Going the distance

Nakhon Nayok proves worth the trip, especially for the food

The open-air som tum gai yang eatery is filled by military school faculty members on weekdays and visitors on weekends.

Khrua Ja Khoon

Military Academy Road (Highway 3052) Amphoe Muang Call 085-431-8565 Open daily 10am-3pm Cash only

There are numerous eateries that offer the likes of gai yang som tum on Military Academy Road. But the least publicised, yet most locally cherished, seems to be Khrua Ja Khoon, an open-air eatery set on marble-paved ground under a palm-thatched roof.

Spicy salad of glass noodles and minced pork with roasted rice powder and herbs.

The eatery's well-maintained open kitchen is run by an amiable petite lady cook and offers approximately 30 dishes of typical Isan cuisine. The menu includes varieties of som tum, yum, larb (minced meat with herbs and roasted rice powder), tom sab (sour and spicy soup) and grilled meat items together with a selection of personal dishes such as pad thai, khana moo krob with rice and pad krapao with rice.

A friend who is a regular at Khrua Ja Khoon said that every dish she has tried was gratifying. Yet, among items not to be missed are som tum thua moo krob (60 baht), larb woonsen (60 baht) and tom saeb si khrong moo (60 baht). The first dish features som tum-style fresh string bean salad tossed with homemade crispy pork. It's proved an awesome combination of three crunchy ingredients _ green papaya, string bean and deep-fried pork, the latter of which didn't just lend crisp chews, but also added a salty and fatty pork munch to the dish.

The second is sour and spicy salad of glass noodles and minced pork flavoured with fish sauce, lime juice, roasted rice powder, chilli powder and herbs. The third presents pork spare ribs in tasty clear broth spiced with sawtooth coriander and roasted chillies.

Boasting the province's fine-quality rice, the restaurant offers two options of sticky rice: white and black, which are properly cooked to a pleasant soft-grain texture.

On weekdays, the small venue is filled mainly by military school faculty members and cadets. Visitors from Bangkok _ tourists and epicures _ usually pack the place on weekends.

Som tum -style salad of fresh string bean with homemade crispy pork.

The five-year-old restaurant serves up cuisine focusing on hydroponic vegetables and provincial fish.

Khrua Hydro

Yuthasak Hydro Farm Tambon Sarika, Amphoe Muang Call 018-846-1641 and 081-864-2995 Open daily 10am-10pm No credit cards accepted

Amidst a 14-rai estate graced with a large man-made pond and hydroponic plantations sits a five-year-old restaurant with a menu that mainly focuses on Agricultural Department-certified pesticide-free vegetables and provincial fish.

The hydroponic salad with crispy homemade fish fingers.

The restaurant's extensive selection offers as many as 100 salad, steamed and stir-fried dishes. A drawback was that the menu doesn't have prices, even though the bill turned out to be very reasonable.

We were truly pleased with the hydroponic salad with crispy fish fingers (120 baht) _ golden breaded fish sticks on a bed of green oak lettuce, finely sliced cabbage and carrot, accompanied by a bowl of mayonnaise. To be able to guarantee the safety and quality of its food, the restaurant produces its own fish fingers and salad dressing, which proved marvellous.

Next to arrive was stir-fried spinach with oyster sauce (100 baht). Great with or without rice, the spinach was properly wok-tossed with garlic to exhibit a bright green appearance, fresh crisp texture and naturally flavoursome taste that was not overpowered by too much oyster sauce.

The last dish, stir-fried mixed mushrooms (100 baht) featuring French horn, brown beech and straw varieties, was delightful.

Before leaving the restaurant, you might want to grab a bag or two of its hydroponic vegetables. Choices include kale, Chinese spinach (puay leng), napa cabbage and garland chrysanthamum (tang oh).

Stir-fried hydroponically-grown spinach with oyster sauce.

Lom Choey’s exemplary quality of food should never be compared to the ungraceful setting.

Lom Choey

Ban Sang-Nakhon Nayok Raod Amphoe Muang Call 037-388-467 and 085-396-2426 Open daily 10am-9pm Cash only

A very confident and outgoing food writer can be nervous at Lom Choey, a rustic eatery owned and run by a sylvan lady master chef who's neither a chit-chatter, nor a smiler.

Yet, because of the great food and good (kind of ludicrously intimidating) experience we recently had there, I have listed Lom Choey as one of my favourite dining places in the Kingdom.

As its name suggests, the restaurant, located off a beaten track, is cooled by a gentle breeze from adjacent woodland and rice paddies. And just like the many dining joints in Nakhon Nayok, the exemplary quality of food should never be compared to the ungraceful setting of nothing more than wooden tables and plastic chairs on a cement-paved verandah.

Lom Choey's menu features almost 100 dishes, prepared either in countryside-fashion or jungle-style.

Don't let the tedious food descriptions scare you away, you must order pla duk thawt nam pla, or deep-fried broadhead catfish (60 baht each). Frankly I never had faith in freshwater fish for its unpleasant dirt-odoured meat. But the dish here, presenting a pla duk oui with its characteristic golden yellow meat yielding a rich fatty flavour, leavened with fish sauce before being masterly deep-fried with lots of garlic until almost every part of the fish _ including the bones and the fins _ become crispy and edible, turned out to be absolutely addictive. Another dish you can't miss is pla chon nueng pak, or steamed snakehead fish with vegetables (approximately 300 baht per kilogramme). Again, freshwater fish and steaming don't sound tempting when put together.

But the dish, prepared with a fresh, jumbo-sized fish with supple white meat and a naturally sweet taste, proved to be one of the best steamed fish I've ever eaten.

Other popular dishes here include grilled river prawns, deep-fried frog with garlic, and deep-fried fish with sweet and sour chilli topping.

Lerd Ros’ airconditioned dining room is tucked behind an open-air, low-ceiling gallery.

Lerd Ros

Udom Thani Road Amphoe Muang Call 037-313-166 Open daily 9am-3pm Cash only

Lerd Ros's shoddy setting is not a good match for its excellent food. Perhaps that's why the restaurant's name means "outstanding in flavour".

The eatery provides two dining sections: the open-air, low-ceiling gallery cooled by electric fans and the fairly ventilated air-conditioned room.

The restaurant boasts bestselling dishes including hoy thawt (crispy mussels pancake), pla kod luak jim (flash-boiled bagrid fish fillet with spicy dip) and yum Shanghai (sour and spicy glass noodle roll salad).

Until today, our party of four still yearns for Lerd Ros' super tasty woonsen pad thai (50 baht).

Presenting glass noodles professionally cooked with medium-sized shrimps, neat slices of cuttlefish, fried tofu and fresh bean sprouts, the never-mushy dish was a darling for its good-quality ingredients and pungent, yet subtle combination of flavours.

Equally memorable was moo deng luak jim, or flash-boiled supple pork balls with spicy dip (70 baht) _ a generous platter of homemade pork balls and deep-fried pork rind on a bed of sauteed ivy gourd leaves sprinkled with brittle garlic and fresh sprigs of Chinese celery.

The pork was complemented perfectly by a sour and spicy dipping sauce made with coriander, green chillies, garlic, fish sauce and lime juice.

Delicious desserts, such as khanom thua pab (sweet mungbean dumplings with grated coconut) and khanom sai sai (sweet coconut-cream souffle with savoury coconut filling in banana-leaf wrapping) can be bought from a traditional dessert stall just across the road.

About the author

columnist
Writer: Vanniya Sriangura
Position: News Reporter