Isan aspires to be top culinary destination

The northeastern region of Isan has recently become a destination treasured for its culinary wisdom represented through distinctive and flavourful cuisine.

So much so that the Michelin Guide Thailand announced that it has listed four Isan provinces — Nakhon Ratchasima, Ubon Ratchathani, Udon Thani and Khon Kaen, to its upcoming 2023 edition.

Set on a large plateau bordered by the Mekong River, mountain ranges and Cambodia, the Isan region encompasses 20 provinces and is a home to one-third of Thailand’s population.

Food-wise, the mostly landlocked region produces some of the world’s best jasmine and glutinous rice, where a freshwater harvest is also abundant. River fish, rice paddy field crab, ant eggs and livestock are common sources of protein in local meals. While pla ra, or fish fermented in rice bran and salt, is an indispensable ingredient and flavour enhancer. The delicacy cherished for distinctive smell has been registered as one of Thailand’s intangible cultural heritages since 2012.

Despite its complex taste profile, Isan cuisine employs simple cooking methods such as boiling, grilling, steaming, slow-cooking and fermenting. The cookery is also influenced by neighbouring countries including Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and China.

“There are many Isan-born chefs with food knowledge and cooking experience from working in world-famous restaurants abroad who have now opened restaurants in their homeland,” said the Michelin Guides’s international director Gwendal Poullennec.

“These chefs play a significant role in elevating Isan food to the next level, using local ingredients combined with their superior cooking skills, and setting a new standard for more high-quality local food.”

Governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand Yuthasak Supasorn added: “Thailand’s northeastern region has a vast potential in terms of culinary culture and history, diverse tourist attractions and charming local lifestyle.

(Photo: Karnjana Ayuwatanachai)

“Apart from delicious cuisine, Isan is a home to Khao Yai National Park, a Unesco World Heritage Site, Ban Chiang Archaeological Site and Phu Wiang Dinosaur Museum with more than 34 registered Geographical Indication products. With the launch of the upcoming 2023 Michelin Guide Thailand edition, we hope that not only will the entire world be aware of the vibrant culinary scene of the northeastern region of Thailand, but also boost tourism and the local economy at the same time.”

Ever since the first edition of Michelin Guide Thailand was launched in 2018 to its current 2022 edition, the number of restaurants recognised with a Michelin star has increased from 17 to 32 and a Bib Gourmand award from 35 to 133. The coverage has expanded from just Bangkok to include Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya, Chiang Mai, Phuket and Phangnga.

The upcoming Michelin Guide Thailand 2023 will be released at the end of this year.