Gallery: Thailand Travels: Snapshots from the Markets of Isaan

Banh Gan Banh Da
Banh Gan Banh Da
Aka “Vietnamese pizza,” this snack is basically an open-faced spring roll attached to a crispy rice cracker. The vendor steams fresh sheets of rice flour to order, carefully peeling off individual portions with a wooden dowel and draping them on top of the cracker. The filling is minced pork mixed with local greens and scallions, plus a smattering of fried shallots. Fold the cracker in half to make a taco shape and enjoy sandwich-style.
Peeling
Peeling
The vendor carefully peels off one sheet of rice flour for banh guan banh dah. She keeps a constant supply of rice flour batter steaming at all times, rolling off individual sheets to-order.
Mee Kati and Bun Bee
Mee Kati and Bun Bee

Mee kati is a hot noodle dish with fresh rice flour noodles in a mild coconut milk broth (“kathi” means coconut milk in Thai), topped with minced pork, bean sprouts and peanuts. Hearty and filling, it’s almost like a Southeast Asian chili.

Bun bee is a cold noodle dish made with thin fermented rice flour noodles and topped with matchstick-sized slivers of pork skin, basil, bean sprouts, sliced banana flowers, cucumbers, and peanuts, then doused with a sweet syrup. It’s light and refreshing, if a bit cloying from the syrup.

Noodles of Nong Khai
Noodles of Nong Khai
Two different kinds of rice noodles—fresh on the left, for mee kati, and fermented for bun bee on the right. The noodles themselves aren’t actually fermented, but the rice that’s used to make them is soaked in water for several days before being ground into flour.
Banh Thai Baeo (left) and Banh Baeo
Banh Thai Baeo (left) and Banh Baeo

Banh Thai baeo are similar to fresh spring rolls, with a translucent rice flour wrapper and a pickled bamboo-minced pork-dried shrimp filling. It’s doused in a sweet chili-infused syrup and topped with the ubiquitous fried shallots. I found the rice flour wrapper too gelatinous for my Western palate, but the filling was complex and delightful.

Banh baeo is slightly harder to find—the rice paper rounds are time-consuming to make, so not all vendors carry them. The rounds are topped with pork floss and crispy, crouton-sized fried pork rinds, plus fried onions and the same syrup as the banh Thai baeo. Chewy on the outside, crunchy and porky inside, spicy-sweet throughout—I could eat a mountain of these.

Mini Banh Mi
Mini Banh Mi

All over Nong Khai, street vendors sell mini versions of the Vietnamese staple. The fillings are simpler than the full-sized version—you might get a spoonful of minced pork and scallions, a few slices of sausage, or a piece of ham—but the chewy bread is really the star, especially in northeastern Thailand, which isn’t exactly flush with French bakeries.