Hot dogs, kielbasas and bratwursts may be a little more familiar, but Thailand has a host of delicious, boast-worthy sausages you should get to know. Like most Thai dishes, these sausages pack a lot of flavor into their casings. While other countries use methods like curing and smoking, Thais prefer fermenting and drying, which adds flavors unique to the sausages found throughout the region. You’ll see Thai people eating sausage for breakfast, then snacking on sausages on a stick in the afternoon. They are an underrated staple in Thai food culture and worth seeking out.
Curious to try them? Restaurants like Pok Pok and Somtum Der in New York City frequently have these specialties on their menus. But first, brush up on five of our favorite Thai sausages.
SAI KROK ISAN (SHOWN ABOVE)
You’ll find this garlicky fermented sausage in the northeastern region of Thailand. “Sai krok” means “sausage” in Thai, so this is literally the sausage that hails from Isan. Isan food is known to be quite spicy and is eaten with sticky rice. Locals usually eat with their hands, and sticky rice makes it quite easy to grab and clump food into bites.
Cooked sticky rice is also found inside sai krok isan, along with a lot of garlic and salt. It’s also common to find glass noodles or vermicelli instead of rice. The sticky rice aids the fermentation process that gives the sausages its signature tanginess. You can find these sausage links being grilled over charcoal on street carts all over Thailand, but we do feel obligated to warn you about the garlic breath that this sausage leaves you with. That’s why it’s usually eaten with fresh cabbage leaves, raw chilies and ginger to help freshen your mouth afterward.
Snack-sized sai krok isan sausages.Fermented naem sausage in a dish called naem khluk (mixed naem). (Photo: Wikimedia Commons.)
Another fermented sausage from the Isan region of Thailand, naem is made with ground pork skin seasoned with garlic, chilies and cooked sticky rice, then fermented in ceramic pots for a few days. It is not stuffed in casings like most sausages, but is wrapped in banana leaves to be sold. They are then eaten raw along cabbage leaves, chili, ginger and peanuts. Because naem‘s flavor is so strong, Thai people like to add it to their fried rice as well (see above).
Sai oua in Chiang Mai on sticks for when you’re on the go.
Hailing from the north of the country, sai oua is another very flavorful Thai sausage filled with chopped lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime, coriander and red curry paste. The texture of the sausage comes from the herbs and spices that are not usually finely ground, but rather left so you can see them when you bite into them. In Chiang Mai, it is usually served on a platter with other northern specialties, like nam prik noom (a grilled chili dip) and fried pork rinds, or more simply eaten with fresh coriander. You can find them in markets in Chiang Mai, usually many feet long and coiled up, ready to be eaten.
A platter of northern Thai specialties: nam prik noom, pork rinds, and sai oua.
The Vietnamese share this sausage with the Thai, and it’s probably the closest relative to the American hot dog when it comes to texture. Unlike sai oua, moo yor has a simpler filling and flavor profile. It is a white pork sausage spiced with white or black pepper and blended with tapioca powder. The mixture is traditionally wrapped in a banana leaf and boiled. Thai people like to eat moo yor fried in a spicy and sour salad called yum, with onions, Chinese celery, fish sauce, chilies, lime juice and sugar.
Moo yor (lower left) on a northern Thai platter
We’ll end with a sweet and salty dried Chinese sausage eaten all over Thailand. It’s a versatile sausage that most Thai people have in their houses. It’s usually pan-fried until crispy and eaten sliced with a bowl of rice porridge in the morning. Other ways to eat kun chiang is in a yum salad the same way moo yor is, or cooked with fried rice.