KUALA LUMPUR, June 3 — We may think we all know Thai food inside out but what about Isan dishes? Originating from the northeastern region of Thailand, Isan dishes often feature fermentation, grilled meats and sticky rice.
It's pretty rare to see Isan dishes in the Klang Valley so I was happy to get a recommendation to try Isan Thai.
They used to be at Desa Sri Hartamas but are now in Segambut. With Covid-19 travel restrictions, they closed the restaurant as they couldn't return from Thailand.
About seven months ago, they opened at this new location as many regulars missed their food.
The menu here is extensive. Go for their crowd favourites such as naem neang (Isan meat rolls and vegetables set), sai kok Isan or Isan sausage and kaiyang (Isan BBQ chicken).
If the boss is around, you can ask him for recommendations. Otherwise, some of the staff do speak Mandarin too.
The must-eat is their kaiyang or Isan BBQ chicken (RM45 for a whole portion, RM25 for half portion), which needs to be pre-ordered ahead.
If you order it when you arrive, be prepared to wait about 45 minutes or so. It's well worth the wait as the chicken is juicy and delicious with a spicy tamarind sauce.
They use smaller sized (about 1.6 kilograms) chickens that are marinated at least a day ahead. The chicken is flattened and grilled once you arrive.
It's a popular street food in Thailand as you can spot stalls selling this everywhere.
What's also interesting is you don't see any chicken wings served with the dish. The Isan Thai owner explained that this is because the wings are usually burnt from the grill so they cut it out.
You get a choice of red or clear tom yum here. My preference is the clear one so I ordered their tomyum talay namsai or seafood tomyum clear soup (RM30).
It was lovely with refreshing, tangy flavours. I also found the prawns to be fresh with bouncy flesh. You also have squid and mushrooms inside the soup. The portion is good for about two to three people.
For salad to accompany the meal, look for the tam poo plara or green papaya salad (RM15). It's tangy and spicy with the green papaya shreds, fresh tomatoes and long beans.
The difference between theirs and that served at other places is they use pickled fermented crabs and fish sauce in the salad, which is favoured by the Thais.
If you prefer something more conventional, they also have tam kaowpod kaikem or corn with salted egg salad (RM18). It's a mix of sweet and slightly savoury notes from the salted eggs. You also get peanuts, dried shrimp, tomatoes and crunchy ikan bills.
One of my favourite items in Isan is the sausage, so I ordered the sai kok isan (RM15). It didn't disappoint as the sausage is juicy and delicious.
Even though it's fermented, it's not overly piquant which I prefer. They serve it with fresh ginger and green chillies. The ginger helps alleviate the fatty taste of the sausage and if you love spicy flavours, try those fiery chillies with the sausage.
If you're dining here in a big group, try the naem neang. It's similar to popiah where you roll up their homemade meat rolls with assorted vegetables to eat.
Another popular dish in Isan is lab or a salad with a protein or sometimes even vegetables. Here, you have BBQ catfish, pork or lab kung with prawns (RM25).
I went for the prawns and really enjoyed its refreshing taste of herbs and spices with the fresh seafood. I'm pretty impressed by the quality of the prawns so maybe next time I will try their raw prawn salad which is a favourite of mine.
Solo diners can choose popular dishes such as pad Thai or their pad krapow rice set (RM13). The minced pork is fragrant with the herbs. Pair it with rice otherwise it can be salty.
Since I wanted to try the omelette, I ordered the kai jiew kungsab or crispy prawn omelette (RM18). The crispy frilly edges of the omelette hit the spot.
If you're not into super spicy food, you can adjust the heat levels too. Just let them know your preference.
For dessert, there are just two items. You have the ubiquitous mango sticky rice or the simple but satisfying kanom tuay (RM12 for three sets). Made in small saucers, this cold dessert is refreshing with pandan and coconut layers.
If you wish to visit on weekends, it's best to make a booking as they get very busy. It's also encouraged that you even pre-book some dishes.
Even on weekdays, it is popular for dinner rather than lunch. Should you prefer to dine at home, you can also order the food for delivery. They will arrange delivery via a third party delivery company.
Isan Thai Restaurant, D-1-2, M-Avenue, Jalan 1/38A, Taman Segambut Bahagia, Kuala Lumpur. Open: 12pm to 10pm. Off days not certain. Tel:+6010-8822621. Facebook:@ISAN-THAI-Restaurant-Traditional-Thai-Isan-Cuisine/162701624304851