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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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 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.
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.
Compliment from the restaurant – rice cakes with tomato relish. Crunchy and toasty. Light and a great way to warm up our appetite.
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.
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.
Laaps Pedd – minced duck cooked with herb. Lots of lemongrass and coriander. Similar to a Thai larb dish. Again, a beautiful dish.
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.
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”.