Isan is the northeastern region of Thailand, bordering Laos and Cambodia. Like any other region, it has many of its own food specialities.
Som Tum is one of the most notable Isan food and has made it to be one of Thailand’s favourite dishes. Another favourite is the Isan hotpot.
Asian cultures often love their own versions of hotpot cuisine and the Thais have their own in the form of the Isan hotpot.
There is a slight resemblance to the Thai Sukiyaki hotpot which you can get at the well-known MK restaurant. However, the Isan version is much more unique in its own right.
Arai Nai Hai means “What is in the pot?” and it is located near Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University at a community mall named I’m Park.
The traditional Isan claypot is one of the symbols of the region. Here, a normal steel pot is used with a bottomless claypot placed around it to maintain the Isan feel. The shop interior, music and plating used all provide an authentic Isan feel.
Customers can choose from hotpot set meals that cost around THB249 (approx. S$10.50) each or the buffet that goes at THB379 (approx. S$16) per person. Drinks and desserts are included for the buffet. If you want a greater variety of food, go for the buffet!
The soup base for the hotpot here has its own unique taste with the Isan herbs and vegetables. You will be able to taste the Bai Ho Ra Pa (Basil) and dill that gives this soup broth its special herbal smell and flavour.
Sauces are always an integral part of any hotpot and you get to choose from six different kinds here. The sauces are labelled in Thai and you might need some help from a restaurant staff to help you identify them.
The sauces are as follows: Nam Jim Jeaw (Salty), Nam Jim Jaew (Sweet), Nam Jim Seafood (Sour and Spicy Seafood Sauce), Nam Jim Gai (Sweet Chili Dipping Sauce), Nam Jim Jim Jum (Hotpot Spicy Isan Dipping Sauce) and Nam Jim Suki (Sukiyaki Dipping Sauce).
We recommend the Nam Jim Seafood and Nam Jim Suki for dipping food from the hotpot, and the Nam Jim Jaew and Nam Jim Gai sauce for fried dishes.
Vegetables such as the morning glory, long cabbage and corn are served in a basket, giving it a “fresh from the market” vibe.
The beef and pork are thinly sliced on the spot. The beef is just slightly tough. because the meat is rather lean. We felt that it would have been better if they used a slightly fattier cut of meat.
The pork belly tasted fresh, and it is definitely perfect for those that like a good amount of fat along with their meat to give it a softer and juicer bite.
Do note that this restaurant does not just serve food items for cooking in the hotpot. There are plenty of Isan side dishes to go along with the meal!
Som Tum is probably the most famous Isan dish and this restaurant serves up a really good plate of this papaya salad! It is prepared the traditional way of slicing and chopping with a knife and no other modern equipment.
The sauces and condiments are a perfect blend and rank high up among all the best Som Tums we have had before!
Sai Grok Isan, or Isan sausages, are made from rice and minced pork stuffed in pig intestines. They sun these sausages before grilling them. Juicy and flavorful, these sausages are a must-try for anyone.
The Fried Chicken Wings are crispy and deep-fried together with pandan leaves to give it a fragrant lift.
Isan food is normally eaten with Sticky Rice. Here, the restaurant serves its sticky rice coated with egg and fried; crispy on the outside, while remaining soft and sticky on the inside. You can forget about your low-carb diet with this dish!
For desserts, you can make your own Nam Kheng Sai (Shaved Ice). There are various toppings you can choose from such as grass jelly, cut bread, coconut jelly and longans. Top that off with some red syrup and condensed milk and you are good. You might need to ask the staff for assistance on how to operate the ice machine though!
For an extensive Isan food experience, check out the Arai Nai Hai special Isan hotpot. It is a restaurant with an extensive variety of Isan food and hotpot items. The food quality and standard are good too!
Expected damage: THB379 (approx. S$16) per pax