"Pla Raa" Isan Cuisine Restaurant Presents Grace & Flavour
Somewhat on the fringes of the dining radar up in Nonthaburi, Pla Raa presents Northeastern Thai delicacies created with finesse. With bistro vibes and jazz tunes playing in the background, the casual eatery redefines Isan dining with effortless style. Looks aside, this hidden gem serves up delicious and flavourful comfort fare—some dishes true to their roots, some featuring a unique punch.
The restaurant was co-founded by foodie and hotelier Werasak Choonhajak, whose dream of putting more dishes with pla ra (fermented fish seasoning) onto the Michelin stage inspired this charming venture. “If anchovies can get international recognition, so can pla ra, don’t you think?” he says. “On the other hand, there are still many Thais who have a negative perception of this local culinary staple, that it is unhygienic and so on.” A wooden plate mounted on one wall also illustrates Werasak’s personal passion for the pungent condiment. On it is a directive from the Ministry of Agriculture—originally published in the Thai Royal Gazette—that details the quality standards of pla ra.
Today we dine with the host himself, who introduces us to some of the restaurant’s most popular picks from a wide span of culinary offerings. Before kicking off the meal, guests are treated to a complimentary bite of pla ra over crisps to warm up the palate. Chopped fermented fish is wok-fried to bring out bold, well-seasoned flavours, making it the perfect accompaniment for the buttery, ultra thin cracker.
With over 30 choices of som tam across the bulky menu, diners are sure to find an appropriate fit for their tastes. A dramatic serving of the signature som tam, in which crunchy papaya and velvety young coconut are presented in long, flat slices, arrives in a coconut shell. The dish is a beautiful marriage of sweet, salty, sour and spicy characters, much owing to the umami-laden condiments of house-pickled crabs, fresh eggplant, tomato, kratin seeds and, of course, pla ra.
Next, a platter of grilled chicken offers a chance to dial down the spiciness a notch. Marinated in cumin before grilling, each bite is at once juicy, romatic and sweet. If you are in the mood for crunchy, guilty pleasures, also recommended is another house favourite—crispy pork belly. Steeped in fish sauce before being battered and deep-fried, the dish is very moreish, especially with a dash of seafood sauce. A hearty plateful of deep-fried sea bass flavoured with fish sauce also impresses. Luscious on the inside with a crisp finish, it is superb with a helping of warm jasmine rice and a generous spoonful of tangy green mango relish.
Pla Raa is also a popular lunch spot for nearby office workers, which is why the menu includes a number of tasty one-off dishes. You can embrace the restaurant’s theme with a flavourful platter of pasta stir-fried in Pla Raa Imm Sook (Werasak’s own brand of relish). Full of zest, it goes wonderfully with the crispy salmon belly chunks. If, however, you are in the mood for a simple, soulful dish, try pad thai with shrimps. Although possibly the furthest dish from Isan on the menu, it still dazzles—the noodles are pleasantly chewy and feature a lingering tang.
While you can end the meal Thai-style with a refreshing bowl of sala loy kaew, or salak in ice-cold syrup, Pla Raa also serves scrumptious Western sweets. Try the molten lava cakes, which come in three iterations—chocolate, green tea and Thai tea. Rich and decadent with warm, goey centres, their flavours go well with the silky vanilla ice cream and fluffy whipped cream. No better way to top a fiery meal than with a cool, sweet finish.
Pla Raa@Sanam Bin Nam
Liang Muang Nonthaburi Road
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