Key ingredients: Sticky rice, chili peppers
Flavors: Spicy, sweet
When most people think of Thai food they envision heavy curries or Americanized fried noodles. The region of Isan (often spelled Isaan) in Northern Thailand, however, offers completely different flavors and ingredients. With sticky rice as a staple and a heavy influence from Laotian cuisine, the uninitiated might not recognize it as Thai food at all. Though Pok Pok’s Andy Ricker has riffed on Isan in his restaurants (and been awarded a James Beard Award for his efforts) Isan doesn’t need to have a gourmet lean to be enjoyed. Traditional dishes like larb—a spice-enriched meat dish—and mango sticky rice should find fans outside the world of the urban foodie elite.