Sunday, March 19, 2017

Laos, 2017: Food


The Mekong River originates in China, runs through the middle of Laos, then along the border of Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam, through the middle of Cambodia, and finally enters the South China Sea in southern Vietnam. My first day in Luang Prabang, I sat for a few hours at a lovely, quiet, authentic waterfront restaurant enjoying a couple of drinks and a delicious Lao beef and bamboo shoot soup. Honestly, among the best things I've ever eaten!

Speaking of authentic--I'm not sure, since the menu included English, but I saw loads of locals in this place, across the street from my hotel in Vientiane: Lao chicken rice soup.


Many places in the world have their specialties--Beijing Duck springs to mind, or Georgia barbeque, or Kobe beef ... Lauang Prabang has a particular variety of sausage. Hell, I hear you say, sausage goes back to the freaking Romans, big effing deal! Yeah, you are correct as far as you go, but I bet you've never had Luang Prabang sausage, have you?

You have to trust me on this. Luang Prabang style sausage is the best you'll ever have. The eating street is where you'll find the real deal. There it is in the middle of the table.


You point out what you want, pay your money, and sit down at the nearest table. The side dish that comes with the sausage is Hmong-style pickled vegetables. It's basically Lao kimchi. Be careful! Hidden within my particular serving was a whitish pepper that is the hottest thing I've ever eaten my life. Still, it's absolutely brilliant! I had this dish also in Vientiane at the fine place near the Lamphu fountain I mentioned before, Khop Chai Deu:


No hot-as-fuck pepper hidden in their Hmong veggies. Another delicious meal I had there was Lao beef along with fried green beans. Laos is the only place I've been in Asia which offers string or green beans, like you might get back home. Though they're always stir fried. Which is not a bad thing.


The typical LP eating street experience is to either pick what you want and pay accordingly, or to get the "buffet", one plate, one serving, one price:


As a young youth in Thailand, I remember well street food super-thin pancakes made in woks, filled with Carnation sweetened condensed milk, folded over into cones. Not so much woks anymore, just flat griddles. Mangoes, bananas, Nutella, etc:


And here is coconut "pancake", lovely:


Some snacks:


Beer:


And as I crack a Korean maekchu, I end my blogging about my trip to Laos! Thanks for visiting my patch, Dear Reader, and Happy Travels!

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Laos, 2017: Bamboo Tree Cooking Class

I did a cooking class today [Dec. 31, 2016] at Bamboo Tree which began at 9:00, with 14 students. The first two hours involved signing in, waiting then traveling across town to the large wet market. I saw a couple of new things, notably a wood called "pepper tree root" which tastes of black pepper, and a hairy stick called ratan used in soups. It is a fair sized market.

The specific things mentioned are my first two pics:


The assembled group is watching Lao sticky rice in process. Well-washed glutinous rice is soaked for ten hours to overnight, then steamed for twenty minutes. The shape of the steaming basket comes into play as you must flip the rice over before steaming for another five minutes or so.


Rice is served in a little basket (or a big one if it's for a group) with a cover. I bought a couple of them, and you can see them on the little shelf by the microwave in the recent post about my new apartment. Anyway, I have posted probably hundreds of shots of wet markets around Asia, so I'll only add a few more.


We returned to individual chopping blocks to prep the ingredients for our dishes. We selected as a group: green papaya salad, LP beef soup, chicken in coconut milk soup, spicy chicken salad (laap), steamed chicken or fish wrapped in banana leaf, stuffed bamboo sprouts, sweet sticky rice with mango. We chopped and peeled, minced and cubed, pounded the spice mixtures with mortar and pestle, etc. One new thing I learned was to slice near the bottom of a stalk, as of bamboo or lemongrass, spread it to make a cage into which to put a ball of minced meat mixture. This was then floured, egg washed and breaded before we moved on to the frying station.

Here we are, assembled and ready to prep. But first, Linda will give some background on Lao cooking and some of the key ingredients.


The result of all our peeling and chopping and shredding:


Here I am frying the stuffed bamboo sprouts (only we used lemongrass instead of bamboo). I recently had the same dish in Hoi An, Vietnam, with pork and actual bamboo--both were terrific.


I think I look pretty good in a toque!

The final product, with the sweet sticky rice and fruit they love for dessert--the same name as in Thai: khao neow.


Yummy!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Laos, 2017: Temples

Temples, Buddhist, Catholic, Hindu, whatever, are usually beautiful examples of human craftmanship. They are also a window into humans' ability to deceive themselves. Case in point, "That Dam Stupa" (not a joke) located in a quiet roundabout in Vientiane. Legend has it that this stupa is/was inhabited by a seven-headed naga, mythical water-snake, whose job was to protect the Lao people and all the gold that covered the stupa.


I know what you're thinking: where's the gold? Thai invaders took it in 1820.

Anyway. I woke my first morning in Laos, had a decent breakfast in the charming garden of the Hotel Lao, and ventured forth. I almost immediately stumbled across a temple, Vat Inpeng. It is quite nice.


Near the bank of the river, I found Vat Chanthaboury, largely elephant-themed.


I'm not sure who the guys are on the small stupa detail, but they seem quite modern.

But the temple I wanted most to see was Hor Phakeo. It was built in the mid-1500s by a certain King Setthathirath when he moved the capital from Luang Prabang to Vientiane to house the storied Emerald Buddha. The Lao, the Thai and the Khmer (Cambodians) have had war after war, invasion after invasion, over this two foot tall carving, that's not even made of emerald (refer to sentence #2 of this post).

Still, it spent about two hundred years in Hor Phakeo (or Haw Phra Kaew or similar) before the Thais won it back. Today it resides in a similarly-named temple on the grounds of the Royal Palace in Bangkok. Although the Cambodias claim to have it too.


Luang Prabang has its own non-gold coated stupa, across the main drag from the Royal Palace.


But the town has some other temples, including the famously "active" Wat Mai, from whence the monks decend before daybreak to the riverbanks for alms-giving every morning. I never managed to wake up in time to see this spectacle, I did get some interesting shots of the temple itself.


Actually, I may have mixed some of those up with the other Buddhist temple just down the road, but I'm sure the ones below are from Wat Mai.


There is also Wat That Luang, apparently the best of the lot, but it was quite a long ways up a hill and I was pretty much templed-out by the time I heard about it. Next time, Luang Prabang, next time.