“Special Post” Laos Part Six

Yes, this is the last of a six part series on Laos “Special Post”. I am tempted to not make this the last, but maybe the last of a last. But everything has to come to an end. Sounds tragic. But, not so. As there is always a new beginning! Like a prequel to a book (Harry Potter) or movie (Star Wars). I swear I will not do this to you though. This Is It (MJ). My last “Special Post” on Laos.

Part Six is all about food. I came to Laos not knowing what to expect of the food. Rarely have I heard of Lao food in Australia. I have zero knowledge. Zipped. Nothing. So it was quite an adventure to seek out that special Lao food. What really defines the food? Since I started this “Special Post” I have gained several Lao followers. Please feel free to comment on this post, to help us understand your food culture better.

Finding a place to eat is quite a daunting task when there is limited time for visiting a place. Making the correct choice is important. We often doubt our choice before going into the restaurant, and questioned our mind over and over again before making that giant step into the front door. After all, making a wrong choice and feeling disappointed with the meal really cost nothing, but a missed opportunity on another place.

Fortunately, I had mostly good experiences in all the places I have been except one. Ended with a 2 days tummy upset. Ouch! My experiences range from a “so so” to a “wow factor”. From a home cooked lunch prepared by a family at their own remote resort near a Khmu village, which was simply delightful to a trendy, modern Lao food with French influence in Luang Prabang. I am tempted to write on all the places I have eaten. But, decided to pick 2 places that I believed are worth the mention.

One place is called “Tamarind”. A small Lao restaurant with only a few tables. The reason I chose this restaurant to write is because of its long tradition focusing on traditional Lao food. Nothing pretentious about the place. It is a well established restaurant, well known, almost an old institution and a part of Luang Prabang.

The second place is called “3 Nagas”. It is a boutique accommodation in 3 separate heritage buildings and 2 restaurants – a Lao restaurant and a French restaurant. I walked passed this place several times, but never thought of eating there. The place looks “too good”  and up market. I was not sure if the food will live up to my expectation, which one would expect from a posh looking restaurant that stands out in the area. I felt it may be an up market tourist trap. I am glad I was wrong. We went there on our last night in Luang Prabang. And, how I wished I was there a few days earlier because I would definitely go there again for a second time.

“Tamarind”

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I was told if I want a table at this place, I need to go early. If lunch, get there before 1pm. Dinner before 7pm. So I rented a bicycle from my hotel and cycled to the restaurant, which is not far. It was very hot that day. No breeze. I got there, parked my bicycle at the front and got the table in the front, at the corner. I was still perspiring away after that short 5 mins cycle ride. There was no fan and breeze. Just scorching, bright sunny day. Well, better than rain I supposed.

I ordered an icy cold thirst quenching drink – ginger and lemongrass. It was sweet, tangy, cooling and very uplifting. I drank the entire glass and ordered a second one to go with my meal. A lemongrass stick was used as a drink stirrer. I like that. Simple and interesting.

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Read the menu. Simple and flexible with several different options offer to the customer to enjoy a complete traditional Lao culinary experience. I selected the “Five Bites” in the menu, which was a small selection of 5 different Lao snacks served with sticky rice. There is the Sai Oua, Sinh Savanh, Som Pak Gat, Jeow Nor Mai Som and Miang parcels.

The traditional way to eat Lao food is to use the hands. But first, make sure both hands are washed and cleaned. The restaurant provides a wet cloth to wipe the hands. I used my right hand to pinch a bit of sticky rice, and the left hand to pinch any of the dishes. I put the rice into my mouth first, followed by the left hand with the dish. The dishes were mainly dry for a good reason – to keep the hand dry and not sloppy with sauce dripping everywhere. The other reason for using hands is the food tastes better. Almost finger licking good. The smell stayed with my hands for a couple of days. I tried washing them with soap. It had a strong smell, probably from some fermented seafood glazed on the meat.

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Pickled vegetables – the left is local Lao pickled green vegetable (Som Pak Gat)  and the right is the pickled bamboo (Jeow Nor Mai Som). They both have different texture and flavour, but sweet and sourish.

