The mind behind Zao takes Isaan food up a notch.
The buzz: The Isaan food hype reached new heights with the arrival of Zao, Ekkamai’s Isaan food specialist with the nostalgic flavors of unapologetic northeastern classics. Now, owner Nutthida “Eve” Palasak has opened the spin-off Zao Larb on Thonglor Soi 25, focusing on more adventurous and lesser known dishes—som teen ngua (fermented ox feet) and som suer (fermented beef brisket wrapped in bamboo leaves)—and even raw beef delicacies including soi ju and goy.
The vibe: Taking over a two-storey house in a small sub soi in Thonglor, this place looks surprisingly similar to its first branch in Ekkamai, with a sleek, photogenic design you wouldn’t expect from places selling Isaan dishes on the street. The rough concrete is balanced with brown wood furniture and design pieces, which, again, are a nod to the owner’s bold emphasis with northeastern artists. On our last visit, the second floor wasn’t complete yet, but we can see that it will offer more privacy for large groups.
The food: Unlike the homey dishes served at Zao, Zao Larb takes you on a tour to the region’s textural depth to daring routes where most adventurous eaters—and those who try to avoid them—bristle. The idea of putting raw beef in your system sounds scary, but that’s pretty normal in the culinary world if you think about it—beef tartare or even ceviches, anyone? Here, the raw beef sliced into bite-sized bundles, soi ju (B320), is packed with chewy beef tripe and liver served with bitter dipping sauce. The five-minute som seur (B350) features beef brisket wrapped in banana leaf; the beef is perfumed from the inside with herbaceous stuffing before streaming under coal for five minutes to elevate the flavor. We also love the larb pla pbeung (B250) made with black ear catfish caught and sent from her hometown. The texture was plump and delicately well-seasoned. The same goes for the larb ped sam dao (B320), a medley of duck meat, crispy skins, and duck offal flagrantly seasoned and served with pickled garlic Eve’s mother pre-made a year ago. Jaew hon, Isaan’s answer to hotpot, is available for two options: assorted slices of Sri Saket’s A5 Tamaji Lamduan beef (starting at B1,950) or all-star fish from Ubon Ratchathani (B2,850), both perfect for sharing. Wash them down with som teen ngua (B320) with fermented ox feet that gave us the impression of eating a soup version of nhaem. The feet and tendons are slow-cooked until they look and taste like jelly—mellowing all the fiery flavors.
Why we’d come back: Zao Larb invites you to dig deeper than the usual comfort of Isaan cuisine; we asked our Isaan friends and they told us that they can’t find dishes like this in Bangkok. The price might be a little bit discouraging for anyone who normally dines on northeastern dishes, but for those who haven’t, the comfort, along with its cool, hipsterish vibe, makes it more accessible. By Porpor Leelasestaporn
|Zao Larb, 11/7 Thonglor Soi 25, Bangkok, Thailand
|Mon-Tue 11am-11pm; Thu-Sun noon-midnight
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