Sansab restaurant raises a toast to Isaan with a new menu of som tum served khan toke style
WITH A NAME that means “very tasty” in the Isaan (Northeastern) dialect, Sansab restaurant could hardly fail in its ambition to become one of Bangkok’s best spots for Isaan favourites.
“People know what our name means, so we want to serve dishes that are truly zesty. In the past, our eatery has been perceived as a mix of central Thai and Isaan foods, but now we are specialising in Isaan dishes. A variety of som tum and pla ra (fermented fish) from different sources will be our magnet to draw customers,” says co-owner Vasant Limvachirakom.
Sansab branch at Siam Paragon is a pioneer in offering new zesty menus with different kinds of som tum and pla ra.
Making som tum or spicy papaya salad is fairly easy, but making it truly tasty requires talent and experience. Many say the best som tum is found on the vending carts that dominate Bangkok’s streets, opining that the dirtier the cart looks, the tastier the som tum will be.
That’s arguable and you can go ahead and buy if you’re not worried about hygiene and you can at least be certain that the price won’t burn a hole in your pocket. But Vasant and his partners have long had their sights on serving this national dish and other Isaan favourites in contemporary style and they are concerned about hygiene and taste.
Sansab’s new zesty menus are now only available at its flagship store at Siam Paragon though they will rolled out to other branches next month. The 60-seat Siam Paragon branch is decked out in contemporary style with chairs and tables in grey and cushions covered in colourful checks for an Isaan feel.
Chanthaburi Khan Toke has som tum made with durian.
The highlights of the new menu are, without a doubt, the five variations of som tum made with distinctive pla ra from Suphan Buri, Kalasin, Udon Thani, Chantaburi and Vientiane.
Each som tum is also served on a khan toke, a Northern-style pedestal bamboo tray with different side dishes. Priced at Bt499 for each khan toke, they are ideal for sharing.
Kalasin som tum
“We tasted a lot of pla ra to find the ones with the most distinctive flavours. Pla ra from Vientiane uses fish larger than those locally sourced and is fermented for a long period resulting in a stronger smell. Meanwhile, pla ra from Kalasin has pickled garlic added while the sauce from Chantaburi is fermented with fresh pineapple. Each som tum is made with five chillies – a degree of spiciness that is neither too strong nor mild,” says Vasant, adding that clients can ask for the salad to be modified to suit their tolerance for spiciness.
Vientiane som tum
For a loyal fan of spicy papaya salad, Vientiane Khan Toke is a good choice as it boasts a very strong taste. The khan toke tray comes with som tum whipped up from shredded unripe papaya, pla ra from Vientaine and briny rice field crabs and is served with grilled chicken. The side dishes for every khan toke are the same –a bamboo basket of sticky rice, rice noodles, steamed Isaan-style pork sausage, Chinese-style sausage, pork crackling and a boiled egg.
Suphan Buri som tum
The Suphan Buri Khan Toke has som tum with flavourful pla ra fermented from salid and kla dee fishes and roasted rice powder. Ground dried fish is added to give a pleasing odour. It’s served with grilled river prawn for which the province is known.
Kalasin Khan Toke offers som tum made with sauteed tiny freshwater shrimps and kratin seeds (white popinac). As Lam Pao Dam in Kalasin is known for its pla nin fish (nile tilapia) breeding, a fried pla nin is also served.
Udon Thani som tum
The som tum dish on the Udon Thani Khan Toke uses lotus stems as a substitute for shredded papaya. Like penne pasta that absorbs sauce, these lotus stems add to the rich taste of the pla ra. It’s served with spiced minced duck larb – a local favourite.
And as Chanthaburi is known for its tasty durian, shredded light durian replaces the shredded papaya in the Chanthaburi Khan Toke. Crispy durian chips and a dish of stir-fried Chanthaburi rice noodles with soft crab are also served.
“People love to take pictures and share them on social media. So in addition to being tasty, the food must be presented in a creative way. Each dish offered on a khan toke reveals the origin of the source of the pla ra.
“Udon Thani is famous for its Talay Bua Daeng (Sea of Red Lotus), so lotus stems are used as a substitute for shredded papaya. Chanthaburi som tum is quite popular among visitors from China, Hong Kong and Singapore who are familiar with durian and want to try a new variation,” says Vasant.
If you’re dining solo and want only som tum, all five salads are available a la carte. They’re priced at Bt150 a pop with the exception of the durian som tum, which goes for Bt240.
Fried rice cooked with pla ra spicy dip
For a single dish, you can also try fried rice cooked with pla ra spicy dip topped with a chunk of fried, soured fish for Bt180.
Another tempting dish is Miang Pla Tu (Bt180) featuring fried mackerel cut into pieces and wrapped in leafy vegetables together with rice noodles, chopped ginger, red onion, lemon, chilli and roasted peanut and seasoned with spicy Thai-style seafood sauce.
Roasted chicken and chilli dip
To tone down the spiciness, Roasted Chicken (Bt220) is served on a chopping board together with a chilli paste and a tiny mortar and pestle. Inside the mortar are chilli, kaffir lime leaves, black peppercorns, garlic, and red onion. Diners are invited to pound the chilli paste themselves and are recommended to put thin slices of roasted chicken into the mortar too for a more flavourful taste.
Sansab has also launched a new menu of herbal drinks for clients to mix by themselves. A Butterfly Pea Juice with Lime and Soda is served on a traditional enamel tray with a glass of ice cubes that has butterfly pea inside the cubes, while lemon juice, soda and honey are served separately in each glass.
Butterfly pea juice with lime and soda
Other options are Baby Jackfruit Juice with Passion Fruit, Juice mixed with Chilli Stem and Ginger, and Roselle Juice with Chinese Jujube. Each costs Bt120 a glass.
“Only tempting taste is not enough in the competitive food business. The full sensory experience - sight, taste, smell, hearing and touch - should be given to clients,” adds Vasant.
Sansab also has branches at Terminal 21, Int’ Intersect, The Nine, Sena Fest and the Circle malls.
Sansab at Siam Paragon is on the fourth floor and open daily from 10 to 10.
Call (095) 365 6951 or visit www.Sansab.co.th.