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This is Luang Prabang sausage (Sai Oua). I am not sure what it was made of, but it was delicious. A bit strong flavoured and tougher than our normal sausage. It was salty and sweet at the same time. In an earlier post, I had a fried rice cooked with slices of Luang Prabang sausage at a Lao Chinese restaurant in Vientiane. The fried rice had the same smoky flavoured sauage taste.

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This is the dried buffalo meat (Sinh Savanh). It was coated with some sweet marinated sauce and then, I believed, smoked over a charcoal burner. It was a bit tough for me. Probably I am getting old and my teeth and gum are getting weak. It tasted like “Bak Kwa” which is a Chinese salty sweet dried meat which is similar to jerky, made in the form of flat thin sheet.

I have mentioned in previous post that Lao food has a bit of cross between Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese and French. This dried buffalo meat is definitely a Lao interpretation of a Chinese “Bak Kwa”.

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The two lettuce wraps (Miang parcels). One type is a delicate flavoured paste of rice and the other type is a paste of mashed aubergine and noodle. They were both good and different and light. Quite different from eating a Chinese lettuce wrap, like the “San Choy Bow” which is heavier and meaty.

“3 Nagas”

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3 Nagas is a beautiful place housed in an European style colonial building, which is the Lao Restaurant as shown above. Across the street is the main building, which housed the individual suites accommodation and the French Restaurant in a garden setting as shown below.

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We had a late dinner on our last night in Luang Prabang. Well, almost late about 8pm. Most places in Luang Prabang close by 10pm. It is a very quiet and peaceful town, so don’t expect anything like a Thai resort township. Sorry, no nightclub or Go-Go Bar. We arrived at the restaurant by hitching a ride from our ever faithful hotel’s Golf Buggy. A Frenchman welcomed us and showed us to a table. I thought he might be the manager. But I found out that he is the French Chef. He created the menu for the Lao Restaurant part of the business. He knew the menu intimately and recommended us what to eat.  All the courses that he selected for us in a particular fashion were well executed and an enjoyable experience on the food. The service was excellent. It was a quiet night. Probably because it was a low season. One of the staff serving us was very interesting. We had a long chat on his people and country. The entire mood was relaxing and a wonderful night to end our trip in Luang Prabang.

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Compliment from the restaurant – rice cakes with tomato relish. Crunchy and toasty. Light and a great way to warm up our appetite.

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Yum Salad – a mixture of coarse lettuce, watercress, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, eggs, fried garlic, fried shallots and several different type of herbs dressed with a mayonnaise Lao style sweet dressing. I have to admit – this taste like Caesar Salad, with a bit of French and Asian infusion. I love eating Caesar salad. This gives a traditional Caesar salad a  new meaning and twist.

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Pounded perch fish, eggplants and herb soup with kaffir. A French bouillabaisse dish. Very very good and extremely tasty. A lot of chopped spring onions on top. Chunky pieces of perch – sweet and flavoursome.

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Laaps Pedd – minced duck cooked with herb. Lots of lemongrass and coriander. Similar to a Thai larb dish. Again, a beautiful dish.

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Mhok Het – steamed mushroom in coconut mousse with lemongrass and herbs. Again, this was similar to a Thai dish – “Hor Mok”, normally fish or chicken is used. I like the mushroom interpretation of a Hor Mok in this dish. Great flavour from the lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves wrapped in banana leaf. It was salty, sweet, a bit spicy and very juicy, which was perfect for this kind of dish.

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We finished our dinner with a most delightful Lotus Leaf and Mint “Tiramisu”. It was probably one of the best tiramisu I have ever tasted. I agree it was a bit strange to serve or eat tiramisu at a Lao-French establishment. I guess that is why Lao food is still being defined. But, I believed I have found the traditional Lao food at “Tamarind” and modern Lao food at “3 Nagas”.

This last post complete my personal journey through Laos – people, place, food and culture. Hope you have enjoyed reading the six part series on Laos “Special Post”.

Cheers!

27 responses to ““Special Post” Laos Part Six

  1. Victor, would you believe these are food I’ve never seen before? Actually, I haven’t set foot on that part of the world yet. Again, another very entertaining blog, enjoyed reading it.

