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Watch: This new Vancouver restaurant specializes in Northeastern Thai food

This buzzy spot is drawing crowds and online raves

A new Vancouver restaurant is drawing crowds and lots of attention online thanks to its specialty dishes, spotlighting the food of Northeast Thailand.

Zab Bite opened up this fall at 4197 Fraser St and quickly became a big draw; it's not uncommon to see the restaurant packed on any given night or to catch some photos or videos of the food on social media lately.

The new Thai restaurant's focus is the cuisine of the E-Sarn region (which can alternatively be spelled Issan, Isan, Isaan, or Isarn) which is comprised of 20 provinces in the nation's northeast, bordering Cambodia to the south, and the Mekong River and Laos along the northeastern edge.

Northeastern Thai food: Hot and sour flavours

Food from the E-Sarn region is known for its heat and sourness. Soups typically have clear broths - rather than a coconut milk base - and dips are frequently made using pounded herbs and spices, like in the dry chili sauce served at Zab Bite with grilled steak in a dish called "Crying Tiger." Like the Crying Tiger beef, meats and seafood in Northeastern Thailand are typically prepared by grilling. 

Popular Northeastern Thai dishes include som tam (green papaya salad), gai yang (grilled chicken), and sticky rice.

One of the region's most well-known dishes is nam tok, sliced grilled meat that's essentially presented as a salad. Zab Bite's extensive menu features Nam Tok Crispy Grilled Pork, which is grilled slices of pork served in a spicy sauce with fresh herbs, rice powder, and dried chilis. This was an excellent dish, thanks to its well-balanced sauce with a nice amount of sour, tender meat, and enjoyable textural contrast from the rice powder. 

Zab Bite's Tum Corn salad was another highlight, with chunks of cherry tomatoes, fresh corn, dried shrimp, shredded carrot, peanuts, and the addition of hard-boiled egg wedges. The dish had a lot of tang and vibrancy, and a bit of heat. 

Of course, much like in Canada or elsewhere around the world, Thai dishes become popular outside their region of origin, so Zab Bite's menu features several well-known favourites, including the wide, chewy stir-fried rice noodles with greens and meat (or tofu) of pad see ew, or a simple appetizer of deep fried "wrapped" shrimp with a sweet chili dipping sauce.

While heat is a hallmark of Northeastern Thai, Zab Bite may be holding back a bit; dishes with a "medium" space bore very little heat, so if you are in search of a fiery burn, be sure to ask accordingly. 

Pricing at Zab Bite lands the new Thai restaurant in the middle of the pack as far as local options go. On the one extreme, you have the "Royal Thai" tasting menus at Richmond's Baan Lao, and on the other, more budget-focused take-out heavy spots. Zab Bite is assuredly a casual spot (with TV screens to boot) but the pricing certainly reflects the food's quality and the current industry standard, with entrees coming in around the $19 to $25 zone, depending on which protein is featured. 

Though Zab Bite makes its menu available at lunch and dinner, its "Lunch O'Clock" menu narrows down a few items offered at lowered prices to make a midday meal a bit more affordable. 

Reservations for parties of 2 to 6 people are available online via Tock.

Video: Trying Northeastern and other Thai food at Zab Bite

@forkingawesomevia This new Thai restaurant in Vancouver serves food from Northeastern Thailand. Have you tried E Sarn or Isan Thai dishes? 🇹🇭 #forkingawesome #vancouverbc #thaifood #isanthaifood🇹🇭🇲🇾 ♬ Similar Sensation (Instrumental) - BLVKSHP

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