Postcard: Som Tum Lao (Laotian-style Papaya Salad)

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James Oseland

SAVEUR Editor-in-Chief James Oseland and I had an Isan Thai lunch with his friends at the Tourism Authority of Thailand last week. SAVEUR trivia: When they lost their World Trade Center offices in 2001, the TAT team worked out of the SAVEUR office for several months. What began as a bond over food blossomed into an enduring friendship.

Eating great Isan food is like a delirious and delicious game of chicken—how much can you scarf down before the capsaicin sears your tastebuds off? "It's too spicy, I can't eat anymore," Kun Ping (pictured) would say, leaning back in her chair. And yet her spoon, and our spoons, came forward to dig up more lime-tart papaya, with its kissproof seasonings of fermented fish, raw garlic, and chile. The hot jasmine rice gave my burning tongue no relief. But as any chile masochist/devotee knows, that pain only added to the euphoric pleasure of the homemade meal.—Ganda Suthivarakom