A blog about food in Thailand
and elsewhere.

Paa Uap

Posted date:  December 1, 2006


What a great find. This month-old restaurant, located just a few kilos from my house, specializes in fish from the Mekong River and other specialties of Nong Khai province in northeast Thailand. There are actually a few restaurants around here that do this sort of food, but I was really blown away by Paa Uap. For starters, the proprietors are natives of Nong Khai, and import their fish directly from the province, packed in ice and on the overnight bus:


The big yellow fish on the top is plaa khae, so called, I was told, because it resembles a crocodile (khae is apparently the Nong Khai dialect word for charakhe, crocodile). The ones below are called plaa phoh, and are apparently quite hard to catch and are thus quite expensive. These, and any other fish they might have, can be grilled, made into tom yam, deep-fried, or just about anything you’d like. If you’re not sure what to order, and can read Thai, the restaurant’s menu even contains detailed information about the various fish they have:


including when they’re available, how they taste and where they’re found. Other than Mekong River fish they also serve naem nueang, the Vietnamese do-it-yourself dish often associated with Nong Khai, as well as several dishes featuring “jungle” animals such as deer.

However, this being isaan food, we started with the ubiquitous som tam plaa raa, Lao-style papaya salad (pictured at the beginning of this post). I think this has got to be one of the best I’ve had in Bangkok. The dish was exceedingly sour and garlicky, and featured a strong but not overwhelming essence of plaa raa as well as hearty chunks of slightly bruised papaya. In short, very Lao. We ended up eating two dishes.

This was followed by laap plaa jok:


Plaa jok being another kind of Mekong River fish. Unfortunately this laap was so strong on the lime that there was really no chance to see what the fish tasted like. It was still very yummy though.

And finally there was hor mok plaa ling:


In Thai Food David Thompson likens hor mok to a steamed curry, which is accurate when describing Thai food, but northeast Thai/Lao-style hor mok is a bit different. Less (or no) coconut cream is used here, and the flavours here are really subtle, in this case a combination of dill, a tiny bit of chilies, tender greens and bai yaanang, a bitter leaf often used in hor mok. The fish was very fresh, and took the form of meaty strips, as well as part of the head. The taste and smell was so authentic that I nearly had to remind myself that I wasn’t sitting by the side of the Mekong in Nong Khai (or Vientiane, Laos, for that matter!).

All this was taken with freshly steamed sticky rice. Have you ever eaten freshly steamed sticky rice? If you have, then you’ll know why I put it in italics!

If you’re thinking of visiting, I’d recommend coming in the evening, as when we were there for lunch we were the only diners and the staff weren’t quite ready.

Paa Uap
Sukhonthasawat Road
02 907 9228

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7 Comments for Paa Uap

Hey Austin,

I had har mok once in Phuket and they were served inside a coconut. I think the har mok was steamed. Is it supposed to be cooked / steamed inside a coconut shell or is it more like a “touristy” thing? I have also seen har mok in this little banana parcel thingy, sort of like Malaysian Otak-otak. Just wanted to find out which is the most “authentic” way of serving har mok.

rasa malaysia: Hor mok can be steamed in a coconut, but that is a slightly touristy version (although you can find it in Thai restaurants sometimes). Hor mok can also be wrapped in banana leaf and grilled, just like otak-otak. The latter is a southern Thai variant, whereas in central Thailand the hor mok are normally put in banana leaf “cups” and steamed. Both are authentic, although personally I like the grilled kind (also known as “ngop”).

The reason that the Pla Khae fish are expensive is because they’re quite rare. They’re listed as a threatened species at http://www.iucnredlist.org/search/details.php/15459/all

As for hor mok, there is also the Cambodian amok – which is extremely similar to the central Thai hor mok. I’m wondering if it originated in Cambodia, Thailand or elsewhere?

phil: How do you come across all these obscure fish references on the Internet? That’s interesting to know, and I’ll avoid that fish when I there again.

I’m not sure if anybody can prove where this style of cooking originated, but it certainly does exist in every part of SE Asia! Even Malaysia and Indonesia have otak-otak, grilled fish curries.

Hi Austin,
Thanks for a great site!
Can you please provide some directions on how to locate Paa Uap, as I am doing a foodies trip in Jan and this place sounds great.

Kelly: Hmmm… Honestly, it would be pretty hard to find if you’re not familiar with this part of northern Bangkok. Perhaps just have a taxi drive phone the place, or be in touch again before you come and I’ll email you with the details.

If this restaurant serves pa beuk, I will fly in from Chicago!

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