The night market pops up in a roar of sights, scents and tastes to the east of the clock tower. Most vendors sell meats and produce from the surrounding countryside, including an array of fresh herbs and freshly skinned frogs, but you’ll also find a good spread of prepared foods for takeaway. Snag Isaan specialties like gaeng nawmai (herbaceous bamboo shoot curry), deep-fried insects and som tam buu pla raa (fiery green papaya salad with pickled crabs), or opt for slightly less pungent options like deep-fried fish and hor mok (fish curry cakes steamed in banana leaves). You’ll also find Thai desserts like khao mut, a mix of sticky rice and sugar spiked with rice wine. Prices are extremely cheap so don’t be afraid to stock up for a picnic.
One dish that locals take pride in is pad mii Phimai, often featuring rice noodles produced by hand in the nearby village of Ban Tha Daeng. It’s the local variety of pad mii Khorat, a fried noodle dish that’s an older cousin of pad Thai involving morning glory and usually pork woven into wok-fried noodles with egg. Just east of the historical park’s car park on Anantajinda, a woman sets up at around 17:00 to whip up pad mii Phimai in her footpath wok, serving it for 30 baht at several tables set out in the open.
If you’re in the mood for Isaan food that doesn’t mess around, head northwest of the historical park and grab a table in the garden at Tam Paa Kalasin. Prepared by natives of Kalasin province, the namesake salad features khanom jeen (sticky rice noodles) lightly pounded with miniature deep-fried salty fish, bamboo shoots pickled cabbage and lots of fresh chillies. They also do a mean laap ped (minced duck salad) and som tam Khorat, a regional twist on shredded green papaya salad that dashes a spoonful of Isaan-style pla raa (fermented fish sauce) into Central Thai style som tam. Several other types of som tam include tam talay (with seafood) and tam muu yor (with strips of grilled pork neck), and you’ll also find ped yang (grilled duck), sai grok (Isaan-style fermented sausage) and gaeng om, an herbaceous pumpkin and mushroom soup. Grilled meats are displayed but the menu is in Thai only, with salads starting at 30 baht.
Colourful Nomneoy Cafe is a quick and easy option for breakfast or lunch near the historical park, serving affordable pad mii Phimai along with simple Western breakfasts, a few baked goods and fresh coffee, all displayed in an English menu with photos. The food won’t rock your world but the space is inviting and WiFi is available. Another good option for a lunch or dinner that doesn’t require a game of charades to convey what you want is Khru Pom, a traveller-oriented restaurant set next to the guesthouse of the same name near the historical park. It was temporarily closed when we last passed through, but we’ve heard good things about the curries and stir-fries.
After dark you might settle into Rabieng Mai, covering a few terraces across the street from Phimai Paradise Hotel. The English menu includes whole fried fish, several Isaan-style salads and Thai drinking snacks like fried chicken and sai grok served with peanuts, ginger and fresh chillies, with prices ranging from 70 to 250 baht. Grab some cold beer or a bottle of Thai whiskey with ice and mixers and kick back to enjoy the live music.
Khru Pom Restaurant: Anantajinda Rd, down an alley marked by a 7-eleven across from the historical park’s car park; open for lunch and dinner; T: (086) 648 9383.
Night market: Anantajinda Rd, just east of the clock tower; open daily 17:00-21:00.
Nomneoy Cafe: Down a dead-end lane that cuts west from Tha Songkran Rd, just northeast of the historical park and west of Phimai Paradise Hotel; open 08:00-22:00; T: (089) 948 5655.
Rabieng Mai: Samairujee Rd, across from Phimai Paradise Hotel (look for the Chang Beer sign); open 17:00-00:00.
Tam Paa Kalasin: Chomsai Rd, about 100 metres west of Wat Doem’s southern gate (look for an orange sign with the name in Thai script); open for lunch and dinner; T: (091) 331 3035.