In Thailand, Is This the Perfect Meal?

By Mark Wiens 24 Comments
An ambrosial meal in northeastern Thailand
An ambrosial meal in northeastern Thailand

It was mid-afternoon when we pulled up to the breezy lakeside restaurant in Ubolratana (อำเภอ อุบลรัตน์), Thailand (very near the famous Ubolratana Dam and about 50 km from the larger northeastern Thai city of Khon Kaen).

There’s a row of probably 20 restaurants, and though they were basically empty when we went on a weekday, I’m sure they get packed out on the weekends.

The restaurant
The restaurant

The restaurant we chose was called Ran Paan Kayk (YES, that is the Thai translation of “pancake,” and that’s the restaurant name possibly because the owner, or his child is named pancake – not because they serve pancakes).

The restaurants was constructed as an open-air bamboo long house hovering on stilts above the choppy lake and covered with thatch.

Dining ambiance doesn’t get much better than this!

Ubol Ratana
Low bamboo tables above the lake

Mats, low bamboo tables, small cushions, and a refreshing breeze off the lake added to the comfort of the establishment.

After choosing our table, a waiter took our order and disappeared to the kitchen (located up the hill a little ways).

Isaan street food
What can I serve you?

Things began to further improve when this lady seemed to magically appear out of nowhere bearing gifts of tasty things.

Skewered eggs
Mixed skewered eggs – kai ping song kreung ไข่ปิ้งทรงเครื่อง

In our state of relaxation we couldn’t resist purchasing a few skewers of eggs and a couple plastic wrapped plates of crunchy fried crabs.

The eggs, known as kai ping song kreung (ไข่ปิ้งทรงเครื่อง), tasted similar to a Chinese steamed egg – the yolk and white had mingled into a firm custardy like consistency that was lightly salty and peppery.

crispy crab
crispy crab

The crabs were fried through-and-through to a perfect crisp and salted just enough to make them addictive.

Fried chicken with lemongrass and lime leaves
Fried chicken with lemongrass and lime leaves

The first dish that emerged was a plate of fried chicken chopped into little bite sized morsels – think of a cross between fried chicken and chicken jerky.

The real bonus was the inclusion of deep fried lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves giving each bite a wonderful lemony fragrance.

Fried fish and a sauce to die for
Fried fish and a sauce to die for

Fried fish sprinkled with fried pieces of garlic was another dish we ordered.

Though the entire meal was delicious, the sauce, which I couldn’t help from dousing on everything, was exceptional.

Pounded chillies, garlic, fish sauce, lime juice and perhaps a bit of finely ground lemongrass where the main ingredients I could detect – and it was a blend that was balanced to perfection.

It was one of those sauces I wanted to drink like a bottle of juice.

Thai food in Isaan
Sour fish soup in a flaming pot

The tom saap soup was a medley of fish broth, brewed with galangal, culantro leaves, and puckered up with lots of lime juice.

To make the meal even better I was given a Pokemon (or some other cartoonish character, tell me if you know) plate edged with baby blue and pink decoration.

Flaming plate of Thai green papaya salad
Flaming plate of Thai green papaya salad

Alas, in the Isaan province of Thailand, a meal would not be a meal without the addition of a plate of green papaya salad (som tam) – one of the best Thai dishes.

This particular version was quite a lot redder than usual due to the color of local dried shrimp and also our request of it being prepared on fire.

Normally eaten with sticky rice, I like it with steamed rice too!
Normally eaten with sticky rice, I like it with steamed rice too!

And though traditionally Thai green papaya salad would be consumed with sticky rice, for this meal I enjoyed it piled right onto my plate of steamed white rice.

The Main Event
The Main Event

The roasted tilapia (pla nin ปลานิล) didn’t emerge until nearly all of us were stuffed and falling into a dazed recline.

But with such a cute face and wide smile, he was begging to be eaten. The salted skin makes Thai style roasted fish easy to unwrap, revealing the moist flesh of the fish on the inside.

It was extremely fresh, I’m sure it had been plucked from the lake (or farm) just hours before arriving on our table. While sometimes  tilapia can be a bit mushy, this guy was firm, flaky, and so flavorful.

Isn't that a beautiful little taco?
Isn’t that a beautiful little taco?

