Pla Pao, or Thai Salt-Crust Fish, Koh Larn, Thailand

Pla Pao (ปลาเผา)

on Koh Larn Island, Thailand

One of my very favorite Thai seafood dishes is called "pla pao". A fish is stuffed with lemongrass and rolled in sea salt to create a thick crust. Then, the fish is grilled over hot coals. The salt keeps much of the moisture in, keeping the meat juicy and tender and the lemongrass infuses the fish with a strong herbal flavor. The fish is dipped in a spicy green chili sauce (optional, but I like it!) and eaten fresh just moments after coming off of the charcoal grill. Typically, pla pao is made from a fat red tilapia, known in Thai as "pla tubtim". The fish has lots of meat, which makes it perfect for cooking this way. 

pla pao, or Thai salt-crust fish
pla pao, or Thai salt-crust fish

We were visiting the small resort island of Koh Larn. It's an easy weekend getaway from Bangkok and right off the coast of Pattaya in Chonburi Province. I'm not a big fan of Pattaya City, but Koh Larn is quiet, peaceful, laid-back, and an amazing place to eat some wonderful seafood.

For dinner, my girlfriend took me to a local street market just outside of the neighborhood temple by the ferry pier on this little island. We had our mind on one thing - seafood!

Thai fish rolled in salt and stuffed with fresh lemongrass
Thai fish rolled in salt and stuffed with fresh lemongrass

To order, just choose the fish that you would like right off of the grill. Don't worry if you can't speak any Thai - the old smile and point method works just fine here! When the fish has finished cooking, the vendor will cut it open for you, exposing all of the sweet, juicy fish meat and making it super easy to eat.

It may seem intimidating to order food this way from a local market, especially if you don't speak the language or are just visiting for a few days as a tourist, but I promise that you won't be disappointed if you do! If you want to have the full experience, make sure to get some green seafood sauce from the vendor (nam jim seafood, or น้ำจิ้มซีฟู้ด) which enhances all of the delicious herbal flavors in the fish. It can be spicy, so be careful! I love it, though.

Grab a few bottles of Beer Chang from the nearby 7-11 and enjoy your meal right on the beach.

a vendor grilling fish at the street market on Koh Larn Island

180 THB for 1 pla pao (about $6)

The fresh food street market just outside of the temple near the pier and the 7-11 on Koh Larn Island (Chonburi Province), Thailand