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Laos Eats

Green on Purple

I’ll be honest with you: I knew nothing about Laotian food before I traveled to Laos. And I have no clue why I didn’t because there is a large Hmong population in my hometown, but only one restaurant I have heard of since. Lao cuisine is delicious and different from neighboring Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam (sorry never got to Burma to eat). The French influence is very noticeable in Laos with baguettes easily found and several French restaurants in Vientiane and Luang Prabang. Because I heard so many great things from Chloe, I decided that Victor and I would take a cooking class at Tamarind, a restaurant and cooking school, in Luang Prabang.

Laos Sampler

We arrived in Luang Prabang around lunchtime and decided to eat at Tamarind. The lunch was fantastic, so that boded well for our class. One of the first things that I noticed about Lao cuisine was sticky rice. Sticky rice comes with almost every meal and when people eat with their hands, they use the rice as a base to scoop up other food. We ordered a combination plate (pictured above) which came with Lao sausage, a jerky and few small pickled salads. Lao cuisine uses plenty of fresh herbs, but I was most surprised to encounter dill, an herb I associate with Eastern European cooking. It was so hot when we arrived in Luang Prabang I had to order a cucumber salad too:

Cucumber Salad

Sticky Rice

Cooking sticky rice in special bamboo baskets:

Cooking Sticky Rice

A PiA fellow who has lived in Laos for many years recommended Lao Kitchen in Vientiane. As the hotel manager circled the location for me on a map he said, “Good choice.” And it certainly was.

Rolled Up

Lao sausage with a delicious dipping sauce and plenty of dill:

Lao Sausage

A laap salad, consists of minced meat, pleanty of herbs and a kick of heat from some chili:

Larb

Breakfast in Luang Prabang — if I had to liken it to anything, I would call it a rice noodle savory breakfast crepe:

Hotel Breakfast

Before we started any cooking, our class headed to the market. I picked up a nice tool that easily allows you to “peel” a papaya or green mango into long thin slices ready for a delicious salad. I love the way herbs and crabs are presented on little rings at the markets in Laos. Market scenes in Luang Prabnag:

Market Visit

Charming Herb Rings

Mish Mash

Ducks, cute little ducks, at markets make me nervous:

Oh No!

Crab on a Ring

The Tamarind cooking school is located outside of central Luang Prabang on a nice pond.

Cooking School View

We cooked several dishes during the class. As we got cooking I started feeling really terrible. Victor had come down with a fever a day earlier and now it was my turn. Halfway through the class I excused myself. The instructor came and found me and got me a lounge chair so I could lie down and nap. If you know me, and my love of cooking, this was the absolute worse time for me to feel awful, but c’est la vie. At least I made it partly through what turned out to be my favorite dish:

Laos Chicken

Cooking

Oua si khai (stuffed lemongrass):
5 garlic cloves, chopped
4-6 scallions, chopped
1/2 cup roughly chopped coriander
1 kaffir lime leaf, sliced
1 teaspoon salt
200 g meat (chicken, beef or pork minced)
10-12 lemongrass stalks
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup frying oil
1. Pound the herbs together, then combine with the meat.
2. Cut the lemongrass all around, creating ‘baskets.’
3. Stuff the lemongrass, dip in egg, and fry!

Dig In

After my mid-class siesta, I awoke to find a whole plate of food waiting for me including mok pa: fish steamed in banana leaves and plenty of dipping sauces, jeow, jeow mak keua (eggplant dip) and jeow mak len (tomato).

Luang Prabang is a great city to wander and eat in. Victor and I had some cheap noodles at a small restaurant one day for lunch:

Street Noodles

The night market in Luang Prabang is a feast for the eyes and stomach. Sandwiches and cups filled with fruit, the quicker to dump and blend, line the back end of the market and down a small alley, families set up food stands. For about a dollar you get a plate and can eat your fill.

But Mom!

Mom caught him stealing and he got a telling:

I Want

Ah yes, only the finest Laotian fillings and spreads:

Nutella

Smoothie Ready

Take Your Pick

Fish on a Stick

Grillin'

Pile It On

What Else?

After weeks of traveling sometimes you just crave a really great Western dessert and glass of wine:

Colonial Life

Most Amazing

A French meal in Vientiane:

Colonial Past Never Tasted So Good

A watermelon-chili granita with alcohol at Tamarind, pictured below. Granitas were popular in Laos. I don’t know why granitas aren’t more popular in other countries, so delicious.

Watermelon Chili Granita

As far as beer, you’d be hard pressed not to stumble on a case of Beer Lao. So it’s a good thing that this is actually a decent beer and also comes in a dark variety!

Beer Lao

Beer Lao Wherever You Go

In the end, eating in Laos was a pleasure and I’ve managed to recreate many dishes at home.

Where to Eat & Drink:

Vientiane:
Lao Kitchen (Rue Hengboun, opposite from the KP Hote) is a fantastic little spot with tasty traditional food.
Spirit House (a quiet spot, 93/09 Fa Ngum Road) order a P&P Granite, you won’t regret it.

Luang Prabang:
Tamarind (Th Kingkitsarat) great place to sample Lao cuisine.
Blue Lagoon (next to the royal palace) traditional food with some fusion elements.
L’Elephant Restaurant (Ban Wat Nong) fancy place for a pricey French dinner.
Saffron (Th Khem Khong) a great spot for a cup of coffee and ice cream with cookies.
Utopia (turn down Th Phommatha) on the river, this is a nice bar to lounge (you’ll end up practically lying down) and downing some Beer Lao.
Le Banneton (Th Sakkarin) one of many charming cafes the city has to offer.
And be sure to eat at the night market.

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. that grilled fish and that granita are two of the best things i’ve eaten, maybe ever. yum!

    June 12, 2013
  2. Ahh your pictures bring back some good memories to me. When James and I went to Luang Prabang, we loved the food in Tamarind so much that we went to the restaurant more than once. But unfortunately we didn’t try the food at the night market. Maybe next time. However, I can confidently say that Lao food is now one of my favorites ever. I knew nothing about it before I went to Laos, but I left the country completely fallen in love with laap, or lahm, and such.

    June 22, 2013
    • I don’t know why Lao food isn’t better known. I really enjoyed it and have recreated many of the recipes I got at my Tamarind cooking class. Glad you had several meals at Tamarind — it’s a fun spot.

      June 23, 2013

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