The fish was served accompanied by soft khanom jeen rice noodles and peppery bai chaplu leaves – kind or like eating a Korean barbecue but with fish and noodles instead of barbecued red meat and lettuce leaves.

My dozing eyes, peering out over the lake
My dozing eyes, peering out over the lake

After the fish was scraped clean, I was so satisfied, I couldn’t do anything but lay back on the bamboo and rub my tummy.

A feast complete (many more dishes on the floor beside the table)
A feast complete (many more dishes on the floor beside the table)

So is this the perfect meal in Thailand?

Well if not, it certainly was a perfect meal.

24 comments. I'd love to hear from you!

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  • Mike

    8 years ago

    Outstanding! Would be a blessing to have the opportunity to visit there one day. The food looks great!

    • Mark Wiens

      8 years ago

      Hey Mike, thanks a lot, it really is a great place for food and relaxation.

  • Phil

    8 years ago

    I have been there MANY times. I used to live about 20 km in a small muban near there. It’s a wonderful place. Some small mountains and even bigger mountains nearby. I’m sure people were staring at you a lot seeing a farang there lol . The place is PACKED during the weekends and on holidays. High so goes there during the week when it’s much quieter 😀 Glad you had a chance to see the beautiful country and sharing it with the rest of us.

    • Mark Wiens

      8 years ago

      Hey Phil, thank you very much for sharing and so great to hear that you’ve been to this spot! It really is a highly enjoyable place for a relaxing meal with good food. I was there on the weekdays and it was so peaceful and quite, though I can see how it would get quite packed on the weekends. I’ll surely be visiting this place every time I’m in Khon Kaen!

  • Rebecca

    8 years ago

    Oh my, that papaya salad looks like it will burn your socks off!! 🙂

  • Paul Phillips

    8 years ago

    Hi Mark
    That fish (pla nin ปลานิล) is a dish I have the pleasure of eating about once a week, we order it from a local stall just down the road, fresh succulent and and delicious, oh we live in Phuket! Enjoy your stay in Thailand.

    • Mark Wiens

      8 years ago

      Thanks Paul – good to hear you enjoy a grilled fish frequently as well – it sure is one of the joys of living in Thailand!

  • Arti

    8 years ago

    The ambience of the place is just wonderful. Who would not love such a setting for a nice, yummy meal!
    Have a fantastic weekend Mark 🙂

    • Mark Wiens

      8 years ago

      Thanks Arti, I fully agree, it’s a setting fit for a great meal. Hope you have a great weekend too!

  • Noah

    8 years ago

    Looks tasty. I’ll try it when i cross into Thailand next week. I figured there had to be more to those eggs than just hard boiled.

    • Mark Wiens

      8 years ago

      Hey Noah, yah before tasting them I thought they might include an embryo, like a Filipino balut or the Vietnamese version, but these were pretty much just flavored and mixed hard boiled eggs. I have no idea how they are made, but pretty good tasting!

  • lucy

    8 years ago

    mmm I’m getting hungry! 🙂

  • Stephanie – The Travel Chica

    8 years ago

    Whole fish (done well) is one of my favorite food discoveries from my travels. Would love to try that tilapia.

    • Mark Wiens

      8 years ago

      Great to hear that Stephanie, I think when the fish is prepared whole it retains all the juices and fish oil to make it the most flavorful!

  • Erica

    8 years ago

    Yup, looks like THE perfect meal!
    The grilled fish that I had while I was in Thailand wasn’t that great, but you and Susan from Splendor in the Lemongrass have convinced me that it was just a poor choice for our location and that I HAVE to go back again if only to eat proper grilled fish 🙂

    • Mark Wiens

      8 years ago

      Hey Erica, yah very much depending on the freshness of the fish, I have had grilled fish in Thailand that was mushy and not so good, but in the countryside where they get the fish straight from the lake (like this place) it can be incredible. But then again, comparing things with Japan… I think they take all fish and seafood to the NEXT level!

  • Debs @ The Spanish Wok

    8 years ago

    Your meal looks amazing and what a fantastic setting. The view of the lake looked a bit overwhelming to me as I seem to always be scared by vast amounts of water (sad I know).

    • Mark Wiens

      8 years ago

      Hey Debs, that’s alright! There were some tables positioned closer to land – not so far out on the stilts, so maybe a table there would suit you better, so you could enjoy this meal as well!