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Wow, I think I should try this if I ever have the opportunity. Sounds intense and intriguing!


I agree wow. This is so outside my familiar I'm taken aback. Hope I get to try it and really stretch myself. Thanks.


Your blog is SO informative. I've really been enjoying it. A couple of months ago, I got "Thai Food" by David Thompson, which I've slowly been working through ~ it is awesome. But I don't think he mentions Blpaa raa (will have to check!). I'll look for it at my local Asian market. Sounds intriguing...


Bplaa raa is probably outside the familiar for you all bec. it's not used in central Thai cuisine, which is what is served in most overseas Thai restaurants (with some Isaan food thrown in). And visitors to Bangkok would be unlikely to encounter it unless they went to an authentic Isaan or n. Thai restaurant/vendor/shop.

Jennifer - thanks, that's a nice compliment. We like to be informative as well as pretty! ;-)
I'm pretty sure Thompson mentions it, perhaps as a part of his fish sauce discussion, or maybe in his section on the cuisines of Thailand's regions. It wouldn't have been used in royal Thai cuisine, which is what his book is devoted to (though it might pop up in his street food section).


Yum. I love this stuff. It adds such intense flavor to the food, there is no real substitute!


While Thai pla raa and Vietnamese mam are not the same thing, a lot of the pla raa exported to the US is double-listed on the label as mam for the US Vietnamese market. A little confusing.


Just also want to note that during the period of the embargo on Vietnamese imported products, Vietnamese foodstuff reached the large US-Vietnamese immigrant market under the guise of a "made in Thailand" label. What resulted was a large confusing field of brands-some traditionally-made but of normal quality, others artisanal and of the best provenance, yet others industrial ersatz products sometimes made elsewhere-almost all claiming to be something it is not (Vietnamese claiming to be Thai, Thai claiming to be Vietnamese etc). I sketched out the confusion over nuoc mam in the US (I was discussing nuoc mam from the specific terroirs of Phu Quoc and Pan Thiet) in this old post (from 2002) from the Chicago Chowhound Board (scroll down):


So there was (is) nuoc mam which is really Thai fish sauce labelled as Vietnamese, true Vietnamese nuoc mam of varying quality, nuoc mam labelled as "Phu Quoc nuoc mam" when it is not really so, and then also true Phu Quoc as well but this may often be blended away with indifferent nuoc mam in large bottling concerns (in the same way that wines from the greatest terroir might sometimes be blended and essentially watered-down for the sake of volume). And of course there is no way to tell what is from where AT ALL from labels.

Similarly, there is pla raa that is true pla raa but marketed for the Vietnamese market as mam, AND alternatively mam that is called pla raa.

I think that the next step in the discourse (Robyn, this is where people like you come in) is a clarification of what exactly these things (petis, nuoc mam, bagoong and so on)are. What really makes a pla raa? What is mam? How do they really differ? Are they REALLY different in the first place? And so on.


Thanks Richard - you've really laid down the gauntlet. ;-) Just from taste I can say that mam - at least as you find it in Vietnam - is a different animal to bplaa raa. (Frankly I've yet to develop a love, or even a like, of mam.)

John-Paul Pagano

I'm in Chiang Mai, soon to be in Bangkok. Do you know where I might find this in a restaurant or street food setting? Is it something you can just generally request from a well-stocked vendor?


If plaarah is never eaten raw, was the plaarah paste on the right in the pic cooked?


That photo was taken at the market so no, the bplaa raa is not cooked. It would be added to a curry or such so it would be cooked in process. Bplaa raa liquid is sometimes used for somtam -- careful vendors will boil a batch first and let it cool. Many Thais are leery of eating raw bplaa raa.

Snippets of Thyme

How interesting to learn about these exotic (to me) ingredients that I can't even pronounce. Your articles are just fascinating and certainly introducing me to aspects of these cultures I am completely ignorant.

See Will

I am a German expat married since 12 years to a Isaan woman and where I live are many European neighbors where their wifes are popping up with Som Tam Bplaa Raa because I am almost the only one who is allowing his wife to eat it in the house.
Yes, it smells just horrible, especially when the wife gets the little after midnight hunger and sits with a smile beside you in the bed and chews down a bowl Som Tam with Bplaa Raa. It will wake you up! But when you look into the happy chewing face it's like,"naah all right, the smell will disappear the next couple of hours out of the bedroom again" Amazing Thailand, just love it and don't be angry to her.


Thanks for reading Will! You are indeed an understanding spouse. Bplaa raa, though delicious, smells bad enough in the kitchen let alone other rooms of the house.....

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