing by on the way sells fresh and colorful vegetables and herbs, all kinds of noodles, and various chicken nuggets and frogs used as ingredients. My dream is to come to a fun market to shop every day.
The ride ends at ‘Hat kham’, a trendy cafe and restaurant along the Mekong River. We had an elegant dinner here while watching the Laotian sunset across the river. In the “Life on the Mekong” set meal, crispy fried fish and fragrant grilled chicken wings are served with special sauce, which is very delicious. The precious experience of watching the sunset in a neighboring country in a small border town is an unforgettable memory.
So far, I have told you everything from the departure from Narita on the first day to the second day. At first, my stomach was amazed by the spiciness of the Ishan dish, but by the end of the second day, I was hooked. Yukipyu is used to “hot and sour” food. Next time, I will tell you about the BBQ experience on the organic farm, the dessert making in the village, and the visit to the Pimai ruins. expect!