Judging from my previous reviews and preference for all sweet things, some might be surprise when I say that “E-sarn” or Northeastern Thai food is my favorite kind of food. The cuisine in this region is heavily influenced by Laotian’s culture; people there like there food hot and spicy – just how I like it! The most well-known dish is definitely “Somtum” or Papaya Salad. A homemade somtum is what I swear by on a daily basis since it has very low calorie, yet it’s extremely refreshing and flavorful while being loaded with healthy vitamins and minerals – good stuff!
Another signature delicacy is “Plara” or marinated/ rotten fish. I think it’s very funny how in almost all cuisines, there is at least one rotten dish. I guess, it’s all from the age-old effort to conserve food in the olden days before people realized the magic of cold preservation; some examples are The Japanese have their “natto” (rotten beans,) the Koreans have their “kimchi,” and the Icelandic have their “Hákarl” or rotten sharks. They are all an acquired taste; and I have to admit that I’ve acquired great fondness for plara and kimchi; but rotten shark is a bit of a step, no more like 100 steps, too far for my culinary curiosity.
Plara needs to be prepared well in order to be tasty and hygienic. Despite being able to eat it; I never eat it outside the comfort of my home where they know that I can only take a little bit of the “rotten fish juice” in my dishes which gives any dish a punch of saltiness and umami; and I would rather not know that it’s in there. What I’m trying to get at is that I barely go to an Esarn restaurant and the point of this entry, finally after all the babbling, is that I’ve found an awesome northeastern restaurant last night a “Zaab Eli”
I have to admit that I still can’t make myself eat Esarn food from street vendors. I’m all about noodle stands and pork skewers; I truly believe they are better on the street-side. Yet those dishes are cooked! And after many culinary classes that implanted the correct cooking temperature for certain dishes, the knowledge of all the scary bacteria and parasite in food, and the danger of cross-contamination in my head..I just can’t eat raw salads in places where there are rats running around! I just can’t!
So I went to “Zaab Eli” not expecting to find authentic Esarn food but I just wanted to eat a lot of veggies to cleanse give my body a break from all the feasting I’ve been doing. As I entered the restaurant, I was greeted by an elaborate staircase leading up to a huge tree with colorful laterns hanging down from each of it’s branches. I immediately noticed the extremely bright color-scheme of the place, which, I believe, is their effort to keep some northeastern touches of the décor since the style of the furniture while being modern. (Bright colors and flower patterns are often associated with the “Loog-toong” or country style.)
The menu had a cute design and lots of yummy-licious-looking pictures (a big plus!) The food was definitely, sorry for the lack of a better word, fusion. There were dishes like Japanese melon somtum or berries and almond somtum which I need to go back and try. I wanted to see how well they make the authentic dishes first in order to judge how I feel about the place. So I ordered the typical Esarn stuff you could find on the streets such as “Sai-krok Esarn” or Esarn sausage, Tom-zabb Moo noom or spicy pork dumpling soup, Miang kum or leaf-wrapped bite-sized goodies, and their recommended Somtum kaikem or papaya salad with salted egg.
As we finished ordering, a complimentary bowl of shrimp crackers and a huge serving of assorted raw veggies on ice were served for us to munch on. Raw veggies are my go-to snack, so I was a happy bunny, literally! I munched on that humongous bowl throughout the meal and managed to almost finish it. As the food arrived, I was pleasantly surprised by the large portion of the somtum and miang kum. And the fact that the waiter asked if we wanted to add collagen, yes you heard right..collagen, to my soup! We didn’t know what that face cream ingredient would do to our sizzling pot of pork soup but we said yes anyway. And we completely forgot that it was there as we enjoyed the, extremely, spicy soup.
All in all, the dishes very delicious, fresh, and, a lot more authentic than their décor which made me very delighted. I will going back for the less authentic salads soon!
2/F, Arena 10, Sukhumvit 55
Soi Thong Lor 10