Laos Food in Luang Prabang
Just before coming to Vietnam for my new job, we took a quick break in Luang Prabang.
I 'd been deciding on where to work, recovering from foot surgery, workshopping local foods in North Thailand, and starting this website.
I was living with family in Chiang Khong, in Chiang Rai province bordering Laos.
Talking of borders, I thought it would be bordering on criminally negligent to leave that part of the world without having a quick 'stickybeak' into Laos and checking out some more of the Mekong, and our border town of Chiang Khong was the departure point for the famous 'slow boat' which ploughed its way towards the famous Tourist Town of Luang Prabang.
The boat and the river trip is another story entirely which deserves its own post.
I grabbed the family and we headed North in a frantic scrabble to be 'on time' for the departure.
We were on time. But the boat wasn't.
After a couple of days in the boat fighting bum fatigue, we got to Luang Prabang, a reasonably charming town located on the Mekong, and we ended up staying near the river.
We could have battled for lower rates at more obscure locations but we were tired and hungry and we needed lodgings like a pregnant virgin on Xmas Eve. We needed Laos food and a shower. Fast.
As was the norm for this part of the world, there were rules which had to be understood and obeyed first.
These were clearly posted. Perhaps too clearly.
Having checked that the family weren't sporting firearms, explosives, weapons of mass destruction, I then briefed them to refrain from having lewd ribald sex, or using the room for any purposes unacceptable to the People of Laos. It seemed that 'crambling' was also forbidden
Once it was clearly understood that the room could not be used for the purpose of making sex movies whilst on drugs, we readied ourselves for some Laos food.
The first thing that struck me was the abundance of meat and sausage in Laotian cuisine.
You may not be allowed to slip anyone a bit of sausage in your hotel room, but there was plenty of sausage available streetside at local markets and restaurants. And people were snapping at them like piranhas on a fat swimmer.
We tried the restaurant versions and the local street market versions. Both were equally good.
This one (below) came in cute-little-piglet flavour, but water buffalo was the firm favourite.
The sausages were quite coarse, and tasted great washed down with Beer Lao .
Here below is a photo buffalo sausage, ground into bits and forced into a piece of intestine, then barbecued to perfection.
The sausages ranged between medium to coarse – and from moist to crumbly. All were excellent.
A quick note that these are not in fact American Bison, which proudly roamed the plains when Custer was a kid.
I used to confuse the two as a child when we were taught that Bison were buffalo.
In Asia the water buffalo is a demi-god. They get used for currency, ploughing the land, eating, riding, trading – and last but not least – for tourists to take photographs of.
Buffaloes are very important in rural communities. Many great jokes in Thailand are based around "buffalo sick"
In fact, for entertainment's sake, open a new tab and Google "thailand buffalo sick". You'll die laughing.
This buffalo wasn't sick, it was dead. And it tasted great!
There's more to Laos than sausages though.
As a coffee lover I LOVE Asian coffee – Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai mountain coffee, Laos coffee, and Vietnamese coffee. In fact nothing compares to Vietnamese coffee for body and flavour, but I did love the coffee in Luang Prabang.
No cappuccinos or snorts of doppio here.
Iced coffee ruled the day, and it was invariably excellent everywhere that I had it in LP.
Tall coffees with way too much ice and an enticing scent that screams "WAKE UP " in the most seductive yet urgent way. I dream of that stuff.
Another outstanding local food item was 'steamed river weed' hauled out of the Mekong and dried with sesame seeds.
It was local to Luang Prabang and the taste was divine.
I grabbed a few bags to take home and they vanished down my gaping maw very rapidly.
I highly recommend it.
The local places serve it fried or steamed.
Fried is great with beer. In fact everything in LP is great with beer. But this was exceptional
Normally it's nice to get a little head when you are away on holiday.
And sometimes it's not.
This bad boy was gazing balefully at me from the street market and there was nobody there to cook him up into a more cheerful appearance.
A staple of Asian markets, and something that I was tempted to put on a stick outside my office to warn off would be contenders, Lord of the Flies style.
Below: one of many menus in Laos. I'll post more later.
Interestingly more people in Laos understood my pidgin Thai than in Thailand.
Thailand has a hardcore approach to policing tones and enunciation. It's almost as bad as the fabled French appreciation of English.
In Laos, my attempts at Thai were met with understanding and appreciation.
You have to love that.
The languages are similar, and Thai is widely understood verbally, but definitely not in written form.
Apparently we couldn't travel to Laos without trying the snake and cobra wine. <shudder>
Actually, I found that I COULD travel to Laos without trying it. It's also everywhere in North Thailand and Vietnam.
Next: Bags of blood. Literally. These are used for soups and sausages.
One of my favourite soups in Thailand is a beef 'boat noodle soup' which is thickened with fresh blood.
I made it in one of my restaurants in Dubai UAE, and getting hold of fresh beef blood was a nightmare.
I did manage to though, and the soup was exceptional. Here the blood was SO fresh.
Talking of Vegans, they wouldn't be happy in Luang Prabang.
I thought Australia was the land of the barbecue, but even we serve salads with it. In Laos it was a kilo of meat and a ball of sticky rice. As in North Thailand, sticky rice is the staple, and I did find the sticky rice in Thailand to be more toothsome and with better flavour in general than the sticky rice in Laos or Vietnam
And lastly – the bread.
I was SO looking forward to visiting Laos – a former French colony like Vietnam and Cambodia – and getting into the bread. In Phnom Penh and Da Nang Vietnam the bread is great. Light crusty baguettes with great fillings.
You can have a low opinion of the French for many reasons – but none of them include bread quality.
But the bread up and down the Mekong was appalling.
Heavy, soft and flavourless with the texture of yeast-afflicted playdough it was an extreme disappointment in an otherwise great trip. If the French came back to Laos they'd guillotine all the bakers and just start over.
But that was then, and this is now.
I'm back at work, we're making great bread at the hotel, and I'm eating well at the 'banh mi' stands of Vietnam, so as the sign says……