    • Hi Emily – I suppose Lao food is not that common compare to Thai and Vietnamese. The food really is quite similar to Thai, except milder in flavour, sauce and spicyness. Next time you go back to Penang, you should take Air Asia direct from Penang to Bangkok, do a bit of shopping and eating, then a direct flight from Bangkok to Luang Prabang! It is quite cheap to travel that way. Do it before Laos become another Vietnam or Cambodia! The place is still pristine and unspoilt. People are really lovely. If you speak to them, they will speak back to you and share amazing story of their life and country. Really a great way of travel.

  2. Hi, Victor – I am glad you like Lao food. Yum Salad (lot of watercress) with egg yolk based dressing is one of my favorite. Some place make it really good and some is so-so. I never Lao mayonnaise dressing before. (I am wondering how it was made at this restaurant)
    We also have Mhok Pa (fish), Mhok Chicken, Mhok Fish, and Mhok shredded bamboo. I guess you can mhok jus about anything.

    I don’t know about Lao food being milder. I have heard many visitors describing Lao food as being heavy on the herbs, spice, and flavor due to the use of the padek (fermented fish) and shrimp paste.

    • Hi Dallas – thanks for your comment. Well, you have to try 3 Nagas’s Yum Salad next time you visit LP. The vege was very fresh and crunchy. You are right, it is egg yolks based dressing. That is how “mayonnaise” is made – using the egg yolk as an emulsifier and combined with other ingredients (which of course, is the chef’s secret at 3 Nagas). In their menu, it is simply called Lao sweet dressing.

      Yes, I noticed more herbs are used as toppings; such as chopped coriander, spring onions and dill (which is unique to Laos. I supposed another French influence?). Milder in the sense of spicyness. Lao food, I am convinced, is not as spicy as Thai food. Maybe more similar to Vietnamese, as Vietnamese food use more herbs and less chilies as well. Definitely all SEA cuisines use some type of fermented seafood paste, which gives it that strong pungent flavour. By itself, the smell may turn most foreigners off, but once combined into food, it gives a new dimension to the flavour of the dish. That’s why my left hand still smell! Tee Hee.

      • Hi, Victor – This is how I make my dressing for the yum salad. I take the cooked yolk of the egg and mixed it up with salt, sugar, water, crushed peanut and various spices.
        May I ask if this dressing have the consistency of a smashed up cooked egg yolk or that of a honey-mustard?
        I thought about making it this weekend but if you can check this blog http://laobumpkin.blogspot.com/2007/09/yam-salat.html it described how to make the yum salad and the dressing.

        • Hey Dallas – thanks for sharing the other blog with Yum Salat recipe. Looks so good, esp from own home vegetable and herb garden. I believe the dressing at 3 Nagas used the same method as yours – cooked yolk eggs. It has a slightly thicken, smooth texture and a lovely orange-yellowish yolky colour. I will have to try out that recipe. Thanks again!

  3. Oh my buddha. those photos remind me the food my mum use to cook for me every evenings. Thank you for sharing

  4. Brilliantly written Victor and the food photos are unbelievably good.
    I just love the idea of ginger and lemongrass “lemonade”
    Thanks

  5. Victor, I never got a chance to eat at 3 nagas. Although I had ate at Tamarind before and few other establishment in town. I guess you didn’t get a chance to try other french restaurant, The Elephant?? Most of the time I ending up eating at some little local restaurants which serves pretty much what you ordered. 2 or 3 houses behind 3 Nagas is where I always buy my “som mu”, I would say it is the best som mu I ever had anywhere. It is even better my mom’s version. LOL.

    I notices that you didn’t order one of the local favorite appetizer. It is call “Kai Pan” which is a seaweed(MeKong or Nam Kharn weed).

    • Oh, yes. I was at The Elephant for dinner. It was really good. A bit pricey. Most expensive place we had in Laos. I took pictures of all the dishes we had as well, but they were too dark.

      We had Escargots de Bourgogne (French snails baked in garlic and parsley butter), Oeufs en Meurette sur Croutons (soft poached eggs in red wine sauce with diced bacon and mushrooms – very very good! Very hearty and rustic. This would be nice at breakfast). For main, we had roasted boneless Quail, stuffed with Luang Prabang mushrooms, and roasted Duck breast with Mak Toum sauce. Do you know what goes into making Mak Toum sauce? It was sweet, like some kind of orange sauce.

      Yum, I wish I knew about that special “som mu” place! Never mind. Next time.

      No, I have not tried Kai Pan as well. Must do next time. And, I definitely like to try the “disco shrimps” but cooked. LOL!

