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Requested Post : GATEWAY TO ISAN
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  1. #1
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    Requested Post : GATEWAY TO ISAN

    GATEWAY TO ISAN

    The dishes of Nakhon Ratchasima

    Suthon Sukphisit


    Unless you take the plane, when you travel from Bangkok to Isan you will pass through Nakhon Ratchasima, aka Korat, for short. It is often called the "Gateway to Isan", as the major roads heading northeast go through Saraburi and then come to Pak Chong in Korat's Amphoe Muak Lek, which has become one of the province's main attractions.

    Affluent Thais eagerly buy up land there to build holiday homes or to open resorts for tourists seeking clean mountain air. Others cultivate vineyards or build wineries. Expensive country-style restaurants abound.

    But as expensive and up-market as the area is today, Pak Chong was once the last place that those searching for luxury and relaxation would seek out. It was considered a dreadful place, dangerous and frightening. Its original name, Dong Phya Fai was changed to Dong Phya Yen during the reign of King Rama V. But in the days when it when it was known as Dong Phya Fai its mountainous topography was covered by dense, dark forests. The valleys between the mountains were so wet and thickly forested that it was said that people who had to pass through them while travelling or hunting were unlikely to emerge, because even if they avoided falling victim to the tigers, bears, wild boars, poisonous snakes, horseflies, ground leeches and other dangerous animals that lived there, they would certainly succumb to jungle fever later.

    In those times, Isan had already long been a part of Thailand, but the communication routes between the area and Bangkok avoided the Pak Chong area. It went through Amphoe Lam Narai and Amphoe Khok Samrong in Lop Buri province. This part of the country was also mountainous, but carts and wagons could pass through it without much difficulty. This meant a detour of almost a month before reaching Nakhon Ratchasima, but it was better than dying along the alternative Pak Chong route.

    In 1891 King Rama V ordered the construction of a railroad track to Isan and employed companies from England and Germany to undertake the project. The English company stayed on until the railroad reached Ayutthaya and then stopped, leaving the rest of the work to the German firm. After the tracks had been laid through Saraburi and entered Dong Phya Fai, or Pak Chong, construction claimed the lives of almost 40 Germans and 500 Chinese labourers, making it Thailand's first Death Railroad, the precursor of the one built in Kanchanaburi during World War Two.

    But the project had to continue, and nine years passed before the railroad finally reached Korat in 1900. The reason it required so many years was the ferocity of the terrain that the workers had to penetrate. It was at this time that King Rama V changed its name from Dong Phya Fai to Dong Phya Yen.

    This is the historical background of the site of today's luxury homes and resorts.

    Nowadays we drive to Korat on a modern highway that in some parts is as much as six lanes wide. If you leave Bangkok in the early morning you will be at Pak Chong by 10am and will get to the city of Korat at noon.

    Nakhon Ratchasima is the biggest province in Isan, and it is filled with interesting things. Evidence has been found showing that it was inhabited in prehistoric times, and there are ancient Khmer stone structures. The province also played a part in the Thai-Burmese wars. There is a monument to the heroine Thao Suranaree, or Yamo, in the middle of the city. Korat also has its own distinctive language. It is the Isan dialect, but with special characteristics all its own. And of course Korat also contains many delicious restaurants.

    Today I will take a look at some of those that you will pass if you go through Korat to Khon Kaen, Udon Thani, or Nong Khai - all important provinces in Isan.

    There is a village called Ban Praloke located beside the highway about 2km outside of Nakhon Ratchasima. There are many shops there that sell the fermented rice noodle with sauce dishes called khanom jeen nam ya and khanom jeen nam phrik.

    All of them use the same recipes, and offer a selection of different versions of nam ya. There is nam ya kathi (made with coconut cream), nam ya kai (made with chicken instead of the usual fish), and nam ya pa sai nam pla ra (without coconut cream and containing the liquid from fermented fish). There are mild and spicy versions as well as a super-hot one called phet sadist, or "sadistically hot". The khanom jeen nam ya is one of Korat's famous attractions.

    There is another famous food shop behind the ancient monument called Prasat Phanom Wan, which is more than 20km outside of town.

    When you reach Prasat Phanom Wan, pass it and continue on for about a kilometre. You will see rows of sugar palms and, on the left, the sign for a restaurant called Loong Daeng Soe Jeng.

    Loong Daeng Soe Jeng is a big outdoor restaurant set up country style, where customers can either sit in one of the many booths or have their meal and enjoy the breeze under a sugar palm.

    The most popular dish there is a som tam (sour-hot salad) made from fresh long beans with crispy pork and boiled eggs. Also popular are a tom yam (sour-hot soup) made with fish or free-range chicken and tamarind leaves, tom ka ban kab naw mai dong (a soup made from free-range chicken and pickled bamboo shoots), khua kai ban (another free-ranging chicken dish), pla thawt krathiem phrik Thai (fish fried with garlic and pepper, made with either of two types of fresh-water fish, pla nuea awn or pla lod).

    The food served at Loong Daeng Soe Jeng is considered to be authentic Isan cooking, but the flavour has been adjusted to suit the tastes of visitors from other parts of the country.

    It has a good atmosphere and the prices aren't high, and it is a favourite destination for Korat residents who want to take the family out for a meal on a holiday or weekend.

    If you decide not to stop at Loong Daeng Soe Jeng you can have some mee Korat at Amphoe Phimai, although you might wind up eating long after lunchtime. Mee Phimai is an easy-to-prepare fried wheat noodle dish.

    There are quite a few possibilities for hungry drivers passing through Nakhon Ratchasima. I've only given a few samples, but every one of them is well worth a try.

    FAVOURITES: (First pic) Some of the popular dishes of Nakhon Ratchasima, including (clockwise from top) ‘khanom jeen nam ya’, ‘mee phimai’, ‘tam thua’ and ‘pla nuea awn thod’.
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  2. #2
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    Re: Requested Post : GATEWAY TO ISAN

    Now I'm hungry.

    จุดแรกคือการพบ จุดจบคือการจาก..
    มีรักต้องพราก มีจากต้องมีเจอ..

  3. #3
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    Re: Requested Post : GATEWAY TO ISAN

    Aww...I missed those tasty dishes when I was there.

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