Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Laos - same same but different

Quite a while ago now, early in 2008, we were lucky enough to spend a few weeks in Laos.  Surrounded by Thailand, Myanmar, China, Vietnam and Cambodia, it has the much publicised and incredibly unfortunate record of being the most bombed country in the world.  As I explored different parts of the place, the bombing fact in the back of my mind, I was constantly astounded.  It is absolutely beautiful with an atmosphere that can only be described as one of peace and calm.

Sunset over the Mekong

Wat Phou Champasak

On the way to the Bolaven Plateau
Luang Prabang is a scene that is about as serene and picturesque as you'll find anywhere in Asia, with orange-robed monks rambling along the ancient streets, views over an appropriately calm bend of the Mekong and a fascinating blend of colonial and traditional Laotian architecture.  The town caters to the entire tourist spectrum, from budget backpacker huts to the kind of resort where you can get a hot-stone massage before your early morning low-fat Mochachino.  If you're interested, and make the effort, you will discover a disturbingly raw but refreshing character as well.  The local food market, as an example, sells the usual array of colourful fruit and vegetables but if you wander into the meat section you're in for a bit of a surprise.  An amazing assortment of animal parts, mounds of congealed (jelly-like) buffalo blood, handy packets of bile and a lively, chunky smell in the air make it an experience worth writing home about.


I loved the food in Laos, a fascinating fusion of it's neighbours fare with the occasional hint of french flair for good measure.  To try to get to grips with what we were eating my wife and I attended a cooking course with the Tamarind Cooking School.  This took the better part of a day, with us visiting a market, exploring ingredients, preparing and eating some food but most importantly getting a look at the heart and soul of the cuisine of Laos.  I researched a bit and discovered that this school is doing incredibly well, receiving great reviews.  I got in touch with them and they were happy to give us one of their authentic recipes.

The kitchen

Minced meat and herb salad

  1. 150g beef, minced, ground of finely chopped
  2. 1/2 tsp salt
  3. 1 tsp fish sauce
  4. 1 clove garlic, very finely chopped
  5. 3 spring onions, finely chopped
  6. 1 Tbsp chopped coriander leaves and stems
  7. 1 stalk lemongrass, white section, very finely sliced
  8. 1/2 cup mint, roughly chopped
  9. 1 Tbsp roasted sticky rice powder
  10. 1 Tbsp lime juice
  11. 2 chillies
  12. 1 small handful finely sliced banana flower
  13. 2 snake beans (yardlong bean or bora), finely sliced
  14. 1/4 cup pak hom baen leaves (saw-tooth coriander), chopped
  15. 1 Tbsp fresh galangal, finely chopped
  16. 1 tsp dried chili powder
  17. a small handful of beansprouts, soaked briefly in hot water to soften
  18. a sprinkle of stock powder
  • in a wok, lightly saute the meat with the salt and half the fish sauce
  • remove the pan from the heat, add the remaining ingredients to combine
  • arrange on a serving platter, garnish with greens and serve with sticky rice


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