      • Victor, I found a video of the famous disco shrimps. This video was filmed at the famous river boat restaurant. Sorry, it is in lao.

        http://www.ifood.tv/video/shrimp_disco_sao_noi_disco

        • Thanks, Seeharhed. Interesting. So many different ingredients went into making the sauce. I think there were lemongrass, shallots, chilies, lime or lemon, fish sauce. But hard to tell since I don’t speak Lao, and the video was a bit unclear. I like how the dish was plated. So the shrimps were still alive and “dancing”. I am still trying to imagine how it feels with the live shrimp in my mouth. Do I swallow them? Or, do I chew them?? OMG, really hard to imagine. Have to try it when I go to LP next time. Again, thanks for sharing. Most interesting. Cheers!

          • Victor, I saw this show other night on tv and I automatically thought of you. hahhahaha Here is the link.

            http://www.foodnetwork.com/videos/tasty-thai-trio/43065.html

            • Thanks, Seeharhed. Well, we must meet up in Laos next time and eat “disco shrimps”! LOL!
              Btw, tried to download the video a few times, but does not work. Keeps buffering endlessly. But I get the hang of it that Jeff Cowin and his exotic feast in Thailand. So, disco shrimp originated from Thailand or Laos? Same-same?

              • Victor,

                Disco shrimps or dancing shrimps originated from Laos, Isan as Thai would refer it to. All the Isan provinces was part of Laos, therefore the foods from Isan are similar to lao foods. I don’t want to get into the history between Thailand and Laos, it will sparks the major flame. I’ve seen in many forums, when this topic comes up it spreads like wild fire. To answer your question, same same LOL… I thought about buying that “same same” t-shirt on my last trip back in Laos..

                That would be cool if we can meet up for some disco shrimps and beerlao.

  6. Hi,
    I’ve been a bit busy lately and am just catching up on your Laos reports. Looks well worth visiting. Language problem might cause some trouble? Is a mix of Cantonese, Penang Hokkien, French, English and some other languages doable for basic communication?
    Anyway, the country is on our “to visit list” but for now we are just again looking forward to an 8 day trip to Penang in less than 2 months!
    Cheers Victor.
    JP

    • Hey JP – no problem with communication. Most Lao we came across speak basic English and some speak really good English. It is a safe and beautiful country.

  7. You have one cool and yummy blog!

    Congrats on the foodie blogroll!

    Enjoy!

  8. Victor: You make my mouth watering. I love the native food of Luang Prabang.

  9. Victor, just catching up following some health problems. You won’t forget about writing that book will you…travels with Victor. XXXesMin

    • Oh, Min – hope you are alright and feeling better.
      I won’t forget. If I do ever write my own book, I will make sure you get a signed copy. Thanks. 🙂

  10. Victor..from the first time I read your blog, I thought that this is better than a blog (with due respect to blogs). You have natural talent..it’s almost as if the reader can place themselves in the time and the place. And don’t you dare ever try to make it English-perfect.

    Yes thankyou, much better now. One signed copy! I will need 4 thankyou very much, one for both daughters and one for my daughter in law (well hopefully when son gets around to marrying the mother of my only grandchild..myself and the other granny who is full blood Torres Strait Islander are working on it!)..and one for me.

    Much love to yourself and partner.

    ps..You have the book half written..Travels on the Foodtrail.

  11. Victor
    Wow the picture of peas arrangement is too good to be cooking with, did you really sit there and arrange the pea pods ? how long did it take you to do that ?
    The story about Laung Prabang just bring all the great time I had, last visit. This time around I would not be able to go up North. I mainly will be in the capital but since reading your post I might just fly to Luang Prabang for a day just for dinner and a good conversation with a friend and head back down the next morning hmmmmm? something to think about during the 22 hours flight.

    • Hi Salalao – oh, yes, you must if you can. Esp you can also catch up with a friend at LP. It is only a short flight away from Vientiane. Don’t miss it.

      Yes, I arrange the pea pods, standing not sitting. 🙂 Didn’t take long – only 3 mins the most. They are delicious. I used some tonight stir fried with some chicken pieces.

  12. I enjoyed reading on your site , it’s full of lot of information. You just got one constant visitor and a fan of your webiste.

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