Foodie Friday from Laos

Near Inle Lake, they eat and sell every single part of the chicken.

Waking up at Inle Lake a month ago, I admired the view as I made my way to Shane and Arielle for breakfast.  With a nod I said, “Good morning,” and we start chatting about the previous evening as a hostess sets a cup of coffee in front of me. In Myanmar sugar doesn’t help mask the luke warm cup of dirt water, nor does the room temperature milk help. I take a sip of coffee and my brain does a double take. What? It’s been so long, I let out an, “Awww my goodness,” and Arielle, anticipating this moment, clearly not having taken her eyes off my face exclaims, “Yes! It’s real coffee right!  I was waiting for you to take your first sip!” We’re both seriously happy.

I love moments like those, and so does Erika. In fact, sometimes I take a bite of something and hold back my reaction and just to see how her face goes from, “oh my God,” to, “that’s so ridiculously good,” and ending in, “I can’t believe we’re just now having this.  Why weren’t we here yesterday?” It’s fun, and since we have to eat a couple times a day we have many such opportunities to be surprised.

Pork on the chopping block

In Chiang Mai, we sat watching a small man take a round piece of plastic cut from a shopping bag, and use it to grab a chunck of flesh from a pork thigh and butt that had been braised and boiled in soya for four hours. He grabs the meat and fat and slaps it down on a wooden chopping block. It’s so soft and tender it pancakes flat with no extra touch. A cleaver taps the meat a few times and its put on a plate with an egg, corriander, and the juices from the braise. It’s hypnotic.  We’ve been there 15 minutes watching plate after plate go by and haven’t ordered, we actually don’t know how and no one speaks English.  We point at the other tables, pictures on the wall, and say excitedly “but we want that!”.

The beginning to our INCREDIBLE meal in Luang Prabang. 3 Nagas was the restaurant. This is buffalo (water) carpaccio. Incredibly tender, but needed a hint of salt.

In Luang Prabang, real coffee is everywhere, I’m happy. For Erika, her first bagel and with smoked salmon no less, she’s happy. To top it off Laos food is really good, incredibly good. Their reaction was to adapt the French influence with the local food (which reminds me of Thai but more fresh). Thai flavors remind me of citrus, spicy lingerings, and fresh herbs, with splashes of coconut every so often. Laos flavors cut those sharp and puckering dishes with a subtle tang of tamarind and crusty french bread for dipping. Fish is served more often steamed in banana leaf and stuffed or softly poached.

Now for entrees. The steamed perch Amando describes so well in the post. Delicate, fresh, creamy and light.

A mekong river fish is left to steam in a banana leaf with mint, corriander, lemongrass, lemon, and peppercorn – and stuffed with scallions, tamarind paste, wild mushrooms, and a river weed. The fish, so tender and fresh from the steaming that it almost looks like it went for a day at the spa and is once again ready to re-enter waters. Because you eat it with the skin on, it’s texture maintains composure just long enough for you to give thanks to the little guy for being caught that morning. I love the food in Laos, they did all the little things so right that you’re not afraid to let your expectations step out in front of you again.

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