“In Isan, you get to eat big animals when there’s a big event, like a wedding or monk ordination,” says chef Chalee of 100 Mahaseth in Bangkok. “It makes Isan food very unique and very interesting, even when sometimes it looks very simple.”
Chef Chalee uses many cooking techniques and traditional dishes from Isan — Thailand’s largest region — and in our latest video, he and his friend and fellow chef, Num, head there to learn more local techniques from Por Sawat, known as “the king of Isan cuisine.” In the village of Baan Naam Phong, Por Sawat will prepare a whole cow as a feast.
No part of the animal goes to waste as chef Chalee, chef Num, Por Sawat, and other villagers break down the cow. As they’re cutting, they’re enjoying a “lion’s feast,” which is known as the butcher’s privilege of getting to dip raw, fresh meat from the cow into bowls of spicy nam jim jaew sauce. They also grill large pieces of the ribs and legs, steam the head and the lungs to use in other dishes, and squeeze out blood and bile from organs to use as sauces and seasonings. And for the final delicacy of the feast, they begin to prepare the brain.
The three chefs make a rare dish called brain hor mok. After removing the brain from the skull, Por Sawat recommends letting it dry out, then adding finely chopped dried chiles, spring onions, lemongrass, makrut lime leaves, salt, and fish sauce. From there, he wraps the mixture in a banana leaf, and places it on an open fire grill. Once cooked, it’s scooped up with rice, and has “a texture almost like tofu, soft yet firm, not mushy at all,” and flavors that are rich and herby, according to chef Chalee.
Check out the video to see other creative ways the villagers of Baan Naam Phong enjoy their nose-to-tail feast.