The best of northeast Thailand

Eu Hooi-Khaw

Isan sausage (left) and thai pork satay. – The Malaysian Insight pic, September 10, 2022.

THREE things are eaten every day in the province of Isan northeast of Thailand: kaiyang, or Isan BBQ chicken, sticky rice, and som tam.

The grilled chicken is commonly sold at street markets in Isan. The province is the home of the som tam, which explains the bewildering variety of green papaya salad on the menu of Isan Thai Restaurant in Segambut, Kuala Lumpur.

You can have the green papaya plain, or you can have it with cockles, Isan pork ham, raw crabs and prawns, snails and luncheon meat. We settled on the tam thai kaikem or green papaya with salted egg salad (RM18).

It was a good choice; the green papaya was pounded together with palm sugar, fish sauce, lime juice, and sugar, topped with peanuts and crispy fried anchovies, and finished with bruised long beans, cherry tomatoes, and salted egg.

The som tam was a perfect balance of sweet, sour and salty, made even better with bits of salted egg.

Tam thai kaikem – green papaya salad with salted egg. – The Malaysian Insight pic, September 10, 2022.

The Isan BBQ chicken (RM27 for half a chicken) came later after a chat with the owner about what’s good at his restaurant.

The marinated grilled chicken turned out moist and tasty, but it was really the lightly sweet and tangy tamarind dip that lifted the flavour several notches.

I was told that tamarind juice and palm sugar were simmered for two hours for that yummy caramelised, sticky sauce. We could have had the chicken with sticky rice but thought better of it.

Kaiyang, or Isan BBQ chicken, served with a delicious tamarind dip. – The Malaysian Insight pic, September 10, 2022.

We had started with the tom yam talay namsai (RM35), a clear tom yam with seafood.

It had a spicy kick with a wincing sourness and all the attendant aromas of kaffir lime leaf, galangal and lemongrass. Prawns, fish, squid, mushrooms and shallots gave the soup a natural sweetness. 

Tom yam talay namsai – clear seafood tom yam with balanced flavours. – The Malaysian Insight pic, September 10, 2022.

I had to have the sai krok Isan (RM18), or plump sausages filled with fermented pork, garlic, herbs and sticky rice.

The sausages are fermented for a day, air dried and grilled. They burst with wonderful flavours and texture, with a sour tang from the fermentation. They were served with young ginger slices and whole bird chillies. 

The moo ping, or Thai pork satay (RM20 for 4 sticks), turned out well spiced, tender and juicy.

Tam thai kaikem – green papaya salad with salted egg. – The Malaysian Insight pic, September 10, 2022.

We were pleased with the green curry pork too (RM25). The strong fragrance of Thai basil and the heat of the chilli came through the curry with just enough coconut cream to hold it together.  We also liked the light and fluffy minced pork omelette with crispy edges (RM15).

Our last big dish was the pla lad prik, or fried fish with sweet, sour and spicy sauce. I would have preferred a sea fish, but a red tilapia was served (RM55 per kg). At least it was fried till crisp to the bone. It came covered in chopped garlic and chillies and doused with a light, sweet and sour sauce of fish sauce and lime juice.

Thai mango sticky rice. – The Malaysian Insight pic, September 10, 2022.

For dessert we shared the mango sticky rice (RM12), topped with crispy mung beans and served with sweet coconut cream. Kanom tuay, or Thai pandan coconut milk cake (RM12), was not available that day.

Isan Thai Restaurant is at D-1-2, M-Avenue, Jalan 1/38A, Segambut Bahagia, Kuala Lumpur. Call 010-882 2621, for enquiries. – September 10, 2022.

* Eu Hooi-Khaw has been writing about food for the longest time, covering all aspects, from restaurant reviews to cooking and recipes, as well as the healthy side of it. She has written for major newspapers and magazines, published the cookbook Fresh Ingredients, and also writes for her website

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