Thanks to its tasty flavour, ‘pla ra’ (fermented fish) is both a main dish and an indispensable ingredient in Northeastern Thai culinary culture. ‘Pla ra’ is one of the five elements that characterise ‘Isan’ uniqueness, along with sticky rice, ‘lap’ (spicy minced pork), ‘somtam’ (spicy papaya salad), and ‘mo lam’ (wind instrument performance).
The sight of more than a hundred jars at the fermenting centre in the middle of Ban Non Pla Khao, Phu Sing subdistrict, Kalasin province, is an obvious reflection of the long-time popularity of ‘pla ra’. This centre has been a source of fish fermenting secrets and recipes for over 52 years. The abundance of natural resources in the Lam Pao Dam area ensures all-season supplies of fish for this local community. And with the secret recipes passed on from their forefathers, Ban Non Pla Khao is known as one of best fish fermenting sites in the region.
The recipe of tastiness begins with washing and cleaning gourami fish and leaving them in a sieve to dry in the sun. Then, the fish are mixed with high-quality bran and salt before being left in a jar to ferment for about eight months. This method is a form of folk wisdom to preserve fish for off-season consumption. The long wait is worthwhile, as the tasty flavour is rewarding!
Northeasterners use ‘pla ra’ as an ingredient for various local dishes. ‘Pla ra-based’ flavourings taste just as delicious. ‘Pla ra’ is not only a pride of Ban Non Pla Khao as a plain, local food ingredient, but it also represents Northeastern Thai cuisine and its role in the gastronomical behaviour of people across the country.
Location: Ban Yang Talat, Kalasin, Thailand