Ahaan isaan, northeastern Thai-style food, is available virtually everywhere in Bangkok. In fact, I'll bet there's more isaan food in Bangkok than in isaan! The vast majority of this food is cheap and informal, and is sold primarily to homesick working class immigrants. However, there is also a great deal of isaan food that is directed towards middle class Bangkok diners. Although this kind of food may not always be as "authentic," it's often much cleaner and more accessible.
Foon Talop, a wildly popular restaurant located in the Chatuchak Weekend Market is an example of the latter. The restaurant is as interesting in terms of its atmosphere as its food, with diners seemingly stuffed into every tight corner and waiters and som tam pounders screaming orders at each other:
Since it is isaan, of course you've got to order som tam:
which, although it's made en masse in two gigantic mortar and pestles, is quite decent. We ordered som tam thai, som tam with bottled fish sauce, peanuts and dried shrimp. As with every restaurant serving this dish, it is made to order, and I ordered mine "phet priaow," spicy and sour.
Another isaan standby is nam tok muu:
This is strips of grilled pork made into a "salad" along with roasted sticky rice, lime, fish sauce, mint leaves and shallots. Nam tok literally means "waterfall," and refers to the fact that traditionally the drippings of the grilled meat are collected and added to the dish. I'm not sure if that's the case here though.
These dishes are good, but I like Foon Talop for its slightly more unusual items, such as plaa som (pictured at the top of this post), a freshwater fish that has been stuffed with sticky rice and allowed to sour. The fish is then battered and deep-fried and served with heaps of crispy fried garlic. Absolutely delicious, except for the tiny bones that are almost impossible to avoid.
Another interesting dish is kuay jap yuan, literally, "Vietnamese noodle soup":
A delicious pork broth containing thick round rice noodles, chunks of the Vietnamese sausage known in Thai as muu yor, strips of chicken, and topped with crispy fried shallots. Simple but good.
Chatuchak Weekend Market (the restaurant is located along the outside edge of Section 24, on the Kamphaeng Phet II Road side.)