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.
02 907 9228