Slideshow: 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.

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.