Rice is the staple food for the Laotians, specially steamed sticky rice. Sticky rice is traditionally served on cute bamboo baskets and it is eaten with anything: with meat, with fish and even with soups. In Lao, sticky rice is eaten with the hands, take a small amount of rice, press it to make a compact ball and then dip it into the main dish or eat it with the barbecued chicken or pork.
Sticky rice basket - One like this should is on the way home.
The cooking of the rice is simple, as we learnt in the cooking course in Luang Prabang. First the grains are washed thoroughly and soaked in water for several hours. Then the water is drained off and the rice is put in a steamer. After steaming it for around 20 to 30 minutes, the rice is moved to another container and moved around so it releases the steam until it has cooled down. The rice is ready to be served.
Rice steamer - This is the rice steamer used in Lao, not to be confused with a hat when seen in local markets.
Initially we found the sticky rice a bit boring, but we got used to it really quickly. Sticky rice is to the Laotians what bread is to the Spaniards. These are just some of the dished we were lucky to try accompanied with sticky rice:
Oh Paedak - We learnt how cook this pork casserole in Luang Prabang. This soupy stir fry wasn't our favourite but it was tasty enough.
Khua Maak Kheua Gap Moo - Another of the dishes we learned and cooked during our cooking course. Yes, though it has an unpronounceable name, it is very simple to prepare. Do me a favour and try it!! So so good!
Geng Phet - This chilli casserole is almost identical to the Thai red curry.
Or Lam - A very unusual and unique soup from the Luang Prabang area. It normally includes dried and salted water buffalo meat, pea aubergines and wood ear mushrooms within its ingredients.
Mok Pa - Steamed fish dish, usually catfish caught in the Mekong. The fish is wrapped together with some herbs, vegs and spices in banana leave and then steamed for 20 to 30 mins. Light and flavorsome but in my opinion it lacks a bit of texture.
Fired bamboo - Bamboo dishes are very popular in Lao. Our stomachs were singing of happiness after enjoying this bamboo stir fry.
Our lunch in the jungle - Omelet, fried chilies and some kind of meat stew (with beef's intestines and all) was our lunch in the jungle. We learnt that it is better not to judge anything by its appearance, it was actually very tasty!
Dinner at the Akha village - Cabbage soup, omelet and wild rice was our dinner at the Akha village. Our guide cooked this for us when we went trekking and while simple, the cabbage soup was incredibly tasty and excellent. A shame that I didn't ask him how he cooked it!
Of couse, it’s not only rice what we ate while in Lao. Many noodles dishes are also widely available.
Feu Khua - Fried sticky rice noodles with chicken and vegetables. Make an rice noodle omelet, then add chicken, vegetables, oyster sauce, fish sauce, sugar, chili and lime and there you have it.
Kheua Sen Lon - This is a vermicelli noodles, pork, vegetables and woodear fungus stir fry. Cooking this tasty dish were introduced to a new Asian vegetable named choko, looks like a pear but tastes a bit like zucchini.
Foe - An evidence of the Vietnamese presence in Lao. This wonderful and delicious noodle soup is very similar to the Vietnamese Pho. The secret of a good Foe is a great beef broth. From all the Foes we tried in Lao the one at Luang Prabang's night market was our favourite.
To break the monotony of eating rice and noodles, the meat barbecues were our choice many many evenings. They have little barbecue stands in every single corner selling chicken legs, pork, fish… They just put a bit of charcoal inside a little clay pot and a grill on top and voilà, the street stall is ready!
Sandwiches are also a popular choice within the Laotians. Undoubtedly the French colonial era has something to do with the fact that baguettes are available in the country. In Luang Prabang we tried the “Lao sandwich”, a baguette with mayo, tofu, cucumber, lettuce, carrot, shredded pork, sweet and sour sauce… a very interesting alternative to the plain cheese sandwich!
Laotians don’t cook very spicy food, they leave it up to you to use chilli paste to spice it up. In the cooking course we learnt how to make jeowbong which is the chilli paste that can be found on the table of every restaurant or food stall.
To sum up, Lao cuisine has South East Asia in its blood but it has without a doubt a very unique personality which makes it stand out by itself.